On January 21, the Madison La Follette/East Lakers came from behind to beat Beloit Memorial 5-4, snapping a string of 109 consecutive Big Eight conference losses. The Lakers beat Madison Memorial twice during the 2011-12 campaign, the last win coming on January 31, 2012, nearly eight years to the day of their win over Beloit.
Earlier this year, Beloit edged the Lakers 4-2. Eastside wanted to avenge that loss.
"The team played Beloit tough the first time through the conference schedule," said coach Brian Loeck. "So I think a lot of them had this game circled on their calendars."
Loeck also said, "All the boys were well aware of when the Lakers last won a conference game. I pointed out during the 2nd intermission that the freshmen on the team were only six."
In the 1960s and 1970s, Madison East was a big name in Wisconsin high school hockey. Led by Coach Jim Webster, the Purgolders won three straight Madison Invitational titles prior to the WIAA-sanctioned state tournament that began in 1971.
And then they did well at the state tournament, winning three titles in the first eight years the competition was held. In the 70s, the tournament moved around the state, with games played at the Dane County Coliseum, Hartmeyer Arena in Madison, and the Brown County Arena in Green Bay.
East won in 1973 (Hartmeyer), 1975 (Green Bay), and 1978 (Dane County Coliseum).
It took a few years, but the Purgolders earned their fourth (and final thus far) state title in 1987, beating Superior 5-4 at the Clamshell.
Two wins each over Superior and Madison Memorial, plus a runner-up finish in 1979 is a pretty darn good state tournament resume for a Wisconsin high school hockey team, considering the competition back in the 70s and 80s. All told, the Purgolders made it to state 13 times in the first 17 years of the tourney.
Madison La Follette made four trips from the east side of Madison and compiled a 3-5 record. The Lancers' last state appearance was in 1991.
East and La Follette competed separately until the 2006-07 season, when they became the Eastside Lakers. Driven mostly by low numbers and feeder youth programs that delivered players to several high schools, East and La Follette combined forces to make hockey a possibility for those two schools, located just a few miles apart, both near Lake Monona.
The game started well for Eastside, as Inde Abresch scored just under five minutes into the contest for the early lead, giving the partisan, though sparse crowd at Hartmeyer something to cheer about. That wouldn't last long, as the Purple Knights scored twice in the period to take a 2-1 lead going into the first break.
Midway through the second period, Beloit led 4-1 and the Lakers fans were probably thinking, 'here we go again.'
"They fell down early and came out flat to play the second period," noted Loeck.
The Lakers refused to cave, as Jasper Nettleton scored about three minutes into the final period to cut the lead to 4-2. "Getting that early goal in the third seemed to give them a lot of confidence," stated Loeck.
"And then the last five minutes of the game just happened," said Loeck. "I don't know if anyone still knows exactly what happened."
Abresch scored with five minutes left to make it 4-3. Three minutes later, Owen Bieri scored to tie the game at four, with the decibel level at HIA going up.
The game was in the balance, but with just five seconds left, Simon Kuhlow tallied an unassisted goal for the game-winner in a 5-4 game, and just like that the Lakers had a Big Eight conference win.
"Beloit turned it over in the neutral zone and Simon was right there to grab it," said Loeck. "He took it in wide, shot it on net and beat him five hole. You spend your whole coaching career telling kids to just put the puck on the net and good things happen. Well, this is proof."
The Lakers have three seniors, and in this game, the goal scorers were freshmen or sophomores.
"Our sophomores and freshmen have gotten thrown into the mix a little sooner than I would like," said Loeck. "But speeding up the process has set us up for the next couple of years."
Senior goalie Easton Seifert played one of his best games of the year, stopping 35 shots in the win. "Easton made some big saves for us in the 2nd period when we decided to come out flat," noted Loeck. "He set us for the big comeback in the 3rd."
Even though junior captain Ben Blazel didn't play—he broke his wrist in the Christmas holiday tournament—he still came out with the comment of the year. According to Loeck, at last Friday's practice Blazel said with a grin, 'It's so weird to see a '1' in the win column on WiPH.'
Keep up the good work, boys, and that '1' will be changing into a 'crooked' number soon.