Top-ranked Wausau West and second-ranked Eau Claire Memorial played to a deadlock for 41 minutes Thursday evening at Marathon Park in Wausau, entering the last ten minutes of play tied at three.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the visiting Old Abes rallied for three tallies in a span of 1:59 during the middle part of the period and skated away with a convincing 6-3 win in Wisconsin Prep Hockey's Game of the Week two days before Christmas.
A packed rink #1 at Marathon Park--including Division I college players Jefferson Dahl, Nate Condon, Nick Condon, and Chase Drake--watched a tale of three different hockey periods that culminated in an outstanding game, one in which the fans got their money's worth.
The first period saw 18 minutes of penalties in the first half of the period, including a checking from behind penalty on ECM's Hunter Scott, which cost him ice time until early in the second period.
Ironically, the first score was an even-strength goal scored by Memorial. Senior forward Josh Linn took advantage of a loose puck and knocked it home to make it 1-0 at the 9:44 mark of the first, with assists going to Alexander Dahl and Chuck Ayres.
Garret Clemment almost tied the game two minutes later, but ECM's goalie Saxton Soley made a nice stop of the shot and the ensuing rebound to maintain the one-goal margin into the intermission.
"The first period was nothing but penalties," said ECM coach Mike Schwengler. "Neither team did much on special teams; good penalty killing took care of that."
"I thought (Memorial) controlled the first period pretty well," said West coach Pete Susens, vying to become the second Wisconsin high school coach (behind Madison Memorial's Vic Levine) to win 500 career games. "It was pretty much what I expected from them."
Kyle Lee did tie it for West early in the second. The slick forward walked from the left circle into the slot and sniped a shot past Soley at the 2:35 mark, with an assist going to linemate Clemment.
Midway thought the period, Clemment tried to connect with Robbie Poirier at the backdoor, but Memorial defenseman Jake Sparger had other ideas and steered the pass away.
Memorial got the lead on a very strange rebound goal at 13:10. Brady Burzynski ripped a shot from the right circle that drew iron and bounced out to the top of the left circle. Defenseman Michael Kapla sent it back at goal almost as fast and beat West goalie David Knetter on the stick side for a 2-1 lead.
Cody Hahner scored on yet another odd play to tie the game at two just eighty seconds later. Clemment was motoring down the right side, only to lose an edge and crash to the ice. He tried to send the puck into the middle, but before he could, Hahner scooped up the loose puck and beat the ECM goalie on the high side at the 14:30 mark.
Then, at 15:50, Scott deposited a loose puck in the net to give the guests a 3-2 lead that they would carry into intermission. Dahl earned his second assist on the play.
"There were a couple of bad bounces for both sides that ended up in the net," mentioned Schwengler.
Clemment tied the game at three just 2:42 into the third when he grabbed a pass from behind the net by Poirier and beat Soley on the glove side.
Just over three minutes later, a West penalty set the stage for Memorial's only power play goal. Once again, Burzynski was involved and once again it was a deflection. His shot went high off Knetter's stick and bounced off the helmet of Matthew Knapp and into the net for a 4-3 ECM lead at the 7:00 mark.
Knetter lobbied for a crease violation, but it went for naught as the goal counted, with Kapla also receiving a helper.
The score became 5-3 at 8:45 when Jake Bresser punched in loose change from the back porch on assists from Brady Bollinger and Charley Grasskamp.
Just 14 seconds later, Burzynski scored his own goal when he roared down the left side and fired a rocket from the left circle that beat Knetter to make it 6-3 in favor of the guests.
A penalty on ECM plus a pulled goalie made for just over a minute of 6-on-4 for West, but Soley turned aside a couple chances and the horn went off as the top-ranked squad went down to defeat for the first time against seven victories this season.
In the game, Soley stopped 31 shots (6-13-12) for Memorial and Knetter made 24 saves (7-11-6) for West.
"That's why he's there," noted Schwengler on Soley. "More important than the saves were how he made them. A couple of times there were players milling around and instead of kicking out the rebound, he smothered them and kept West from scoring.
"In the third period we were able to get on a bit of a roll," said Schwengler. "We created some turnovers and capitalized on them."
"This was the quickest game we've had to play this year, in terms of pace," noted Susens.
Asked if he apologized to Susens for costing the West coach his 500th career victory, Schwengler chuckled and said, "I did, I did."
But he added: "Pete's a phenomenal coach. It will come soon enough."
Although it sounds like a "mutual admiration society," it is just two very good coaches speaking the truth about their opposing numbers.
"They're a good hockey team," stated Susens. "It's not so much what we did tonight, as what they did (to get the win)."
ECM improves to 11-0, as West falls to 7-1.