The Antigo Red Robins earned the right to host the sectional semi-final game against the Northland Pines Eagles with a decisive 5-2 win earlier this month in Eagle River. Having split their regular season contests, this rubber match would determine who advances to face Wausau West in the sectional final. It took 20 minutes of "bonus hockey" to determine the outcome. Then Alex Nagel picked up his third point of the night, scoring in the second overtime to advance the Robins to play again, on Pines home ice, with a 3-2 win.
It was a physical game right from the opening face off, with the referees determined to "let them play". The Eagles got on the board first with 3:17 left in the first period, when the Antigo defense got caught too deep in the Pines zone, giving up a three on one. Nick Dean got the puck to Steven Spencer in the slot, and Spencer let loose a blast that flew over Robin goalie Ryan Schmidt's right shoulder. Each team put six shots on the other's goal in the first period, with Pines' netminder Jacob Stephan stopping all of his.
The first penalty of the game wasn't called until 11:21 into the second period, with Eagle Connor Cox getting flagged for tripping. It only took the Robins potent power play about half a minute to capitalize. Jackson Charlesworth and Matt Wolter battled to keep the puck in the Pines zone, with Wolter sending the puck across to the other side of the rink to Nagel. Nagel had time to walk in close and fire a shot that was tipped in front by big Blake Kirsch to tie the game up at 1-1.
The power play goal sparked the Robins into an extra gear, as they continued to apply pressure to Stephan. Antigo put 12 shots on Stephan in the period, while the Eagles managed only 4 shots on Schmidt.
The Robins continued on the attack in the third period, but the Eagles would score first to break the tie. Off a face off in the Antigo end, Zach Kennedy won the draw and Nick Dean got off a quick shot that beat Schmidt and put Pines back on top 2-1.
Time was winding down on the Robins season when Nagel stole the puck from a Pines defenseman just inside the Eagles blue line. He had a clear path to walk in on Stephan and time to make some moves and slip the puck in to knot things backup at 2-2. "We kept our composure well and dug out of two different holes," said Antigo head coach Matt Borneman after the game. "Our goal scorers scored goals. Everyone played their role tonight."
There would be no more scoring in the third period, and after a short break the teams got set for an eight minute overtime. Both squads looked tired in the first extra frame, and play was appropriately sloppy. The Robins dodged a bullet with two minutes left when Joseph Roach got the puck in the low slot with a wide-open net in front of him. Antigo fans held their collective breath, but Roach shot wide left.
A minute later Brian Barletti fed a pass to Nagel, open on the back door and looking at an open net also. Stephan somehow dove across the crease and snagged the puck before it could cross the goal line, much to the chagrin of the Robin faithful, who had already begun their celebration.
The overtime ended, the ice was flooded and the squads came back out for a scheduled 17 minute second overtime period. The teams each looked refreshed from the break, and the pace was again quick and crisp. "We had to go to our bench early and often," said Borneman, "and we got stellar play from them. Pines played tough the entire game. It really could have gone either way, swapping empty net opportunities proves that."
The teams traded blows until 12:11, when Nagel again picked up the puck along the boards in the Eagles zone. He danced around a defenseman and walked in alone on Stephan for a second time, with the same result as the first time, sending the team and raucous home crowd into a frenzy.
The Robins will now travel north on Saturday to play #1 seed Wausau West in the fabled dome in Eagle River. "It doesn't get any easier on Saturday, and we will be ready. We knew the road to state would eventually end up going through West," said Borneman. "I think playing them in Eagle River is better for us. We can control their depth better on the smaller ice sheet and take away their quick transition attack."