The Community First Champions Center ice rink in Appleton was appropriately named for the event held there on Tuesday, December 10. It was the first re-match of the 2019 boys’ hockey state tournament championship game between University School and Neenah/ Hortonville/ Menasha. In this season’s contest, Kyler Ringgold scored two goals to lead University School Wildcats to a 3-2 victory over the NHM Rockets.
After suffering a 1-0 loss to another state powerhouse, Wausau West, at USM on the previous Saturday, the Wildcats were determined to win as they took their first road trip to resume the growing rivalry with the Rockets.
TJ Fenton, one of USM’s captains, described the Wildcats’ mood, “The boys came prepared to play. We knew it would be a battle considering it was a rematch of last year’s state championship game. We displayed a strong performance of hard work from all ends of the lineup, ultimately getting us a well-earned victory. It was a great way to bounce back from a tough loss.”
The Wildcats out shot their hosts 23-12 in the non-conference game. Goalie Jake Mork made 20 saves for NHM, while Patrick Kelly stopped 10 shots in the USM net.
The first period was scoreless. USM had the advantage of shots, 8-5, but defense reigned in the opening 17 minutes of the battle.
The Rockets changed the storyline early in the second period. As they forechecked in the Wildcats’ end, Ethan Long angled into a USM forward who was trying to receive a breakout pass along the right boards. Long knocked the puck to Drew Sutton who whirled toward the slot then zinged a shot past Kelly at 3:04.
Ringgold tied it back up just over two minutes later while USM was killing a penalty. As he came out to cover the point, Ringgold blocked a shot. The puck caromed into center ice and he and a NHM defender took off in race for it. As the puck slid toward the NHM goal line, Ringgold harassed the Neenah player causing him to cough up the puck. Ringgold snared it, spun in a wide circle and tried to pass the puck to Blake Carey who had skated in to aid him. The pass hit a defenseman and bounced back to Ringgold. This time, he chose to shoot and Ringgold and his teammates were glad as he buried his shot in the Neenah net at 5:27.
USM took the lead at 10:10 of the second period. On a regroup in center ice, Reid Woods took a pass from Tyler Herzberg on the left boards. Woods skated toward the middle of the zone and dropped a pass to Ethan Thombs. Thombs dashed into the Neenah zone, curled to the left around a defenseman, then cut to the net. He swept past Mork, then deposited his investment into the net for the goal.
Ringgold scored the eventual game winning goal early in the third period. Forechecking, Carey got the puck in the right corner. He skated out along the boards, turning away into the high slot. The Neenah defenders moved out to stop him, leaving Ringgold unmarked at the edge of the goalpost. Before he could be halted, Carey released a shot. The rebound came out to Ringgold who immediately jammed it under Mork at 3:43.
As the time wore away, Neenah pulled Mork for an extra skater. The Wildcats iced the puck in an attempt to score on the empty net, giving the Rockets a face off opportunity in the USM left circle. They made good use of it. Long drew the puck back to Thomas Burns at the point. Burns immediately whizzed a low shot through a throng and past Kelly at 15:26.
The Rockets tried, but they could not score again in the final minute plus. As a result, the Wildcats returned to Milwaukee with another hard-fought victory over Neenah under their belts.
Jason Woods, USM’s head coach commented on Tuesday’s result, “A great win for us. It was our first road test, a state championship rematch, and we were up to the task at hand. The TJ Fenton, Peter Ells and Alvin Pokel line didn’t score but really sparked us tonight. We competed hard, played great team defense, and just found a way to get it done. I credit Neenah. They’re a terrific team and a great opponent. It was a fun game.”
NHM is now 1-1 and 0-0 in the Badgerland Conference. The Rockets take on Oshkosh in a conference test at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 12th at the Oshkosh Community YMCA.
USM is 4-1 and 0-0 in the Classic Eight Conference. The Wildcats will take time off for semester exams, then resume play against the Brookfield Stars in a Classic Eight Conference game at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 21st at USM.