The Eau Claire-Altoona Stars hosted the Bay Area ice Bears on Friday evening at Hobbs Ice Arena. Both teams were looking to extend their impressive unbeaten streaks.
Eau Claire-Altoona, with three of the WIAA’s top ten point scorers, would be putting their 2nd-ranked goals-per-game offense against the stingiest defense and top goaltender in the state. Game on.
Both teams did a nice job of limiting the scoring opportunities through most of the first period. Thirteen minutes into the game, the Stars’ Abigail Stow picked up the puck in the neutral zone, skated up the right side, and made a great move toward the net that was played perfectly by Bay Area’s senior defenseman Morgan Zirbel, breaking up the play.
Two minutes later, however, a turnover by the Ice Bears in their own zone resulted in the game’s first score. As the Stars’ Ava Kison crossed the blue line with the puck, Bay Area’s Mia Dunning did a good job moving Kison to the outside. Using Dunning as a screen, Kison snapped off a brilliant shot just outside Dunning’s right leg that found the top right corner. The period ended 1-0, with shots equal at ten apiece.
Two minutes into the second period, Kison took a feed from Cameron Carmody and sliced through two defenders to the left of goaltender Ana Holzbach. All alone in the slot, she buried the puck just under the crossbar.
The Stars kept up the pressure, but Holzbach came up big in a three-shot flurry on a penalty kill a few minutes later and then stopped Stow point blank at the 7:00 mark.
Bay Area responded by scoring their first of the night just 45 seconds later, as Megan Saari put the Bears on the board just shy of the midway point of the game. Although the Stars outshot Bay Area by a 2-to-1 margin in the period, the Ice Bears made the most of their opportunities.
As the second period wound down, Zirbel moved through traffic and fired toward the net. Saari picked up the loose puck, finished the play and tied the game with her second goal of the evening.
The third period was up-tempo, evenly matched and highlighted by great scoring chances and goaltending.
Early in the third period, Stars goaltender Annamarie Holtz fended off a three-shot barrage. As the bodies were just starting to clear from the crease Zirbel snapped off a hard shot through traffic resulting in a highlight reel save by Holtz.
A few minutes later, Holzbach shut the back door on Kison’s hat trick attempt. At the nine minute mark, the Bears put on a rush. Holtz made a great save on the initial shot but Kalli Mikesch was there to net the rebound for what would turn out to be the game winner, on assists from Saari and Johanno Cano.
Two and half minutes later, Zirbel dished the puck off to Evelynn Vincent. Holtz got her stick on Vincent’s slapshot, but the puck bounced over her shoulder into the net for the final score of the game.
Holzbach was rock solid with her 37 save performance, and Holtz—in only her second year of playing hockey—showed some impressive natural goaltending ability with her 24 saves.