Zoe Uihlein scored the game-winning goal with just 20 seconds left to give the University School co-op girls’ hockey team a 3-2 victory over the Lakeshore Lightning in the opening round of Sectional 4 of the WIAA girls ice hockey tournament on Friday, February 21st at USM.
“It felt extremely good to score that last goal. Jordan (Bonk) passed me the puck and with 20 seconds left, I knew I had to shoot it. Kami (McCardle) is an amazing goalie, and it was lucky for our team that it got past her. It went top right. Overall, it was an amazing game for our team. We never gave up or stopped working, and now we have momentum heading into our next games.”
The Wildcats outshot the Lightning 28-16; the Lightning’s goalie, Kami McCardle, made 25 saves while USM’s goaltender, Sami Stommel, made 14.
But the totals made little difference. As would be expected in a playoff game, the action between the 4th seeded Wildcats and the 5th seeded Lightning was contentious and fierce, and the play between these two neighboring rivals went back and forth. As a consequence, the game wound down to the final seconds before it was decided.
The Wildcats scored the game’s first goal late in the first period. Jordan Bonk knocked the puck from a Lightning player’s stick just inside the Lightning’s blue line. Bonk side-stepped a defender, then skated into the right circle. She saw Uihlein bursting toward the far post and passed the puck directly to her stick. Falling, Uihlein still steered the puck into the wide-open side of the net at 11:09.
The Lightning tied it back up just over a minute and a half later. Sydney Bartlett took the puck from a Wildcat defender in the right corner of the Wildcats’ zone. She spun out into the near circle and saw Anna Gontarski all alone on the far post. Bartlett passed the puck over and Gontarski slammed it into net at 13:31.
The Wildcats went back ahead at 14:50 while on a power play. At the left point Bonk received a pass from Emily Mueller. Bonk walked toward the center of the blue line, then passed the puck back to Mueller in the left circle. Mueller skated toward the net and saw that Lily Valimont was screening McCardle, so Mueller whipped a wrist shot into the net to make it 2-1.
The referees got into the act and called 9 more penalties in the second period, 5 on the Wildcats and 4 on the Lightning.
The Lightning scored a power play goal in the period as a result. Lauren McCormack took a shot from the high slot. Stommel blockered it toward the left corner. Joelle Erickson chased it down and backhanded it out front. Bartlett batted it toward the net. It hit a diving defender and caromed to Gontarski at the post. Gontarski bopped it into the net at 6:55 to tie the score once more.
The Lightning were assessed with 4 more penalties in the third period, and two were crucial. They received two penalties with just 1:01 left in regulation. The situation gave the Wildcats a 5-on-3 power play.
As the clock ticked down, the Wildcats got the puck into the Lightning zone and began to move it around.
The Lightning stopped a play and had an unexpected 2-on-1 break into the Wildcats’ zone. Bonk, who is normally a forward, was able to break it up and start the puck back toward the Lightning end as the clock kept ticking.
Bonk forwarded a pass to Molly Guenther, who skated into the Lightning zone. She headed toward the net, but the Lightning defenders forced her to move into the left corner. Guenther passed the puck to Bonk at the blue line. Bonk passed it to Uihlein in the right circle. Uihlein turned and shot it. She scored. The Wildcats won!
“That was a tough hockey game,” said Dan Carey, the Wildcats’ head coach. “The girls played really hard, and they found a way to win. I am proud of them for the way they played the game. Now we need to get ready for another tough game against Rock County.”
The loss ended the season for the Lakeshore Lightning. Their final record was 8-12-3.
USM is now 8-13-4. The win meant the Wildcats keep playing in the state tournament. Their next game is against the Rock County Fury in a Sectional 4 semi-final of the WIAA girls ice hockey tournament at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 25th at the Janesville Ice Arena.