Nick Epperson scored three goals to lead the University School boys’ hockey team to a Classic Eight Conference victory over the Brookfield Stars on Tuesday, January 24th at the Ponds in Brookfield. The final score was 6-1.
After the Stars took an early lead Epperson scored the Wildcats’ first goal. He scored USM’s last two goals to complete his hat trick. In between, the Wildcats scored three power play goals, one each by Christian Blomquist, Brandon McGill, and Tim Rooney.
Jason Woods, USM’s head coach, commented on the team’s win, “Pretty typical game as to how we have been playing recently. I thought we had an over-hyped start, not playing our style and system. We were just over aggressive in the first, then we settled in in the second, then we took control in the third. I credit these guys for continued success. Gordy Leech had to step in for Frank Fee in goal after Frank’s skate issues and did a nice job. We had some solid puck movement and got some big goals. Nick Epperson, with three more goals, just keeps rolling. I am excited for a big weekend in Eagle River.”
Fee had 1 save before giving way to Leetch, who stopped 23 of the stars’ attempts. At the other end of the ice, Emmett Peters made 31 saves for the Brookfield contingent.
The Stars started the night’s scoring. Skating out of the Stars’ zone, Ethan Rentmeester forwarded a pass to Michael Chavez who skated into the USM end and backhanded a pass to Gabe Lehnerer, who was moving down the left side. Lehnerer swiftly fired a shot past Leetch at 5:54.
Epperson tied it less than two minutes later. Defenseman Ethan Ford started the play by stopping a Stars’ one-on-one attack. Ford grabbed the puck he’d knocked away and fired a diagonal cross ice breakout pass just ahead of Logan Geisness. As Geisness and a defender met at the puck just inside the Stars’ zone, it popped to Epperson at the blue line. He skated into the slot and ripped a shot past Peters at 7:23.
The Wildcats went ahead for the first time late in the first period while on a power play. Taking a faceoff in the left circle in the Stars’ zone, Rooney won the draw. Andrew Malek pulled the puck away from the circle, skated behind the net and continued up the right boards. He stopped and lined a cross ice pass to Blomquist in the left circle. Blomquist put his wrist shot up in the net’s heavens for the goal with at 16:00.
The Wildcats scored two power play goals in six seconds early in the third period. While the Stars had two players in the box, the Wildcats got the puck in the Stars’ end and began to move it around with careful, accurate passing. Eventually it went to McGill in the left circle. He whipped a pass to Epperson in the opposite circle. As the defenders shifted, Epperson returned the puck to McGill who rapidly fired a shot into a glaring gap in the net at 3:43.
That allowed the Stars to put another player on the ice, but it didn’t matter. Taking the ensuing center ice faceoff, Blomquist pushed it ahead. Malek knocked it away from a defender at the blue line. The puck went to Rooney who directly directed it to Blomquist on the left. With no further ado, Blomquist returned the favor. Rooney had it all alone as he headed toward Peters. He pulled the puck to his forehand to drop the goalie, then pulled it back to his backhand and tapped it into the net at 3:50.
Epperson scored his second goal at 10:24. The play started when Leetch made a save. The rebound skipped to Geisness on the right mid-boards. He took off and skated past a defender as he and Epperson went in on a 2-on-0. Geisness passed the puck to Epperson as Epperson was crossing the blue line. Epperson went in. With stickhandling that sounded like a maestro conductor tapping his baton, Epperson masterfully deked Peters and shot the puck into the net to give USM a four-goal lead.
Epperson completed his hat trick a minute later. Behind the USM net, Geisness collected the puck and sent a breakout pass to McGill on the left mid-boards. McGill fired a backhanded diagonal pass to Epperson who was powering through center ice. Crossing the Stars blue line, Epperson cut to the slot and blasted a shot into the net.
As a consequence of the loss, Brookfield is now 7-12-1 overall and 2-4 in the Classic Eight Conference. The victory gave USM a 13-4 record and a 4-2 record in the conference. The Wildcats play Hayward in the opening round of the Pines Classic Hockey Tournament at the Eagle River Ice Arena on Friday, January 27th. The non-conference game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.