Same teams, new winner. For four straight seasons, the Bay Area Ice Bears and the University School co-op girls’ hockey team have met in the Sectional 4 Final. This year, the Ice Bears scored three goals in the opening seven minutes then held on to defeat the Wildcats 3-1 in an exciting game played Friday, February 24th at the Blue Line Center in Fond du Lac.
“I have to hand it to Green Bay,” said Jake Haury, USM’s head coach. “They are a very good team and a great opponent. I enjoy our rivalry. They got three quick goals and that set us back quickly. I wish them well at state. But, I am so proud of our girls. They did not give up, and they played their hearts out tonight. With that spirit and effort, we will do well in the future. We will certainly miss our senior captain, Delaney Weiss. I have enjoyed coaching her for four years. But everyone else is an underclassman. These young players played great hockey at the end of the season and had a winning season. They also made it to the Sectional Final, despite what everyone outside our locker room expected. We learned a lot this year. I expect to have an even better season next year.”
As Friday’s game opened, the Ice Bears received a penalty in the very first minute. After they killed it, they got to work.
They scored the game’s first goal at 3:29. Sophomore Kalli Mikesch took a breakout pass from junior Jordan Kadrlik, skated the puck out the Bay Area zone, and headed into the Wildcats’ end. Mikesch button-hooked along the left boards, awaiting help. She avoided a defender then turned toward the corner and fired a low, off-angle shot on net. The Wildcats’ goaltender Marie Dedert stopped it but pushed the rebound out front. Junior Abby Anderson skated untouched past two defenders to get to the puck. Anderson swiftly whipped it into the net.
The Ice Bears scored again just over a minute later. Senior Jo-Jo Cano got a loose puck behind the Wildcats’ net, avoided a check, then banked a pass off the left boards to senior Morgan Zirbel, who had moved from the point to the top of the circle. Zirbel immediately fired a low shot toward the net. Kadrlik had her stick on the ice in the low slot, and she tipped the puck past Dedert at 4:48.
A power play gave the Ice Bears another opportunity to score, and they made good use of it. They got the puck into the Wildcats’ zone and moved the puck systematically. Eventually the puck went to Zirbel at the center of the blue line. She passed it to the left to her defensive partner, sophomore Mia Dunning. Dunning gunned a low slapper at Dedert. Situated in front, senior Alli Hartter tipped the incoming puck inside the post to give the Ice Bears a commanding 3-0 lead at 7:05.
The Wildcats knew they still had plenty of time, and they were not about to give in. They tightened their defense refusing to concede another goal.
The Wildcats also got their offense going. By game's end they had outshot the Ice Bears 23-16. Still, they knew they faced a tough task. In the two previous games between these Easter Shores Conference foes, they had not scored a goal against the Ice Bears’ junior goalie, Ana Holzbach. They were determined to do so. In the second period, the Wildcats outshot Bay Area by a 13-4 margin and finally put one past Holzbach.
Sophomore Lexie Epperson tied up a defender on the left mid-boards in the Bay Area end. As others joined the scrum, Epperson slyly pulled the puck from the pack, swung toward the blue line then passed the puck to junior defenseman Hannah Gold. Gold fired a low slap shot that zipped past Holzbach at 13:31.
The game moved into the third period, during which the shots were 5-4 in favor of the Ice bears. As the period wore on, the Wildcats desperately needed goals. Haury pulled Dedert for an extra forward with 3:36 left in the period. The Wildcats pressured the Ice Bears vigorously, but to no avail as Holzbach and her companions survived the onslaught, won the game, and now are heading to the state tournament.
The Ice Bears will take their 21-3-3 record to Madison. They will play the winner of the Saturday’s Sectional 1 Final between Hayward and Hudson. Their State Tournament Semi-final game will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, March 3rd.
The loss ended the season for the Wildcats. They finished with a record of 13-12-2.