No doubt about it, the Wildcats are heading back to Madison.
Led by Tyler Herzberg, who scored four goals, University School, the defending state champion, earned the chance to play for the 2020 title by defeating Arrowhead 5-2 in the Sectional 4 Final of the WIAA Division 1 boys ice hockey tournament on Saturday, February 29th at The Ponds of Brookfield.
The Wildcats came into the game as the underdog but left as the top dog. USM, the sectional’s second-seeded team, convincingly knocked off Arrowhead, the sectional’s top seed, leaving the Warhawks with the only loss of their season. The Wildcats also avenged an earlier loss to the Warhawks during the regular season.
TJ Fenton, one of USM’s captains, voiced the thrill his teammates were feeling, “What an unbelievable win for the boys. I am beyond proud of every single person on our team. We had all odds stacked against us, came out, and played our best game of the year. We came out hard right at the start and didn’t let up until the final buzzer went off. It is an incredible feeling after losing 3-1 in the regular season to be able to win in the sectional final. A dominant performance by both Tyler Herzberg and Patrick Kelly. Although the win feels great, we are not done. Next stop, Madison.”
Kelly, USM’s goaltender, stopped 24 of the 26 shots taken by the Warhawks. Mark Moreno made 26 saves in the net for Arrowhead.
Herzberg gave USM the first lead of the game with a goal at 11:41 of the first period. Blake Carey dug the puck away from a defender in the Warhawks’ right corner and dished it up the boards to Noah Eghbali. Eghbali saw Herzberg all alone in the high slot and passed it to him. Herzberg zipped a low shot past Moreno for the goal.
Arrowhead tied the game a few minutes later while on a power play. Trenton Skaggs snared a loose puck in the left corner of the USM zone and passed it out to Nick Catalano at the near point. Catalano walked the puck to the center of the blue line then wristed a low shot through a screen and past Kelly at 15:07 of the first period.
USM went back ahead in the last few seconds of the period. Cycling along the Warhawks’ left boards, Eghbali bumped the puck to Carey in the corner. Carey immediately passed it to Herzberg in the circle. Herzberg sizzled a shot into the net at 16:47.
In the second period, it became clear to the crowd packing the rink that Wildcats were there to win. USM outshot the Warhawks 11-7 in the period and outscored them 2-0.
Herzberg scored the eventual game-winner just 2:30 into the period. Pinching down the right sideboards in the Arrowhead end, he swiped the puck from a Warhawk defender and curled along the goal line toward the net. He pulled the puck away from a defenseman’s stick check, then, like he was filling a gift bag, he stuffed the puck between Moreno and the goal pipe to sweeten USM’s lead.
USM went further ahead while on a power play late in the period. As the Wildcats moved the puck around the Arrowhead zone, Charlie Keough passed it from the right point down the near boards to Eghbali. Eghbali passed it right back. Keough skated toward the center of the blue line then fired a shot. Carey tipped it past Moreno at 14:02.
The Warhawks moved a bit closer with a power play goal at 10:21 of the third period. Zach Wolverton pulled the puck from a scrum along the right mid-boards in the USM zone. He moved it to Nick Vondrak at the point. The puck tipped off of Vondrak’s stick to Will Bonk near the center of the blue line. Bonk spun, then zipped a shot into the net to give Arrowhead a breath of life.
But just seconds later, Herzberg and his cohorts smothered any hopes the Warhawks’ had left. Carey got a loose puck just inside the USM blue line and forwarded it to Eghbali who was speeding into center ice. Herzberg joined him on a two-on-one. Moving into the Arrowhead zone, Eghbali passed the puck over to Herzberg in the left circle. Herzberg fired and scored, assuring the Wildcats a return trip to Madison.
The Warhawks ended a great season of ice hockey with a record of 24-1-2.
Now 20-6-1, USM’s season is still not over. The Wildcats head to Madison as the number 4 seed in the Division 1 State Tournament. They will play Green Bay Notre Dame, the number 1 seed, in the tournament’s semifinal. The game is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Friday, March 6th at the Alliant Energy Center.