The Janesville Bluebirds took on the Sun Prairie United Co-op on Thursday, December 29th for the championship game of the Joe Raymond Memorial Tournament. Janesville came in on a roll, having won their past three games, and Sun Prairie came in having won their past two.
Janesville came out strong with an aggressive and offensive first five minutes. Jake Schaffner received a pass from his goaltender, Jaicy Campbell, and proceeded to skate to the top of the circle and shot the puck through the Sun Prairie defender’s legs, and scored just under the blocker of Easton Lemke, giving the Bluebirds a one-nothing lead. After killing a penalty, Sun Prairie had stepped up their play but the Bluebirds were holding ground and had decent scoring chances. While killing a penalty Preston Uttech blocks a quick shot on the net off his skate which pops out for Tyler Rauls for a one-on-one attacking opportunity. Rauls makes a toe drag that causes the defenseman to freeze up and get beat, then proceeds to go across Campbell to make it a tie.
Jake Schaffner didn't want to keep it that way for long as he scored just thirty-one seconds after Sun Prairie. Ian Perkins takes a shot from the slot and is just blocked by Lemke, which pops out to Bryce Sullivan who attempts a shot that is contested and leads right onto Schaffner’s blade. He fired it right away, not giving Lemke a chance,2-1Janesville. Sun Prairie tried their best to tie it up just before the period ended but Campbell stood on his head and got the Bluebirds to the end of the period with the lead.
The Bluebirds take a penalty four minutes into the second giving Sun Prairie the power play. That power play didn't go how Sun Prairie planned it. A blocked pass by Schaffner bounces onto Tyler Steuck’s stick, which gives Schaffner a chance to burn past the defender giving himself a breakaway. Schaffner goes back and forehand real close to the goal and roofs it to give himself a hattrick and a three-to-one lead.
From there on both teams battle for every chance, killing penalties, and having goalies stand on their heads. The Bluebirds gain possession of the puck deep in Sun Prairie’s zone allowing the Bluebirds to pass the puck around low in the zone. Steuck gets a lucky bounce off the side post which lands on Lucas Young’s stick for a one-timer at the top of the circle. The puck stays on the ice and goes through the five-hole as Lemke is screened by multiple players giving the Bluebirds a four-to-one lead late in the second.
The third period takes nine minutes for the first goal. A wide shot lands on Ian Perkins' stick, who makes a quick through-the-legs move that gives him space to find Steuck in front of the net to slide right under the blocker, five to one. A couple of minutes later, Lucas Young is forced to take a penalty to prevent a high-danger scoring chance, giving Sun Prairie a powerplay and an opportunity to get back in the game. Sun Prairie took advantage and dominated them in their zone for the whole powerplay. Sun Prairie had tons of scoring chances including a cross-crease that was redirected wide. Janesville was stuck in their zone not being able to clear and get a change. Evan Luxford was able to pick up the puck with some space and took a couple of strides then rifled the puck over Campbell’s shoulder from the right dot, making for a three-goal game.
Sun Prairie wasn't done there, as they scored another just forty-three seconds later. It was Luxford again after a bad backhand pass attempt to break out of the zone was turned over to Adrien Krietlow. He picked up the puck and finds a wide-open Luxford to slot past Campbell just under the right side of the crossbar.
Sun Prairie still had a chance to tie it up as they were only down by two with four minutes and twelve seconds left. Janesville then kicked it back into gear to make sure that they weren't going to let up a four-goal lead. A turnover on the blue line gave Schaffner and Stueck a two-on-one opportunity but Jackson Hunley backchecked hard and pushed Schaffner off the puck. Schaffner was still able to push the puck back in front of the net giving Steuck a wide-open back-door scoring opportunity but he was denied by a spectacular save on the part of Lemke as he lunged back and made a diving paddle save, keeping Sun Prairie in the game. After a negated empty net goal, Janesville proceeded to block shots and play shutdown defense, giving Janesville their first Joe Raymond title.
This game was an action-packed, heavy-hitting, and a hard battle between two excellent teams. Both teams had great scoring chances, defensive plays, and most importantly, big saves from the goaltenders. Sun Prairie shouldn't hang their heads too low as they played a great game. Jake Schaffner was a standout player in this game, scoring a hat-trick and recording a couple of hits. Jaicy Campbell also deserves a shout-out, as he had a bounce-back tournament and earned himself a forty-three save game with a .935 save percentage in the championship game. I also thought Easton Lemke had a great game even if the stats didn’t say the same. He made some incredible saves in this game. Adrien Krietlow brought Sun Prairie back into the game with two quick goals and gave Sun Prairie a boost of adrenaline and momentum.
I was able to ask the head coach of the Bluebirds, Nick English, what he thought about his team winning the tournament and this is what he had to say. “I'm just really proud of how our guys battled in all three games. To see our bench get excited about guys making a simple play or blocking shots was great.”
Captain Jake Schaffner said that momentum was important. “We played really well as a team during the tournament. We really stepped up our play a couple of notches since the last couple of games.” Janesville’s team has made improvements lately in all departments and faces Madison West at Madison Ice at 7:30 on January 3rd. The Sun Prairie game is the battle of the Prairies: they play Sauk Prairie in Sauk Prairie on the third at 7:00.