As the clock struck midnight last evening, thus ended the calendar year 2016. And it also marked the end of the first half of the 2016-17 hockey regular season. It's hard to believe that 44 of the 89 days of this campaign have been completed, but we now move to the stretch drive for the teams aiming for Madison in March.
The usual suspects have populated the Top 10s on the boys side, along with the elite players rising to the top of the individual stats leader boards.
But there have been some surprises, both team-wise and in the individual category.
There are two teams that sport unblemished records (no losses or ties): Baldwin-Woodville (12-0) and West Salem (11-0).
The Blackhawks are fresh off a championship in the Culvers Cup, defeating Madison West, Oshkosh, and Madison Memorial by a combined score of 19-9. It is a step in the right direction for B-W, who is led by senior forwards Brandon Connett (18g-19a) and Gavin Hessler (17g-11a), along with junior forward Landon Albrightson (13g-21a).
Their perfect record will be tested in the upcoming weeks, as New Richmond and Somerset (twice each) come to call, along with solid teams such as Hayward and Cedarburg, as well as West Salem.
At some point, something will have to give.
The Panthers, who arguably play in the coldest, coziest bandbox in the state have won ten straight contests.
The West Salem Ice Arena, aka the Meat Locker, gives the Panthers a decided home ice advantage, as they have compiled a record of 20-6 over the 2 1/2 seasons that head coach Eric Borre has been calling the shots on the WS bench.
The Panthers feature junior forward Jack Gorniak (19g-22a), who currently ranks second in the state in scoring. Their mountain gets a little harder to climb as they will battle the aforementioned Baldwin-Woodville squad, along with Eau Claire North, Stevens Point, Antigo, and New Richmond.
Both B-W and WS should be thoroughly tested by the time the playoffs roll around.
The Chippewa Valley boasts a couple teams that have done a bang-up job thus far, and they are to some extent, surprises.
Eau Claire North won 22 games way back in 2005-06, but were dealt losses by the WIAA in their first 16 games due to using an ineligible player.
Coach Ryan Parker is in his third year of coaching at his alma mater, and after the Huskies won a total of 44 games in eight previous seasons, ECN won 10 games in the 2014-15 season, 18 last year, and currently hold a record of 9-1 and have earned honorable mention status in the WiPH Coaches Poll.
Also ranked in the honorable mention category is Chippewa Falls. The Cardinals, led by Scott Parker, recently cleaned up in a tourney in Thief River Falls, sweeping all three games. They are now 9-1 and are one win away from matching last year's total of 10.
Individually, there are a few players that are newcomers to the department of stats leaders.
Senior forward Hunter Schwehr of Fox Cities leads in both goals (28) and points (48). The Stars are now 12-1 and are fresh off a tournament title in Eveleth, MN. The team also got the honor of meeting hockey legend John Mayasich, a native of the famous Iron Range city and home to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Schwehr has had a nice career, having notched 121 points (64g-57a) in 88 games. He is certainly making his name known around the state this year.
Brookfield junior Eric Sinson has doubled his career numbers, tallying 22 goals and 17 helpers in his first 15 games. The Stars have struggled, posting a record of 5-9-1, but Sinson burns brightly for the southeast Wisconsin team.
On the puck-stopping side, senior Henry Baribeau has had a nice season thus far. His numbers include a .963 save percentage, a goals-against-average of 0.60, and three shutouts. He has split time in net with classmate Anthony Howard, who sports .932, 0.99, and two. He is also a finalist for the unofficial WiPH All-Flow team.
Having two top netminders is not a bad problem for coach Brooks Lockwood and his top-ranked Raiders.
We all know who the usual top-guns are, but watch out for the teams and players listed above. There might be some new sheriffs in town.
Bring on 2017!