The Rice Lake Warriors scored four times in the first period, the last three by Cole Fenske, and then fought off a furious Amery Warriors comeback to win the Division Two Section One final 4-2 on Friday night in Amery.
Adam Timm opened the scoring for Rice Lake at 7:08 in the first period. With some heated action in front of Amery goalie Avery Starzecki, Jace Fitzgerald passed the puck across the crease to Timm on the back door for a 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later, Cole Fenske got his first when he redirected a point shot from Keegan Gunderson to double the lead.
Amery didn’t register a shot on goal until there was five minutes left in the first period and they put four shots on Rice Lake tender Ian Krance while on a power play.
However Fesnke had his own answer to the Amery pressure. Fenske picked the pocket of an Amery defender after a face off in the Amery end. He skated across the slot and had time to pick a corner and extend the Rice Lake lead to three. With just 50 secconds left in the frame, Fenske completed his hattrick with a power play goal assisted by Timm and Fitzgerald that sent Rice Lake into the first intermission with a 4-0 lead.
“Fenske might have the best shot in the entire state - especially his one timer,” said Rice Lake head coach Josh Engel.
“Gotta give Josh and his team credit," said Amery head coach Tim Henningsgard, “they came out flying and we were certainly flat footed. We’ve played in front of big crowds before but that atmosphere was electric and something you can’t completely understand until you’re in it. It took us a little time to gather our emotions and just play the game.”
Starzecki had a busy first period, stopping 12 of 16 shots that made it to him. At the other end, Krance only faced 6 shots and stopped them all.
“Fast starts as far as scoring goes hasn’t been normal for us this season,” explained Engel. “However, we do come out and set the tone in the first period pretty regularly.”
Whatever transpired in the Amery locker room during the first intermission had the desired affect, as the Warriors came out looking like a different team to start the second period.
“After the first we regrouped physically and mentally and played how we do,” said Hemmingsgard. “The leadership in our room this year was outstanding and last night was no different.”
Amery was able to break the seal on the Rice Lake net at 6:33 in the second period when Reece Atkins scored on a power play from the high slot.
Rice Lake had a chance to put this game away when Amery was whistled for two penalties just eight seconds apart, giving Rice Lake a full 1:52 of 5 on 3 power play. But Starzecki and his mates held their ground.
“That PK was huge and certainly could have been a backbreaking point in the game,” said Hemmingsgard. “Not a spot we wanted to be, in but the kids embraced the challenge, sold out to block everything and we got through it.”
Engel added “That five on three was a huge momentum swing for Amery. We had grade A chances but that goalie shut us down.”
After killing off that Rice Lake chance, Amery was able to pull within two goals when Cayden Meyer scored a goal just after a Rice Lake penalty expired, after a brief scramble in front of Krance. Suddenly momentum was fully on the Amery side of the ice.
Rice Lake was able to take control back in the third period, out shooting Amery 13 to 6, including a couple point blank chances that Strzecki was able to turn aside, but neither team would score again. “Starz was exceptional all night. Made some big saves at key points of the game,” added Hemmingsgard.
Starzecki ended the night with 37 saves n 41 shots. Krance stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced.
“Props to Amery,” said Engel. “They could have hung it up after the first being down 0-4, but they came out and played physical and popped in a couple goals. We still peppered their goalie but he played lights out for the rest of the game.”
Hemmingsgard summed up the night and season, “After the second period I couldn’t decide if I was more happy about our play in the second or more frustrated with how we played in the first. Opposite ends of the spectrum for sure. What a season and what a week! I’m so thankful the WIAA gave my guys the opportunity to experience what was last night. Without two divisions it doesn’t happen. I liked our room a lot. Resilient, gritty, fun and I really enjoyed coaching with Humpal and Richison. Going to the rink this year was easy.”
Rice Lake will head to Madison looking to land the number one or two seed.
"Our team is pumped to be back in Madison,” said Engel. “Looking at the rankings all season, if we didn’t make it their, we would have felt very disappointed. I feel like we have a really good shot of making it to the finals and to be honest, winning the whole thing. We understand that Springs is a solid team with a really good first line. I think what could help us is that we have two scoring lines. If we don’t have the last change and our opponents try to match their first line with whoever they feel is ours, usually our other strong line scores. I feel like coaches in our conference have mixed views on who our first line is. If they try to match against Timm, Fitzgerald, and Tomesh, then Fenske, Scheurer, and Peters usually have success.”