Boys Hockey vs. Nennah/Menasha/Hortonville
Mission accomplished. Goals achieved. State Champions. The University School Wildcats accomplished the ultimate goal of their 2018-2019 season on Saturday, March 2nd by defeating Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville 6-2 in the championship game of the WIAA State Boys Hockey Tournament at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
It was a perfect way for the Wildcats to celebrate the 100th year of ice hockey at USM (including its predecessors). USM joined an elite group of winners, becoming the fifth school to win three or more state championships since the WIAA began the tournament in 1971.
Jason Woods, the Wildcats’ head coach, commented on the team that deservingly achieved USM’s latest championship, “What an incredible finish to the season. Simply put, this has been, and now has proven to be, an elite hockey team. I am so proud of each and every one of these young men. Daily, they put the needs of their teammates over the needs of themselves. The USM community will talk about this team for decades, as it does about our 2006 and 2010 State Championship teams. I am blessed to be a part of this group and am certain this group gave everything they had to each other. 2019 State Champions! What a nice ring that has. The last single division champ in boys’ hockey history is University School. That in itself is amazing.”
Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville ended the season with a great record of 24-4-2 after the game. The Wildcats’ was better. They completed the season with the best record in the state, 28-2. It was a season in which the Wildcats overwhelmed most of their opponents, the way they did the Rockets in the championship game. It was a perfect bookend to the season. USM began the season by defeating Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville 6-3. They concluded it with their most important victory over the very same opponent.
USM outshot the Rockets 44-14. Junior goaltender Patrick Kelly made 11 saves for the Wildcats while NMH’s junior goalie, Jake Mork, stopped 38 shots. Senior Frank Fee concluded his USM goaltending career by playing in the final 3:36 of the game. Fee made one final save for USM in the game.
The Wildcats took the lead at 10:17 of the first period. Freshman defenseman Jacob Como was skating the puck out of the USM zone near the benches and saw the Rockets all heading to their bench for a line change. So Como immediately passed the puck to the far side to junior forward Tyler Herzberg who burst into the NMH zone on a breakaway. Mork had stopped two USM breakaways earlier in the period, but not this time. Herzberg sped in and rifled a shot from the slot past Mork.
Herzberg also scored the game’s second goal early in the second period. He collected a loose puck in center ice. He raced down the left boards past one Rocket. As he skated into the NMH zone, he pulled the puck around another defender and kept going. Herzberg waltzed behind the net then whirled out the other side to tuck the puck inside the pipe for a perfect wraparound goal at 3:13.
The Rockets began to take penalties to try to slow the Wildcat attack. As a consequence, USM scored its next four goals on power plays.
Junior Blake Carey, a team captain, scored the first two of those power play goals. Mork made a sensational glove save off a point blank shot. The ensuing face off occurred in the right circle. Like a group snap chat, the Wildcats shared the puck. Carey won the draw to the near boards to senior Robby Newton, who moved the puck back to the point to junior Casey Roepke. Roepke forwarded it along the blue line to Herzberg. Herzberg skated into the mid-slot and fired the puck past Carey who was planted in front like an oak tree. A defenseman blocked Herzberg’s shot, but the puck caromed to the side, and Carey crammed it into an opening at 14:25.
The Rockets were assessed another penalty on the goal-scoring play, so the Wildcats had a fresh man-advantage opportunity. They made good use of it. As the Wildcats worked the puck in the Rockets’ zone, Herzberg passed it from the right circle to Roepke at the far point. Roepke skated in and fired a shot off Mork’s pads. Carey batted the rebound under the goalie, giving USM a 4-0 lead at 15:46.
The Rockets broke their scoring drought with their own power play goal at 3:41 of the third period. After the Wildcats iced the puck, senior Owen Engle got the puck behind the Rockets’ net and passed it to junior Ethan Long on the left boards. Long skated it through center ice. Inside the USM line, he pulled the puck around a defenseman, moved further in, and fired a shot into the upper reaches of the USM net over Kelly’s stick hand shoulder.
But penalties continued to plague the NMH squad. The Wildcats scored two more power play goals during a five-minute major penalty assessed to the Rockets.
Once again, Herzberg started the Wildcat scoring play. At the left point, he took a pass from Roepke then buzzed a pass to Newton at the top of the right circle. Newton wired a shot into the far upper corner of the net at 10:02.
The Wildcats scored their final goal on the same power play. From the USM end Junior Alex Thundercloud skated with the puck down the right boards, crossed into Rocket territory and headed to the net. As Mork moved to stop him, Thundercloud centered the puck to Como in the slot. Como fired. Mork stopped it. The puck bounded to sophomore Sterling Cooke at the post. Cooke jammed it in at 10:59.
The final five minutes got messy. Five different penalties were assessed. The Rockets were able to score on a power play at 13:24. Long picked off a USM pass at the USM blue line, moved in, then passed the puck to senior Erik Alberts, who fired it past Kelly for the goal.
But it came too late for Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville. The Wildcats had the victory in their grasp and did not let go. Instead they were able to take the State Championship trophy into their hands and raise it over their heads.