It has been a long time since the Shawano/Bonduel/Clintonville hockey team played a WIAA tournament-eligible hockey season. Their last was the 2011-2012 season, and since then they've been playing varsity reserve, or JV hockey.
Three years ago Travis Olson and Lee Davids took over the high school program in need of coaches.
"I immediately learned just where the program was at as far as a standpoint with WIAA" said Olson. "I also knew how hard it was for the AD to get games scheduled."
But Olson is also the Program Director for of the Shawano Hockey League and knew what kind of numbers would be coming over the next few seasons.
"So I started talking with our AD and other ADs and coaches I know throughout Wisconsin. I put a plan together on what conferences I thought we would be a better fit for and brought the plan to the AD," Olson said.
"Badgerland Conference seemed like the best fit as far as needing a team to get to 8 teams and programs similar in size and compete levels. I also knew many of the coaches in the conference. So I started talking with them. It all played out that we were accepted in the fall of 2020 to start play this season."
So now, Shawano is back amongst the ranks of tournament eligible teams and they got their first action of the season at Marathon Park in Wausau where they took on the Wausau East-Merrill United co-op.
It was a close game through the first period, but eventually EMU pulled away with a 6-1 win.
Neither team scored in the first period, and while EMU outshot Shawano 14-7, it appeared that Shawano actually had the better scoring chances in the period. Coach Olson agreed saying, "You know I was very happy with our 1st period. We were outshot but I thought our chances were better quality. We also as the period went on dictated the play more. I know we will get outshot this season most games. So we are trying to stress defense especially front net coverage and rotation."
Sophomore Andrew Franken opened the scoring for EMU just 29 seconds into the second period. He had the puck along the goal line and threw it at the net. Somehow it squeaked in.
Freshman Nicholas Bodner added EMU's second goal three minutes later. The puck was bouncing around in front of the Shawano net and squirted over to Bodner all alone on the far-side post and he batted it in for his first high school goal in his first high school game.
Bodner added his second goal four minutes later on two-on-two with Zach Pagel. The defender covering Bodner played for the puck instead of staying with Bodner, leaving him alone on the back door, and Pagel hit him with a nice pass to make it 3-0.
"We fell flat for really 2 - 3-4 min parts of periods 2 and 3 and that's when EMU capitalized," said Olson. " We kept positive on the bench. I don't think the coaching staff heard one negative word or statement from a player or coach throughout the whole game."
Noah Davids got Shawano on the board early in the third period on what was a third or fourth rebound against EMU tender Jake Furrer, but that would be it for Shawano.
Eli Pagel, Bodner, and Zach Pagel each added another goal in the third period for EMU to take the 6-1 win.
Despite the score ending up lopsided, the game never got chippy and only two penalties were called the whole game.
"This is something we have stressed the last 2 years but really have stressed more coming into this season was to keep your head and stay out of the box. We didn't do well at that the last 2 seasons. Last night showed we can do that. I was very happy that our kids didn't lose control," Olson said.
Dylan Prochaska stopped 44 of 50 for Shawano in a mighty effort, and Furrer stopped 24 of 25 for EMU.
"I think Jake is focused this year," said EMU coach Nate Pagel. "I think it also gives him confidence when his team puts up 50 shots. It shows him that the team is working as hard as he does.
It was a big offensive game for East-Merrill who only scored 18 goals during the 2020-2021 season, and last night they got four goals from freshman.
"I had hoped that our underclassmen would be able to make a quick adjustment in order to contribute," said Pagel. "We only have two seniors and five juniors. Two of the juniors are goalies."
Shawano's next test will be against Stevens Point Pacelli, also returning from a WIAA absence, on Monday the 29th. EMU will take on Tomahawk on Tuesday the 30th.
"As the new head coach I was hoping we could change the direction of the program," Pagel added. "We went back to the basics and started to focus on the little things. We needed to get better in small space, protect the puck better, get more shots on net, and better scoring opportunities. I think last night was a good start."