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Experienced netminders required for state title run

03/05/2012, 10:33pm CST
By Michael Trzinski

Champions need that veteran leadership in net

The year was 2003.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to capture Super Bowl XXXVII. 

The Florida Marlins took the World Series in six games over the New York Yankees.

The New Jersey Devils grabbed the Stanley Cup in a seven game series with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

It was also the last time a Wisconsin boys hockey team won a state title behind a goaltender that did not have a 'senior' or 'junior' listed behind his name on the roster.

Sophomore Ben Buchs stopped 15 of 17 shots as the Superior Spartans grabbed their 11th state title with a 3-2 win over New Richmond. Opposing goalie Matt Page was also a sophomore that year, and earlier that week, had one of the best performances in state tournament history.

In the opening round game, Page stopped 44 of 45 shots in the Tigers' 2-1 triple-overtime win over Verona in a game that stands out in state tourney lore.

But it was the Superior soph that hoisted the championship trophy after stopping almost 91% (40 of 44) of the shots fired at him in the three-day event.

The Spartans' defense was a very important reason for the championship, but Buchs did his part to help Superior earn the 'gold' trophy.

Since then, seven seniors--including Buchs in 2005--and two juniors have been the starters on the winning teams. Many of the teams had freshmen and sophomore skaters that contributed, but it takes experience in the crease to win a state tournament title.

Winning a state title requires leadership on the ice, but why can't a talented underclassman goalie carry a team on his back?

Wausau West lost to University School in the title game in 2010 when Austin Priebe was a sophomore, but earned its first title a year later by blanking Middleton 5-0 in Priebe's junior campaign.

West coach Pete Susens wants to remind us that the win or loss does not just fall on the goalie's shoulders.

"I think it is more experience than age, and not just the goalie, but the experience level of the whole team," says Susens. 

But there is a caveat.

Susens also states, "Although we have had some talented younger goalkeepers, for the most part the upperclassmen are physically and emotionally more mature."

In the last five years (2008-2012), underclassmen have complied a record of 8-9 in state tournament games. The only occurrence in that time frame that a freshman started in goal was in 2008 when Mosinee's Wade Michalski matched up against Madison Edgewood sophomore Brad Jerzewski. 

Is there another position on the ice that is so publically scrutinized? 

Coach Susens doesn't think so.

"Every play a goalie makes is recorded on the score sheet and announced at the end of each period. No other position is recorded that way."

No full-time goalie has ever recorded a perfect save record over the course of a season, and he needs to be able to handle his failures.

"The goalie has to be mature enough to find a way to handle the pressure of knowing that they are the last line of defense and that a mistake or misplay by them ends up in the net," comments Susens. "They need a thick skin to handle that pressure and realize although they can't be perfect, they must strive for perfection--on each play and then every play after that."

Notre Dame Academy won the state title this year and had junior Chris Nell in net. He performed well, stopping 88 of 94 for a save percentage of .936, including 33 of 35 in the pressure-packed double-overtime win in the final over Wausau West.

The year before as a sophomore, Nell made 24 saves in a 3-2 two overtime win over Marquette, then struggled in the semis against Middleton, allowing five goals on 33 shots.

His save percentage in the two games was a pedestrian .881, well below his save percentage of .926 for the season.

What was the difference between the two seasons?

"From my perspective a senior or junior goalie is more prepared to handle the emotions a state tournament or any 'big game' brings," says NDA Coach Cory McCracken. "The ability to focus on the task at hand is critical for success."

A short memory also helps, as the saying goes.

"Chris Nell was very good all tournament (this year)," states McCracken. "He proved to everyone that the 2011 Middleton game was past history."

And although he wasn't perfect, Nell used the experience he gained from last season and built on it, creating success.

"There were stretches in each game where he was called on to be great," comments McCracken. "He answered the bell every time."

That is something that freshmen and sophomores seem to be unable to do.

state championship game goalie match-up

Year Winning Goalie Losing Goalie
2012 Chris Nell, Notre Dame (JR) Sam Wiegert, Wausau West (SO)
2011 Austin Priebe, Wausau West (JR) Eric Smith, Middleton (SR)
2010 Dan Smyczek, University School (SR) Austin Priebe, Wausau West (SO)
2009 Nick Kohn, Arrowhead (SR) Joe Rebedew, Fond du Lac (SO)
2008 Brady Sand, EC Memorial (SR) Brad Jerzewski, Madison Edgewood (SO)
2007 Randy Willis, Fond du Lac (SR) Kyle Johnson, Superior (JR)
2006 Ben Jurken, University School (SR) Randy Willis, Fond du Lac (JR)
2005 Ben Buchs, Superior (SR) Alex Koeppen, Arrowhead (SO)
2004 Thomas Kivi, Hudson (SR) Ben Buchs, Superior (JR)
2003 Ben Buchs, Superior (SO) Matt Page, New Richmond (SO)
2002 Shaun Kruzitski, Stevens Point (SR) Keith Johnson, Superior (SR)
2001 Eric Shimon, Hudson (JR) Seth McNinch, Fond du Lac (SR)
2000 Matt Femal, Madison Memorial (SR) Andy Dustan, Wausau West (SR)

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