State-ranked Valley teams handed the Bluejay skaters a pair of lop-sided losses last week, but unranked Wausau East ended their season at Marathon Park on Tuesday in the opening round of the WIAA playoffs.
Seventh-seeded East dropped a short-handed, 10th-seeded Merrill squad 12-2.
“This was a disappointing way for the season to end,” MHS coach Chase Nelson said. “To play them tough twice during the regular season — losing both games by one goal — and then to have this happen was rough. I felt that the kids skated hard for the most part, we just made too many mistakes in our defensive zone. Even at 6-1 after the second period, we never felt that we were out of the game. We did get into some penalty trouble at the end of the second and into the third, and with a short bench that didn’t help the matter.”
Merrill trailed 3-0 with :47 left in the first when Matt Ladewig netted a Michael Baumann assist. But East ripped off five straight into the third period to take a 9-1 lead. Kyle Kleinschmidt broke the string with an unassisted tally 1:40 into the frame.
“Tonight we lost seven seniors to graduation,” Nelson said. “It is always an emotional time of the year when it all comes to an end so abruptly. These seven young men have been through quite a journey. They had to make a decision as freshmen to play high school hockey, or stay back in youth hockey for one more year. Their decision had a huge effect on Merrill hockey because we may not have had enough kids to have a high school team that year, and we may have never had a team again.
“Their sophomore year, hockey was put on the chopping block by administration, and thankfully it survived a vote by the school board. They responded the next year by winning the most games (11) in school history in one season, and then this year winning eight more games. They finish their high school career with 25 wins, the most of any group of graduating seniors in program history. We coaches wish them the best of luck in the future!”
Saves–MHS–Stephen Simon 16-9-6–31, 8 G; Bryce Brokeing *-*-3–3, 4 G. WE–Neil Adams 4-7-4–15.
Proving a Point
SPASH was rated sixth at the time of Tuesday’s 8-1 loss.
The Panthers built a 7-0 lead through the early-going of the third period, but Dylan Heller’s unassisted tally with 9:36 gone saved the shut-out.
“Overall, we put in a pretty good effort tonight,” Nelson said. “We played a strong first period and we were able to generate scoring opportunities but just weren’t able to capitalize. We started to have a few more breakdowns in the defensive zone in the second and third periods, and when a team has the skill level and talent like SPASH, they will capitalize on those chances. We fought to the very end tonight, now we just need to take all the good things from tonight and carry them over from game to game.”
Ten players figured in scoring for SPASH, led by Brock Canfield (2 G, 1 A) and Grant Czaikowski (3 A).
Saves–MHS–Bryce Brokeing 9-23-*–32, 6 G; Stephen Simon *-*-15–15, 2 G. SP–Colin Schuh 7-10-3–20.
Fourth-ranked Rapids blanked Merrill 7-0 on Thursday. The Raiders locked down Merrill and scored three goals in each of the first two periods.
“We had a hard time generating any offense in this one, mustering together only four shots” Nelson said. “Rapids is a solid team, being ranked in the top-ten all year. We started the game with 11 skaters and ended with 10 because of an injury. Stephen played well in net. He made some big saves in the first to keep the game close.
“We will have the same 10 or 11 skaters on Tuesday against East. If we play hard, and everyone does their job (not everyone else’s), we have a good chance at winning the first playoff game in school history.”
Luc Kreuser (4 G) and Cody Kohls (1 G, 2 A) paced Rapids.
Saves–MHS–Simon 19-15-11–46. Rapids–Tyler Werne 1-3-0–4.
Wausau East (2-9-1, 11-11-2) plays at sixth-ranked and second-seeded GNC champ Antigo (20-2-2, 13-0-1) at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.