The Central Wisconsin Storm's quest for repeat WIAA State Championships came to an end on Tuesday night at Greenheck Fieldhouse as the visiting Hayward Hurricanes handed them a 4-2 loss.
"We had a great season, 21 wins, playing all year with that defending state champions bullseye on our back," said Storm co-head coach Dan Bauer. "Duplicating that hunger to win it all was difficult. So difficult to see the season end, worst day of the year."
It was Riley Sprenger's time to shine however, as she netted three goals, and an assist on the night.
"Riley being our only senior this year wants more than anything to get to state," said coach Emily Stark. "She had a readiness and she was confident that when she had the puck on her stick she was going to make something happen."
Sprenger opened the scoring at 12:15 of the first period. She made a break to get behind the Storm defense and Reese Sheehan made a phenomenal lead pass to the streaking Sprenger who came in on a breakaway for the 1-0 lead late in the period.
The Hurricanes followed it up with their second goal just at 16:40 of the first. Sheehan passed from down low to Sprenger on the half wall. Sprenger fired the shot on goal and Summer Hammann was there to put in the rebound and give the Canes a 2-0 lead heading into the first break.
"Tough to get down 2-0, especially giving up the goal in the last 30 seconds of the period," said Bauer. "Sprenger is a great goal scorer and we gave her too many good looks. She did what she does best."
The Storm battled back in the second period. They narrowed the lead to one on a Gabi Heuser wrister from the slot at 4:37. Makenna Hutchison got a glove on it in the Canes net, but she wasn't able to keep it out of the net.
Heuser put on a show to tie the game at 7:17 of the third. Just off of a 4-on-4 the Canes had a brief power play but Hannah Baumann hit Heuser coming into the Hayward zone. Heuser played the puck behind the net, kept control and came back out front to put a back hander in and tie the game.
"Proud of the way we battled back to tie the game, great response by our group," said Bauer. "We had some good looks to take the lead, couldn't get the puck to go in."
The tie held until 13:32. Sheehan carried the puck in and went hard at the net. A scrum ensued and somehow Sprenger ended up with the puck and put it into the top of the net as goalie Chloe Lemke had to cover low in the puck battle. Hammann got the assist on the play.
The Storm took their timeout at 14:31 and pulled Lemke for the extra attacker. They buried the puck in the zone, but a puck played with a high stick brought it back into the Storm zone with 0:44 left on the clock, and put Lemke back into the game. Sheehan won the faceoff back to Sprenger who sniped it in for the 4-2 leads, and ultimately the win.
"With her experience Riley has been able to improve how she sees the ice as well as utilize other players like Reese," said coach Stark. "She had a great game last night and did all the little things right, blocking shots, driving to the net, and creating opportunities for the team."
Sprenger finished the game with three goals and an assist, and Sheehan had three assists. They are one of the most dynamic tandems in the state.
"Reese's ability to maintain possession of puck any where on the ice is one of the best that I have seen," said Stark. "The way she is able to find seems on the ice is incredible, and I think the amount of points that they both have is because of how well they are able to work together on the ice."
"Really good high school hockey game," said Bauer. "Hats off to Hayward for making the long trip and getting a win in our building."
Lemke stopped 20 of 24 for the Storm in the loss. Hutchison stopped 17 of 19 in the win for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes will meet the top seeded and #1 in the state Superior Spartans in the sectional final. They previously met back in December in a game Superior won 6-3, with Autumn Cooper scoring four goals.
"We have to make sure we play our D-zone first," said Stark. "Last time I don't think we did that very well and gave up a lot of odd man rushes. If we can minimize those it'll help us in the long run."