SPASH Hockey Advances With 6-1 Win Over Northland Pines
SPASH now travels to face second-seeded Antigo on Tuesday at in the sectional semi-final.
By Ken McKenzie
The SPASH boys’ hockey team used scoring flurries in the first and third periods to punch their ticket into the third round of WIAA tournament play, downing Northland Pines, 6-1, in a physical battle at K.B. Willett Arena Thursday.
The Eagles were trying to keep their tourney trip alive and avenge an early season 6-2 loss to SPASH in mid-December.
“We capitalized early,” said Coach Dan Francis. “We knew they’d bring a lot of energy with them to the game but you want to strike fast when the other team has just come off a long bus ride.”
“We need to get better. You can’t always rely on power play scoring; although we got some of that tonight,” said Francis.
“We just seemed to take our foot off the gas in the second,” said Francis in his post game WPCN radio interview. “I thought we did a good job to not let them keep the momentum. We just have to play a full 51 minutes.”
Junior forward Sam Medo opened the scoring for the Panthers, getting a goal at 4:02 of the first with assist by Anthony Smyth, giving SPASH the early spark and quick momentum around the Pines’ net.
The SPASH point leader on the season, Kobe Keller made it 2-0; scoring unassisted at 6:53 with Brock Caufield getting goal number three of the opener at 7:38 with Grant Czaikowski’s assistance.
Keller, Caufield and Czaikowski have provided the scoring punch most of the season, as SPASH built its 17-5-2 record; including an early season 6-1 win over the Eagles. The Panther’s 8-3-1 record in Wisconsin Valley play earned them third place among area teams in conference play.
Despite a 3-0 deficit, the Northland Pines Eagles returned to the ice in the second period and brought the game to SPASH; delivering some hard checking to some of the Panthers’ lead players and bringing play to the end of the ice of the SPASH goal. Eventually their hard work paid off as the Eagles got the only goal of the period with Ryon Ritzer scoring at 9:47 with assist going to Steven Spencer.
SPASH was back on offense in the third with those scoring leaders combining again to begin to put the game away. Czaikowski found the back of the net at 7:48 on the power play with assists to both Caufield (31st) and Keller (team-leading 36th).
In spreading out the ice time and keeping fresh legs on the ice in this physical battle, Francis’ squad saw major contributions by several younger players, including the first varsity goal by Chase Mills in the third, with assist by Jacob Beilke.
Czaikowski then brought out the inevitable “start up the bus” cheers from the hunter orange Panther student section with an unassisted goal (team-leading 30th) at 13:55, again on a SPASH power play.
Northland Pines Eagles was 9-4-1 in Great Northern Conference play and finishes their 2014-15 campaign at 12-12-2 overall.
SPASH will try to build on this renewed momentum to keep their season alive on Tuesday. Since December 6, SPASH has lost to Wausau West twice, 3-1 and 2-1 and to D.C. Everest 3-2 while earning wins or ties in all other games. During that stretch they handed Wisconsin Rapids their lone loss in Wisconsin Valley play and their tie in the 10-1-1 record that topped the conference standings. Wausau West finished second with a 10-2-0 record with SPASH third at 8-3-1.
With the win, third-seeded SPASH now travels to face second-seeded Antigo on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the sectional semi-final. Antigo was a 4-3 overtime winner over Wausau East on Thursday. The Red Robins edged SPASH 3-2 at the Willett back on December 2.
In other regional action Thursday, Wausau West overcame an early 2-0 lead by Stevens Point Pacelli Co-op and used four goals to eliminate the Cards, 4-2. Joel Oney (Amherst) and Pacelli’s Luke Yenter had each scored for the Cards in the first five minutes of the game to take the early lead.