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WEHL 16U Southwest Skate All The Way To USA Hockey Semi-Finals

By Coach Hoehn, WEHL, 04/16/24, 5:45PM CDT


The Southwest region had the honor of representing the state of Wisconsin at the 16U USA National 2A tournament in Dallas, TX from April 3-7. The team was confident in its abilities, but unsure of how it would match up with other teams from across the country.

The team began pool play Wednesday drawing the top seed in the tournament, the unbeaten Maine Gladiators. Maine appeared to score with 15 seconds left in the first period, but WEHL SW caught a break as the goal was disallowed and a penalty was called for goaltender interference. The powerplay continued into the second, and Blake Haun (Tomah) ripped a snap shot off a faceoff at 15:24 for a power play goal and 1-0 WEHL lead. Drew Apicella (BRF) and Landen Starr (Viroqua) earned assists on the play. Viroqua’s Landen Burke increased the lead to 2-0 at 12:55 in the second on an odd man rush, looking off the goalie and burying the puck 5 hole (Apicella assist). Maine got within 2-1 on a powerplay goal at 11:50 of the third, but Owen Hoehn (Avalanche) buried a give and go from Tyler Meyer (West Salem) at 9:42, and Ian Bass (Avalanche) ripped a powerplay goal from the weak side at 2:57 (from Apicella and Onalaska/LaCrosse’s Parker Lycke) to seal the Gladiator’s first loss of the season. Mason Kelm (Avalanche) stopped 32 of 33 Maine shots in the game.

Day 2 found WEHL SW matched against the Montana Wolves. WEHL came out blazing in the first period, and Ayden Dirks (Avalanche) scored just 2:15 into the game, assisted by Jack Barth (Avalanche). WEHL would extend their lead just 52 seconds into the second period, as Jackson Egan (Ona/LaX) scored, assisted by Calvin Lakowske (BRF) and Burke. Montana, playing for the tournament lives, was able to even the score up with 2 goals, but Hoehn scored on a tip-in of a point shot from Egan to give WEHL the 3-2 lead after the second. WEHL again came out strong in the third, with goals from Lakowske (Hoehn, Haun) at 13:07, Barth (Egan) at 9:37 and Egan (Hoehn, Lakowske) at 8:06 to extend their lead to 6-2.
Montana was able to score one more, but WEHL moved on with the 6-3 win. Dane Adams (Ona/LaX) made 36 saves in the win.

Day 3 pitted WEHL SW against the Atlanta Fire. Atlanta was in a do-or-die situation, as they needed to beat WEHL by 4 goals to secure their spot in the weekend tournament. It was evident that they came to play, as they scored just 1:36 into the game and held a 1-0 lead after the first. Atlanta double their lead with a goal 1:57 into the second before Apicella (Hoehn) scored to make it 2-1. Atlanta answered just 26 seconds later to go up 3-1, but Egan (Lakowske) was up  to the task 37 seconds after that, and the score was 3-2 Atlanta after 2. Hoehn evened the score up at 3 on a breakaway at 10:44 of the 3 rd . Atlanta pulled out all the stops, and scored a powerplay goal with 6:28 left after pulling their goalie.

Unfortunately for them, a 4-3 win wouldn’t be good enough, so they continued to pull their goalie for the remainder of the game looking for the 4 goal margin. WEHL’s Barth and Cash Martin (Tomah) scored empty net goals for a 5-4 lead, but a late Atlanta goal sent the game to a 10 minute, 3 on 3 overtime. Just 46 seconds into OT, Lakowske buried a pass from Hoehn on a 2 on 1 for the win. Kelm had 41 saves in the win.

WEHL SW secured the 1 seed in their pool, which earned them a quarterfinal matchup with the Vegas Jr Knights on Saturday morning. Vegas jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first, and extended that lead to 3-0 on a powerplay goal with 4:50 left in the second. Things were looking very bleak for the WEHL SW team, but two powerplay goals from Egan (Burke/Johnson and Burke/Hoehn) brought the score to 3-2 after the 2 nd . Apicella started the 3 rd by intercepting a cross ice breakout pass and ripping it home to even the score early in the third. Vegas scored on the powerplay to regain the lead, but Henry Meek (BRF) kept WEHL going with a point shot that was deflected in off a Vegas player to keep the game alive.

Overtime was a grueling battle, with both sides getting solid looks on goal. Fortunately for WEHL, Barth buried a rebound home (Meek, Lycke) with 5:08 left in OT, and WEHL was onto the semifinals! Kelm had 37 saves in the big win.

The semifinal game had WEHL facing the Montgomery Ice Devils out of Maryland. The game started out with both teams going end-to-end, getting grade A scoring chances only to be denied by the goaltending. WEHL struck first 4:46 into the first, with Burke scoring off assists from Hoehn and Meek. Montgomery had an answer, and scored at 10:43 and 7:02 of the first for a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately the consecutive OT games caught up to the WEHL SW team, and the game finished with the score 2-1. Kelm had 32 saves in the loss. Montgomery would go on to lose the championship game in overtime to the Tampa Bay Crunch.

It was a phenomenal run at nattys for a group of players representing an area of the state that rarely gets recognized for its hockey contributions.

WiPH Game Summaries