If I had to sum up the third-seeded Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha Rockets' game plan against the top seed Saint Mary's Springs Ledgers on Saturday at Community First Champions Center in Grand Chute, it would be 'chaos.'
Looking down the lineup, you would be hard pressed to say that the Rockets weren't outmatched by the juggernaut John Welsch has coached over the last several seasons in Fond du Lac, but none of that mattered as the Rockets played with an air of unfettered desperation that powered them to a 6-5 overtime thriller of a win.
Neenah scored the game's opener on an ugly power play. After 90 seconds of fits and starts, typified by some bad passing, the Rockets finally managed a good zone entry on the short handed Ledgers and Ben Kitowski didn't waste the opportunity hitting the blocker side corner with a snipe to make it 1-0 just 2:52 into the game.
The next several minutes were dominated by the Ledgers, with Springs repeatedly stealing the puck from the Rockets in the neutral zone and putting all kinds of pressure on goalie Caleb Moore.
But again, the Rockets managed a good breakout and zone entry, and John Kriz picked up his second assist, hitting Ty Laabs on the back door. Laabs pounded it in for the early 2-0 lead.
Springs cut the lead in half a few minutes later on a power play of their own. Armani Fisher hit Cullen King with a pass and King fired a shot on goal. It deflected off a stick in front and went in to make it 2-1.
Neenah answered right back though with a goal by Mason Hart with Thomas Burns getting on the scoresheet with an assist.
Again Springs was ready to answer. Talan Blanck challenged the Rockets' breakout on another power play attempt and picked a pocket. From there he raced around the net and scored a wrap around goal to make it 3-2 at the end of the first period.
Springs came out of the gate in the second period on a mission, scoring just 51 seconds into the frame on an roof shot by Gabe Braun.
They took the lead just 1:24 later when Austin Westergaard, who assisted on Braun's goal, poked the puck into the net before Moore could get it covered.
With the lead change it looked like the tide had turned, until six minutes later when Neenah evened the score. After killing a 5-on-3, Mason Hart carried the puck into the Ledger zone and dropped it to Ryan Johnson who took two steps in and tucked a wrister just inside the pipe to tie the game.
Neenah caught a lucky break to take the lead at the 12:32 mark when John Kriz fired one the length of the ice on a penalty kill and Springs goalie Memphis Young misplayed it and it went in to give Neenah a 5-4 lead heading into the second intermission.
Springs came out just as good in the third period but the Rocket defense wasn't breaking. Unfortunately for the Rockets penalties finally caught up with them.
They took an elbowing minor at 6:04, a checking from behind major at 8:32, along with a bench minor at the same time to make it 5-on-3, and a roughing minor at 13:38. That added up to nearly nine consecutive minutes of power play time for the Ledgers.
Eventually Westergaard was able to capitalize on all that power play time as he tipped a Talan Blanck shot to tie the game at 5 and send it to overtime.
It took 1:28 of overtime play for Kriz to hit Calvin Zinda who netted the game winner to give Neenah the upset win over Springs.
When you look at the standard playbook of how to beat a more talented team, Neenah did everything wrong. They took 9 penalties in the game. They took a major penalty. Those things nearly always doom a team in this situation.
But, what they did right was sell out for every play. The Rockets players were blocking shots, diving to break up passes, and going full tilt into every puck battle.
For their part the Ledgers showed why they've been ranked first or second in the Division 2 rankings all season long. They are a wickedly talented team, it just didn't go their way on Saturday.
Young stopped 11 of 17 shots in the loss for the Ledgers. Moore stopped 32 of 37 for the Rockets.