The second ranked Fox Cities Stars traveled west to Greenheck Field House in Schofield to face number three, the Central Wisconsin Storm in the Game of the Week on Tuesday night. McKayla Zilisch’s hattrick was too much for the Storm to overcome as the Stars came away with a 4-3 win on Parents’ night for Central Wisconsin.
The last time these squads met was the Section 2 final in Appleton last year. The Storm skated away with a 5-1 victory that night. The teams are in different sections this season, so this game was more for bragging rights.
The Storm scored first when Tristan Wicklund carried the puck in along the right boards, sped past the defense and cut toward the slot and got a shot off. Stars goal tender Ella Sciborski stopped the initial shot, but Logan Crawford was right there at the top of the crease to put in the rebound.
Fox Cities tied it up with just over two minutes left in the first. Zilisch started her scoring run when she skated out from the right corner to the front of the net and put a backhand shot over Storm goalie Chloe Lemke.
“Zilisch is one of best players I’ve coached, and I have had some good players,” said Stars head coach Jeff Fox. “She is a very complete player with the capability to make plays or defend and then pick up a pick and just go beat someone. When engaged she is a very complete player.”
The Storm took back the lead early in the second period. Wicklund and Dru Sabatke attacked the zone with a two on one. Wicklund made the late pass to Sabatke for an easy tap in goal.
“Defensively we made some adjustments, or more reminders of how important that D zone responsibilities are since the Storm moves the puck very well,” said Fox. “Having a girl like (Parker) Beyer that is very strong and another great battler leading the group. She doesn’t show up on the stat sheet until the analytics get back and good things happen when she is on the ice. We have a very young D core, other than one girl, all are sophomores and freshmen and playing 5-7 D.”
The Storm had a great chance to add to their lead midway through the second period when the Stars were called for two penalties about a minute apart, giving CWS almost a minute of 5 on 3 action. The Storm took their timeout to set up the power play with the skaters they wanted, but the Stars were able to kill the time off.
CWS was able to hold their lead until just over a minute left in the period. Zilisch picked off a clearing pass along the boards at the left hash mark and cut straight across to the slot, firing a wrist shot that beat Lemke up high. Half a minute later, Zilisch skated right down the slot with the defense giving too much ground. She fired from the hash marks and again beat Lemke high.
“The end of periods killed us all night,” said Storm head coach Jacque DuVair. “We played well for the majority of each period, but some let downs late in periods cost us. I don't know if I can put a finger on why we didn't finish periods strong, but we'll have to see if there are things we can do differently or match-up-wise that'll clean that up.”
The Storm came out in the third period determined to get back in the game. “We encouraged them with how well they played for 15 of the 17 minutes,” said DuVair. “We told them to stick to doing the little things well, and we'd get back in it. They were confident that they'd figure it out.”
The Storm tied it up midway through the third period when a scramble at the edge of the crease sent the puck tumbling up through the air eventually falling to the ice behind Sciborski.
The score remained tied until the last few minutes of the period, again. This time, Grace Rentmeester got the puck and some time and space in the Storm zone. She fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Lemke up high. “Rentmeester is a great asset to the team just with scoring touch and the ability to shoot the puck,” added Fox. “Girls hockey doesn’t have a lot of girls that shoot that hard, she can get a little reliant on just shooting instead of working for better but definitely has nice skill.”
The Storm pulled their goalie late, but was unable to get another good scoring chance. Sciborski ended the night with 19 saves on 22 shots. Lemke finished with 24 saves on 28 shots.
“Fox Cities is really good,” said DuVair after the game. “Their top 2 are just hard to contend with. We let them get in space a couple of times, and they were able to take advantage. They are tough to stop, and any team that plays them will have their hands full not only because of them but also because they have a well-rounded lineup that plays smart, disciplined hockey.”
Fox added “It was a good girls hockey game and nice to win, but overall better to have some adversity like killing a 5-3 power play or having to fall behind and battle back.”
Zilisch and Rentmeester provided the scoring, with Fox noting “The team is lead by those players, but so dependent on the rest of the team giving quality minutes since in games like this you can’t just play your top players. You need to depend on the core of your team.”