The 44th WIAA boys state championship will take place this weekend and the defending champ is still in the hunt. The Eau Claire Memorial Old Abes are looking to be the first squad to win back-to-back titles since Bergler's Superior Spartans pulled off one better with a three-peat in 1994-96.
Since then, Superior (2004) and Wausau West (2012) made it back to the championship game after winning the title the previous year, and both squads fell short.
It just goes to show how competitive Wisconsin high school hockey has become in the years since Madison Memorial and Superior each won back-to-back titles in the 1970s and early 1980s. Granted, the number of teams has grown from less than 30 to this year's field of 90, but the competition is still fierce.
Some questions remain...the answers will be known by suppertime this Saturday.
Drop the puck!
Superior earned its 12th trip in the last 13 years by virtue of a 3-2 win over New Richmond in the Sectional 1 final. The Spartans have peaked at the right time, going 8-1-1 since dropping four straight games in early-mid January. They started that hot streak by beating Wausau West 3-2 in OT on the road at Marathon Park on January 24.
The Spartans are led by forwards Aaron Miller (31g-25a), Tyler Nystrom (16g-21a), Daniel Mikel (9g-16a), and Anthony Bronson (8g-13a).
The blue line corps is young, with three juniors, two sophs, and one freshman manning the stripe. Grant Hanson (6g-11a), Jesse Polson (3g-8a), Mitch Anderson (3g-4a), and Braden LaPorte (2g-3a) all see regular ice time.
The net is manned by senior Paxton Paine (.848 sv% and 3.25 GAA), who sees the majority of the playing time.
Verona defeated Madison West 2-1 in the Sectional 6 final last week. The Wildcats have won nine straight since dropping a 5-4 OT decision to Notre Dame in late January.
The Wildcats started the season 14-1-2 before losing two of their next five games before beginning their late season push to get to state.
Verona is led offensively by POTY finalist Charlie Parker (35g-19a), Brogan Baker (20g-27a), and Brodie Roehrig (10g-21a).
Top defenders include Philippe Fromberger (6g-29a), Pat Stevens (9g-20a), Joe Stevens (1g-12a), and Zach Lanz (2g-11a).
Sophomore Alex Jones (.912 sv%, 1.54 GAA) plays a bit more than half the time, while classmate Nathan Cleghorn (.949 sv%, 0.76 GAA) plays the remainder.
Eau Claire Memorial got back to Mad City by shutting out Regis/McDonell 5-0 in Sectional 2 final action. Like Verona, the Abes have grabbed nine straight wins since losing to Notre Dame in Showdown in Titletown action.
The Abes are led by POTY finalist Jake Bresser (48g-23) at the forward spot. Other top forwards are Dylan Ross (15g-15a), Kaden Machusak (11g-10a), Austin Phippen (3g-9a) and Jake Jochimsen (4g-8a).
Leading the defense are Chuck Bennis (8g-23a), Bret Schwengler (7g-18a), Austin Bunce (2g-8a), and Andrew Emberson (0g-9a).
Nick Schreiter (.933 sv%, 1.85 GAA) has seen the majority of the playing time, but Alex Geving (.854 sv%, 2.45 GAA) played well in last year's state run and has tournament experience that is so important.
Notre Dame de la Baie Academy has one blemish on this year's record--a 1-0 loss to Detroit Catholic Central, a top-notch Michigan school. Other than that, they are 26 of 26 against all other comers and appear poised to get back to the state title game this year. The Tritons beat Ashwaubenon 4-0 to win the Sectional 5 title.
The Tritons have a whole bunch of scoring, including Sam McCormick (26g-39a), POTY finalists Mason Appleton (26g-34a) and Brett Gruber (32g-26a), and Collin Appleton (14g-23a).
They can play a little defense too, as Tony Stillwell (8g-32a), Luke Davison (3g-7a), and youngsters Stephen Lovell (3g-11a) and Jack Pavek (3g-9a) will attest to.
