The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team kept battling throughout the 2016-2017 season, but despite their efforts they finished second to last in the Great Northern Conference and would end in yet another one-goal WIAA playoff loss.
The Hodags finished the year with an 8-15-0 record overall, and went 3-10 in the GNC. RHS would rally in the second half of the season after the pertussis outbreak which left them without playing for over three weeks, and went 6-6 in their final games of the year.
Rhinelander started the year strong with a solid 6-2 win over Chequamegon. RHS would rally for three goals in both the second and third period to earn the four-goal win over the Screaming Eagles. The Hodags outshot Chequamegon 40-10 and had goals from Tyler Kolasa, Sam Tjugum, Logan Wild, Brandon Kolasa, Caleb Pierson, and Dylan Roeser.
From there, the Hodags lost three straight in the matter of six days which was a tough stretch for the team. RHS fell in matching 6-2 scores to Waupaca and Northland Pines. But arguably one of the toughest losses was the 2-1 loss on the road against Mosinee in early December. Zeth Pyan of the Indians connected on a game-winning goal with four seconds left in regulation to give Mosinee the win.
Close games were something the RHS boys' hockey team seen plenty of throughout the season. In contests decided by a goal or less, the Hodags went 4-5 this season which included being 0-4 in overtime games.
In Rhinelander's last game before the whooping cough outbreak, they fell 3-2 against Tomahawk on a 47-second overtime goal scored by Aaron Evans of the Hatchets. But that wouldn’t be the only 3-2 loss RHS would suffer this season.
After returning to action, the Hodag's first game back was yet another 3-2 overtime loss on the road in a non-conference game against Green Bay Untied. And in the beginning of February they also fell 3-2 in overtime at Lakeland. And by the far the hardest loss which ended their season was a battle were the Hodags fell 3-2 in yet again overtime, this time in playoffs against East/Merrill.
Rhinelander did rally toward the end of their seaon and went 3-1 over a 10 day stretch at the end of the January. In the Merill tournament the Hodags earned a 4-3 win over L'Anse. And RHS would earn three straight wins at the Rhinelander Ice Arena against Stevens Point Pacelli (3-2) Waupaca (3-2), and Tomahawk (5-3).
One of the biggest differences for the 2016-2017 season was the Hodag's offense. Rhinelander was seventh in the GNC and averaged 1.9 goals per game and would have no individual scorers make the top-GNC list.
And of those offensive struggles, part would come from converting on power plays. RHS was fourth in the GNC on powerplays, converting 16.3% which is down from last season.
On the defensive end Rhinelander was sixth in the conference in goals allowed, averaging 4.1 per game in the GNC. With freshman Seth Stafford in the net, he finished the season with a 86.2 save percentage and 3.66 goals against average overall. Junior Cody Pratz also saw some minutes at the goalie position and finished with a 3-3 record. Pratiz had a 87.0 save percentage and 3.34 goals against average.
Rhinelander relied on leadership and scoring this season from their large senior group. The Hodags' MVP, Dylan Roeser was one of those seniors RHS looked to on offense as well as defense. Roeser led the team with 12 goals and 12 assists. The other seniors that made impacts on the scoring were Logan Wild who finished with 5 goals, and 5 assists; Tyler Kolasa- 3 goals, 3 assists, and Tyler Blomdahl- 1 goal and 5 assists. Senior Caleb Pierson added two goals on the year.
Although Rhinelander will have to fill the void of several seniors who impacted the team for next season, they already have several younger players who have stepped up this season. Sophomores Freddy Wisner and Brandon Kolasa will be returning and played great roles for the Hodag's offense. Wisner finished with 7 goals, 11 assists while Kolasa had 8 goals, and 2 assists. Juniors Matthias Schneider and Cole Spaulding also will be returning to help the RHS out. Schneider added 2 goals, 4 assits and Spaulding finished with 7 goals, 5 assists.
While Rhinelander will also return Stafford and Abe Laggis for their sophomore year for the 2017-2018 season. Laggis (Coach M.J. Laggis' son) unfortunately had to miss this season due to a knee injury. There will also be several underclassman that will look to fill important roles and the Hodags have a lot to look forward to for next season.
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team has been more than familiar with overtime games for the 2016-2017 season, in which they went 0-3 in regular season. And again, the Hodags just couldn’t get the job done, this time ending their season after a 3-2 loss to East/Merrill on Tuesday night in the WIAA regional semifinal held at the Smith Center.
Freshman Ty Bailey would chart the game winning goal off a rebound at 2:04 into overtime, to give East/Merrill the win and would advance them to the regional finals.
The Bluejacks outshot the Hodags 8-4 in the first period and would rally for 2-0 advantage after the first period. James Pawlicki connected on a rebound to put East/Merrill ahead at 6:34 in the first.
Rhinelander had some early opportunities and almost tied the game approximately two minutes later when Hunter Hicks' shot hit off the crossbar. RHS would be held to four shots in the first, but was unable to convert.
And with only 22 seconds left in the first period, Auston Burgener of the Bluejacks stole the puck away from Rhinelander, and was able to score on a breakaway. East/Merrill would take a 2-0 lead after the first 17 minutes of action.
But the Hodags would battle back strong and outshot the Bluejacks 14-11 in the final two frames and added two goals in their efforts to force the game into overtime.
Sophomore Brandon Kolasa won an offensive zone faceoff, and would assist junior Matthias Schneider on an immediate slapshot off the play that got past goalie Bryce Broeking at 3:30 in the second.
And in the Hodags game-tying goal that forced extra minutes, a pair of seniors paired together to get the job done. Tyler Kolasa stole the puck and sent it up to Ethan Pequet, who finished in the slot at 9:29 in the third period.
Each team had chances at goals in the final few minutes of regulation, including a quality shot from Cole Spaulding. And RHS was unable to convert on a power play after Phil Peacy was called for slashing at 11:42 in the third.
And what proved to be the game-winning goal came when freshman Jake Bailey blocked senior Logan Wild's shot, and flung the puck up the ice for a two-on-one break. Freshman goalie, Seth Stafford was able to block Christian Matson's shot, but Ty Bailey put home the rebound for the win. Despite the loss, Stafford finished the night with 18 saves.
The Hodags have entered the WIAA playoffs as a No. 9 seed the past three years under head Coach M.J. Laggis, and continue to get closer and closer to breaking their losing playoff streak.
It was a tough loss to end their season, especially the 12 Rhinelander seniors including Nathaniel Berndt, Tyler Blomdahl, Sam Julson, Tyler Kolasa, Gunnar Millot, Caleb Pierson, Ethan Pequet, Dylan Roeser, Tait Spencer, Noah Tjugum, Logan Wild, and Joe Woynich. (Senior roster information provided by Wisconsin Prep Hockey online.) Their hard work and leadership on the ice, will defiantly be difficult to replace. RHS finished 8-15-0 on the year.
East/Merrill will continue their 2016-2017 season as an eight-seed and will take on top-seed Wausau West at Marathon Park on Thursday, February 16th in the WIAA regional finals.
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