In a game that epitomized boys’ state tournament hockey, freshman Jacob Como finished a two-on-one play to score the game winning goal and give University School a 4-3 victory over Onalaska in a quarterfinal game of the WIAA State Tournament on Thursday, February 28th at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
The lucky fans who were able to make it to the 10:00 a.m. game that opened the 2019 state tournament witnessed a tense back and forth battle between the Wildcats and the Hilltoppers. The scoring see-sawed throughout the morning; it wasn’t until the final buzzer that the tight game was ultimately decided.
Como’s goal at 4:40 of the third period, however, made sure that the narrow scoring difference favored the Wildcats. It gave USM the lead just a minute after the Hilltoppers had tied the game.
Como, a defenseman, jumped into the rush after his D partner, junior Casey sent a breakout pass to senior Robby Newton. Flying into the Onalaska zone, Newton crossed the pass to Como. Como detailed what occurred, “It all started with a great breakout from Casey and Rob, never being selfish, gave the puck up to me, and I just threw it in five hole. I just threw it on net hoping for the best, but none of it could’ve happened without Rob’s amazing pass. It felt great knowing I gave our team a chance to play at least one more game together.”
In the final weekend of the regular season, USM had soundly defeated Onalaska 6-1 at USM. But the Hilltoppers were a resilient bunch. They were ready for the Wildcats and gave them their best.
To demonstrate their determination, the Hilltoppers began the scoring early in the first period. Junior Carter Stobb seized a loose puck behind the USM net and quickly passed it out front. Senior Andrew Walz was uncovered in the low slot. He took Stobb’s pass then fired the puck past Patrick Kelly, USM’s junior goaltender, at 3:33.
The Wildcats made use of a five-minute major penalty to tie the score on a power play. From the corner from in the Onalaska end, sophomore Ethan Mann passed the puck to junior Tyler Herzberg in the left circle. Herzberg zipped it across the seam to Newton in the right circle. Newton immediately whipped a shot behind Onalaska’s senior goalie, Jack Weber at 10:11 of the first period.
Just over a minute later, the Wildcats got a lucky break to put them ahead for the first time. The Wildcats were killing a penalty and iced the puck. USM senior dashed after it. An Onalaska defenseman got the puck behind his team’s net and tried to pass to a winger. Mogush stuck his stick out and tipped it unexpectedly past Weber at 11:28.
Onalaska re-tied the score at 4:21 of the second period when senior Will Bryant banged home a rebound, off a shot by sophomore Mason Manglitz.
USM took a 3-2 lead just over two minutes later when Mann skated off the left side boards into the high slot and fired a low barn-burner past Weber at 6:50. Senior Ethan Ford and Herzberg were awarded assists on the play.
The action continued unabated with no more scoring in the middle period. Onalaska tied it back up early in the third. Junior Max Popp won a battle for the puck along the left side boards in the USM zone and passed it to Bryant in the near circle. Turning to face the net, Bryant winged a wrist shot past Kelly at 3:30.
Onalsaka’s goal to make it 3-3 set up Como’s game winner just over a minute later. After his goal the teams battled and the fans watched intently. The Hilltoppers pulled Weber in the final minute, but they were unable to get a goal to tie it once more. The Wildcats were the victors, and they move on.
The save totals demonstrated how close the game had been. Kelly made 22 saves and Weber had 20 in his final game for the Hilltoppers.
After the game, Blake Carey, a USM captain, spoke for the team, saying, “The boys were able to pull one out today without our best play. We battled and faced adversity this morning against a very solid Onalaska team. We had big time players step up for us to help us to victory. We are excited about the win and moving on, but there is more work to do.”
Onalaska finished a fine season with a fine record of 22-3.
USM is still alive. The Wildcats must now put their 26-2 record on the line when they faceoff against Verona in a semifinal game of the WIAA State Tournament at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, March 1st at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.