The Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha Rockets did on Friday what Wausau West couldn’t do on Thursday, put the puck behind Waukesha Wings goalie Garrett Larsen – seven times. The 7-3 victory propelled the Rockets into Saturday’s championship game against the University School of Milwaukee.
The Rockets seem to know what nobody else in Wisconsin does: how to score on Waukesha. Neenah handed Waukesha and Larsen their worst loss at 6-2 back in December. So the Wings knew that they would have their hands full. What they didn’t know was that they would play half of the first period a man short. Five penalties on Waukesha created five power play opportunities for NHM, and the Rockets cashed in on two of them in the first period, and one more on a penalty that bled over into the second period.
Believe it or not, there were cried of “Call it both ways” and “There’s two teams out there” raining down from the seats on the Waukesha side after the fourth straight Wings penalty. These were the same people who booed when the officials came out on the ice before the second period.
Rockets got on the board just two minutes into the game on a power play. Dillon Fox had the puck behind the net and passed it out front to Drew Sutton in the slot. Sutton’s one-timer was stopped by Wings goalie Garrett Larsen, but the rebound went right to Ethan Long and Larson couldn’t recover in time to stop his shot.
Neenah got a second power play goal at 10:57 when Eric Alberts shot from behind the goal line and bounced the puck off the side of Larsen’s leg pad and into the net.
The always interesting WIAA official shot count showed a 13 to 3 advantage for the Rockets in the first period.
Neenah started the second period with 1:03 of power lay time left. It only took 29 seconds of that for Dillon Fox to snipe the top corner from the bottom of the right face off circle putting NHM up 3-0.
The Wings finally got a bounce at 5:08 in the second. A bad-angle shot from Chad Larsen was stopped by Rockets’ goalie Jake Mork and the rebound bounced straight up in the air. When it finally came down, it hit off a Neenah defenseman and bounced to Thomas Knoke who had a wide open net to put the puck in.
A minute and a half later Rocket sniper Fox struck again, on a break away where he went top shelf to make it 4-1.
It only took another minute for the Wings to close the gap to two goals again when Knoke beat Mork with a wrist shot from the left face off dot.
The Rockets incurred their first penalty at 11:20 in the second. It took the Wings 48 seconds to turn that into a power play goal. Waukesha patiently moved the puck around the outside and then fired it toward the net. After several shots and much scrambling around, Knoke found the puck in front of the crease and shot it in to make it 4-3.
Neenah quickly restored their two goal advantage when Waukesha failed to clear their zone and the puck ended up on the stick of Ethan Long in the low slot. Long took his queue from Dillon Fox and roofed the puck over Larsen to make it 5-3.
The Rockets extended their lead to 6-3 when Luke Elkin Dumped the puck into the Wings end and it somehow made its way between Larsen’s pads at 7:52 in the third. Cody Dias made it 7-3 just a minute and a half later and pretty much ended the Wings thoughts of advancing to the championship game.