The Antigo Red Robins traveled north to the Dome of the Eagle River Recreation Association to take on the Northland Pines Eagles in a first place showdown for the Great Northern Conference. The host Eagles came into the game with a 5-0 record, good for ten conference points. The visitors sported a 4-0 record, worth eight points. After skating to a 2-1 over-time win, the Robins now are tied in points, and hold a statistical edge for the conference lead.
Under the ERRA Dome, the Eagles enjoy the best home ice advantage in WIAA hockey. The under-sized rink and old permanent boards serve up some quirky situations and odd bounces that Northland Pines teams are usually able to use to their advantage. On this night, the puck bounced the other way.
The scoreless first period began with a physical attack by the Eagles that kept the puck in the Robins end for the first couple of minutes. The action shifted to the Pines end of the ice for the next six or seven minutes as Antigo was able to sustain some good offensive pressure. The second half of the period was a back and forth affair with neither team getting much of an advantage.
Northland Pines goalie Ethan Polich stopped all eight shots sent at him by the Robins. Antigo’s Ben Bartletti was also able to stop everything sent his way, tallying five saves in the first period.
The Eagles turned up the heat in the second period, out-shooting the Robins 10-7, and scoring the only goal. Pines attacked the net and after a brief scramble, Bartletti was down in front of his left post when the puck bounced out to his right. Tyler Hunt was there, alone with time and space, and he buried the rebound into the back of the Robins’ net for a 1-0 Pines lead.
Antigo got a good chance a few minutes later, but Pines was able to kill off a five minute checking from behind penalty, limiting the Robins to few scoring chances. The Eagle kept up the stingy defense for the rest of the period, not allowing the Robins to get in close to their net.
Antigo coach Matt Borneman summed up his team’s frustrations, “Pines did an outstanding job in the first and second throwing us off our game and keeping us from generating any momentum.”
The third period was spent in the Eagles defensive zone, with the Robins out-shooting Northland Pines 17-1 in the frame. Ethan Polich was able to stop everything Antigo threw at him, but it was the one not shot at him that cost Pines the game. “(Polich) played an amazing 3rd period, just unlucky at the end,” said Borneman.
With a minute and a half left in regulation, the Eagles cleared the puck from their zone. Antigo’s Matt Winter gathered the puck in the neutral zone and shot it high and towards the left corner as the Robins regrouped. Polich went behind his net to stop the puck he expected to ring around the corner. But the puck hit a seam in the glass and ricocheted toward the open net, sneaking just inside the pipe as the Eagles defense frantically tried to intercept it.
This was a new experience for the Robins coach, “The random bounce of the barn for the first time in my career bounced in favor of the visiting team.”
With the momentum heading into overtime, it took just 1:33 for the Robins Adam Schmidt to find CJ Levis in the slot, and Levis’ one-timer to find a gap between Polich’s pads, giving Antigo the win.
Borneman credited his goalie, “Bart had to make some spectacular saves to keep it a one goal game. We brought a lot of pressure in 3rd and didn't have anything to show for it. One lucky bounce was enough to give us the momentum we needed to finish the game.”