The fourth seeded SPASH Panthers made the trip up to Marathon Park and knocked off the third seeded Warriors of Wausau West 3-1 on Thursday in a WIAA Regional Final Game.
The Panthers beat the Warriors 6-2 just over a week prior, but that was two days after the sectional seeding was done. West had edged out Point 4-3 back in December, so they got the higher seed and the home ice advantage.
The Warriors struck first, nine minutes into the first period when Spencer Cooper corralled a loose puck in the low slot and fired a quick wrist shot past SPASH goalie Jonathon Nafe.
“We always preach to the boys that the shift after a goal, whether for or against, that the shift is super important,” said Panthers head coach Brandon Busse. “We woke up after they scored and got two quick ones. I was happy with the response.”
On that next shift, Maksim Salienko cut across the front of the net and put a backhand shot on West netminder Adam Prokop. Prokop made the save and then Salienko put the rebound back on net. Prokop stopped that one also, but his momentum while following the shooter took him to the edge of the crease. Carter Drexler was able to scoop up the second rebound and put it into the half-open net.
SPASH scored again less than a minute later n a quick wrist shot from the right face-off circle to go up 2-1. The teams traded chances for the rest of the period, but both goalies held their ground.
“We were able to battle through the two quick goals from SPASH and kill a large amount of period two,” said West head coach Brian Brandt.
Neither team was able to generate any consistent offense in a second period spent mostly on special teams.
“I thought the refs did a good job with the game keeping the temperature of the game even,” Said Brandt. “The game came down to special teams and we were unable to execute on the power play. Keeping it at 2-1 going into the third was a bit of a win after all the penalties and felt like we put ourselves in a good spot to have a great third period.”
A spirited third period found more trips to the penalty box. The Panthers were able to capitalize with a power play goal midway through the period. A shot from low on the left side found its way over Prokop’s shoulder and into the net for a 3-1 SPASH lead. “We ran into penalty trouble and weathered the storm,” said Busse. “The calls were suspect especially for a playoff game.”
The Warriors were able to get pressure on the Panthers but Nafe was sharp and directed everything to the corners. When a rebound did stay in front, his defensemen cleared it out. “We were able to create scoring chances but were not able to get them past Nafe," added Brandt. “We knew we needed to get to secondary chances and were unable to get to them.”
The Panthers now travel west to take on top-seeded Hudson in a semi-final of a section that saw it’s second, third, and fourth seeds all fall on Thursday night.