Eli Hicks (.934 sv%, 0.88 GAA) and Aaron Campbell (.930 sv%, 1.35) have split time almost evenly this year, although Campbell played two of three playoff games.
Wausau West knocked off Antigo 7-2 last weekend to advance from Sectional 3. Although the Warriors enter the tournament with six losses, their longest losing streak is two games, and since then they have righted the ship and won the last four by a total of 29-4.
Top forwards include Kevin Conley (27g-24a), Zach Peterson (17g-14a), Alex Gessler (15g-15a), and Justin 'Juice' Anderson (10g-16a).
The blue line crew is led by Adam Parsells (3g-15a), John Metzinger (2g-19a), Sheldon Oja (1g-6a), and two freshmen: Jacob Evans (1g-6a) and Kellen Tharaldson (2g-8a).
Sam Wiegert (.917 sv%, 1.79 GAA) is a mainstay in net for the Warriors.
University School of Milwaukee has been one of the hottest teams in the state since early January, compiling a nifty record of 15-1-2 since losing to Monona Grove to begin the new year. They have a modest four-game skein entering state tournament play, having tied Onalaska 2-2 on Valentine's Day. USM defeated Brookfield 3-0 to earn the Sectional 8 crown.
Duncan (11g-18a) and Hayden (13g-14a) Brown lead the Wildcat scoring charge, followed closely by Nick Epperson (15g-10a) and Ben Hrabak (13g-10a).
Chris Keliher (4g-13a) , Vadim Sukhanov (6g-9a), Tommy Ferrara (4g-10a), and Jerzey Judge (3g-6a) get most of the ice time. Junior Peter Barney (10g-8a) can play forward or defense as needed.
The puck stops with senior Bryan Botcher (.948 sv%, 1.26 GAA), one of the top netminders in the state.
Onalaska defeated West Salem 3-1 on Saturday to win the Sectional 4 championship. The Hilltoppers have gone 8-0-1 in the last nine contests, with the only blemish being a 2-2 tie with University School a couple weeks ago.
They have balanced scoring are are led by forwards Ian 'Wyatt' Earp (32g-20a), Luke Tepp (27g-22a), Tyler Ebner (22g-21a), and Bryce Bingham (13g-26a).
On defense, the Hilltoppers send Caleb Blank (11g-28a), John Gargaro (4g-18a), Brendan Gargaro (1g-12a), and Jason 'Hondo' Havlicek (1g-9a) out for regular shifts.
Junior Joe Witz (.896 sv%, 1.94 GAA) has become a solid netminder for the Hilltoppers.
The Kettle Moraine/Mukwonago/Oconomowoc (KMMO) co-op might not have the gaudiest record, but they possess the biggest section win of the eight state qualifiers with their 3-1 victory over eighth-ranked Waukesha last weekend in Sectional 7.
The Lasers finished the season on a good note, going 7-0-1 in their last eight contests.
They are led at forward by Allan Moutvic (12g-29a), Alex Manske (14g-13a), Jonathan Carfagna (10g-15a), and Robbie Dombrowski (11g-12a). The don't have a 'big' goal scorer, but they have six players that scored ten or more for a good balance.
Connor Freeman (14g-18a) is a top defender, along with Brock Ellena (0g-2a) and Miks Grundmanis (4g-3a).
Max LeClaire (.939 sv%, 1.72 GAA) is following in brother Dustin's goalie skates and is playing well for KMMO.
Since I seem to be the lightning rod for controversy at WiPH, I will choose the winners of the q-finals. Two years ago I correctly picked all seven games, including a 3-2 OT win by Brookfield over Eau Claire Memorial.
Verona over Superior, 4-2
Both teams have good skaters, but Verona has a slight edge in net.
Notre Dame over Eau Claire Memorial, 4-3 (OT)
The Tritons want what the Old Abes got last year--the state title.
Wausau West over USM, 2-1
Low-scoring game with great netminding.
KMMO over Onalaska, 4-3
Both teams have an identical 8.61 ranking on USHSHO for their last five games. Enough said.
Enjoy the tournament!!
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