SPASH boys hockey falls to Wausau West in Sectional Final
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With a chance to advance to the State Tournament for the first time since 2009, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys hockey team was unable to come all way back from a big deficit and fell to rival Wausau West in a WIAA Sectional Final at South Wood County Recreation Center in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 23.
Third-ranked West (23-3-1, 10-0) scored six consecutive goals to build an 8-1 lead, while the fifth-ranked Panthers (20-5-2, 8-2-0) put together a furious rally, before they fell 8-6 to lose in the Sectional Final for the third year in a row.
“Obviously it was a tough game,” said SPASH boys hockey head coach Brandon Busse. “We shot ourselves in the foot; we ran into some penalty troubles and they capitalized.
“They had five power-play goals, so we did it to ourselves and put ourselves in a situation where we had to battle back,” he said. “The boys battled back, but fell a little short.”
Third-seeded SPASH went on the road and knocked off top-ranked and second-seeded Northland Pines 4-2 in the Sectional Semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 19, to earn a trip to the Sectional Final against Wausau West Saturday.
After West swept the regular-season series with a 2-1 win at K.B. Willett Area Jan. 8 and won 5-2 at home Feb. 8, West struck first Saturday afternoon, as it scored a power-play goal 4:20 into the game to take a 1-0 lead, then followed with a power-play goal at the 6:37 mark to go up 2-0.
Freshman defenseman Brandon Vlcko answered with an unassisted goal at the 9:41 mark to pull SPASH within 2-1, but West scored at 11:21 of the first period to carry a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
“Their first two goals were power-play goals, and when we played them five-on-five, it was an even game,” said Busse. “But we just weren’t disciplined, and nothing against West, they’re a good team.
“And when you’re sitting in the box as much as we did, good teams are going to capitalize,” he said.
West continued to take advantage of SPASH penalties in the second period, as it scored three power-play goals during a 5:52 span to build a 6-1 lead at the 10:29 mark of the period, then scored at the 14:49 and 15:11 marks of the second period to go up 8-1, when the Panthers turned to sophomore goalie Landen Kawleski in place of junior Spencer Wierzba.
West was hit with a five-minute major for charging 17 seconds later, and SPASH sophomore Trey Zagrzebski responded with an unassisted power-play goal at 15:34 and then scored a power-play goal at 16:31 of the second period on assists from sophomore Austin Conley and junior Barrett Brooks to pull the Panthers within 8-3 at the end of the period.
“I was really proud of the guys and how we responded to that,” said Zagrzebski of the 8-1 deficit. “We got a couple of power-play goals, that was big for us, so we got a lot of momentum”
Brooks scored a power-play goal 41 seconds into the third period on assists from senior Nick Norrgran and Zagrzebski to make it 8-4, and sophomore Brady Dillingham had an unassisted goal at the 4:13 mark to bring SPASH within 8-5 with 12:47 to go.
However, the Panthers were unable to find the back of the net until there was under one minute to play in regulation, as Norrgran scored with 28.4 seconds left to make it 8-6.
That proved to be the final margin, as West advanced to state for the eighth time in 10 years, while SPASH came up a win away from state after it also lost 3-2 in overtime to West in the 2017 Sectional Final and lost 2-1 in double overtime to D.C. Everest in the Sectional Final last year.
“It’s been three years in a row we’ve came up short in this game, so it’s just tough to see the seniors,” said Zagrzebski. “But I guess what we’ve got to do is get back next year and get back to work and see what we can do.”
Zagrzebski finished with two goals and one assist, and Brooks and Norrgran each had one goal and one assist, while Wierzba made 10 saves, and Kawleski had three saves in the season-ending loss.
“It was a great season,” said Busse. “Through and through, we battled all year long, and I’m very proud of the boys.
“A lot of people will judge your season on if you make it to state or not,” he said. “But I think we’re going in the right direction, and the boys battled all season and gave it their all.”
“It was an unreal season,” said Brooks. “I didn’t think a lot of people ever expected us to get this far, going into Northland Pines, the No. 1 team in the state, we came in there hungry and got a big win.
“And it sucks that we lose by two goals here to get to state, but I love our seniors, I love our coaching staff, I love our team as a whole, and I think we had a heck of a season,” he said. “We’re not going to hang our heads, we played our hearts out, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”