The third ranked Amery Warriors headed to Minocqua on Saturday to face off against the unbeaten Lakeland Thunderbirds as Lakeland pinked out the rink for breast cancer awareness.
Despite Lakeland holding the lead for more than 34 minutes, it was Amery who came away with the late 4-2 win.
Amery controlled the first several minutes of the game but it was the Thunderbirds who got on the board first. After the Amery defense cleared the front of the net, Thunderbird defender Matt Haggart picked up the loose puck and fired a wrister into the top corner through heavy traffic in front to give Lakeland the 1-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds would add to their lead just 21 seconds later. Thomas McCumber fired a shot from the point and Brayden Warchol tipped it in front to make it 2-0.
Amery managed to get one back, short handed, in the back half of the period. The Warriors won an offensive zone faceoff back to the point where Cayden Meyer fired it on net. It hit Fredrik Henningsgard in front and fluttered up and over the tender to cut the lead in half.
Neither team managed to score in the second period, and it moved to the third still 2-1 in favor of the home team.
"We had a lot of great chances especially in the 2nd but credit to their goaltender coming up huge time after time," said Lakeland coach Jake Suter.
In two instances a Lakeland forward absolutely undressed an Amery d-man, but was turned away by Amery goalie Avery Starzecki. "Our defensemen definitely got caught puck watching a couple times," said Amery coach Tim Henningsgard, "but I gotta give the Lakeland forwards credit, they have good hands, are quick and tough one on one."
In the third period Amery came out with their heads on fire. They really started to take control of the play and put on a lot of pressure. "Amery did a good job of their D pinching and keeping the puck in our end," said Suter. "Our group did a poor job of getting the puck out on the breakout and that is my fault for not having them better prepared."
At the 6:11 mark of the period Blu Anderson received the puck at the point and fired a slapper that never left the ice. Reece Atkins, right at the goal crease, tipped the puck up into the top cover over goalie Max Masayesva to tie the game at 2.
Both goalies turned away some odd-man rushes as play continued, and it wasn't until 16:14 of the third that Amery was able to break the tie.
Fredrik Henningsgard made a heads-up pass to Simon Panek streaking through center ice, and they caught Lakeland on a line change. Panek entered the zone with three Thunderbirds on his tail, but he was able to keep control and burry a wrister to make it 3-2 Amery with just 46 seconds left.
Max Mike added an empty netter for Amery with just 0.2 left on the clock giving Amery the 4-2 win.
"Tonight was a very good hockey game against a very good opponent on Amery," said Suter. "It was a physical battle from start to finish that featured two of the best goalies in the state. All in all it was a great game and a very good learning experience for all of us and we look forward to learning and growing from this loss tonight. "
Asked about his offense in the first two periods versus the third, coach Henningsgard said, "We need to get more pucks on net. Lakeland did a really nice job of blocking shots and clogging up the middle. Certainly something we need to improve on. Offensively, there were times I thought we were really strong on the puck and supported each other well. And then there were times we we were a little disorganized. Our offensive zone effort was decent."
Neither team capitalized on the power play with Lakeland going 0-for-4, and Amery going 0-for-1.
Max Masaysva stopped 25 of 28 for Lakeland in their first loss of the season, and Avery Starzecki stopped 30 of 32 for Amery.
The loss drops Lakeland to 5-1 and they will face Shawano on Thursday. The win improves Amery to 7-1 and their next opponent will be Rice Lake on Tuesday.