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.