It was warm outside, but the hockey action was even hotter on the ice inside Fond du Lac’s Blue Line Ice Center on Tuesday, February 21st. By its end, the fourth-seeded University School co-op girls’ hockey team had upset the Fond du Lac Warbirds co-op 2-1 in a thrilling Sectional 4 Semi-final game.
It was playoff hockey the way it’s supposed to be: close and intense from the drop of the puck all the way to the final second. The two rivals battled for every advantage all evening long, affording people in the crowd who witnessed the contest to come away saying, “that was a really good hockey game.”
The game’s two goalies gave the fans a fine display of netminding. The Warbirds’ senior goalie, Rebecca Binder, made 21 saves while the Wildcats’ sophomore goaltender, Marie Dedert, made 33 saves during the entertaining enterprise. Sophomore Gaby Turer and junior Megan McPike put shots past Binder, while sophomore Morgan Brown was the only Warbird with a solution to Dedert’s prowess.
Delaney Weiss, one of the Wildcats’ captains and the only senior on the squad, said, “Marie stood on her head, and the rest of us kept her balanced. We played an incredible team game.”
The underdog Wildcats knew they had a daunting task ahead of them. They already had lost twice to the Warbirds during the regular season. As they travelled to Fond du Lac for the third time in a month, they were determined to be the better team in the playoffs.
“We had a game plan, and we stuck to it,” said Jacob Haury, USM’s head coach. “The girls played a complete game tonight. Fondy was the number one seed for a reason. They are a great team, and they’ve been tough all year, but we did what we had to do tonight. Marie Dedert played an outstanding game, our D stayed tough, and the forwards got the goals we needed to support her. It was nerve-racking, especially at the end when we had a six-on-three, but the girls really did a great job. Now we have another tough task ahead of us, Green Bay.”
The first period of the game had consistent back and forth action. The shot totals were nearly equal, 8-7. The difference was a goal by the Wildcats late in the period. Sophomore Karly Lamoreaux stopped a Fond du Lac player near the Wildcats’ blue line, kicked the puck to her stick, and skated to the left. She passed
the puck to Turer on the boards and sped out of the zone ahead of her. In center ice, Turer head- manned the puck to Lamoreaux near the Warbirds’ line. Lamoreaux skated down the boards, fought off a defender, cut through the left circle, and fired a low shot at Binder. The goalie stopped it. Trailing the play, Turer roared past a defender as she raced for the rebound. She quickly whipped a wrist shot past Binder for the goal at 13:09.
The Warbirds tied the game in the second period while on a power play. Junior Mary Skorupa got the puck at the center of the Wildcats’ blue line, stepped in, and took a shot. Dedert made the save. The rebound popped out front. Senior Peyton Airaudi fought off a defender and batted the puck at the net. Dedert stopped that shot. The next rebound flipped to the left to Brown, and she dashed it into the net at 6:53.
The Wildcats went back ahead later in the second period. Collecting a loose puck along the left boards in the Wildcats’ zone, sophomore Libby Hennelly chipped it past a forechecker to McPike. McPike took off and hustled through up the middle. When she arrived at the Fond du Lac blue line, she lowered her shoulder and moved past a defenseman as she headed into the left circle. She spun and bulleted a low wrist shot at Binder. Like a mouse finding a hole in the wall, the puck squeezed between the goalie’s legs and slipped across the goal line at 12:02.
The action grew ever more tense as play progressed into the third period. The Warbirds became increasingly desperate to score another goal, but Desert and her defensive cohorts frustrated their every effort as the clock slowly ticked away toward the period’s termination.
Things got really wild in the game’s final minute. The Warbirds pulled Binder for an extra skater. With 36.5 seconds left, the Wildcats took a penalty, granting the Warbirds a two-skater advantage in the Wildcats’ zone. Seconds later, the Wildcats were faced with further adversity: they received a second penalty, giving the Warbirds a 6-on-3 advantage.
Dedert explained, “Those 35 seconds were kind of surreal. Everybody realized it was either giving it our all or give everything up, everything that we had worked toward in the past months. It was intense, chaotic, and stressful, but as a team we made the little plays that mattered and rose up to occasion. I have to say that this is the best game that our team as a whole has played, and the best part was that it was by far the most fun game we have played.”
The Warbird pressed hard and after a shot they crowded the crease jamming at the puck. Dedert controlled it, and a Fond du Lac player was assessed a penalty trying to break the puck loose from the goalie’s grasp.
With tension filling the rink like sizzling smoke, Lamoreaux went out to take the face off. She described the final seconds, “I was out for the final 17 seconds and the puck was everywhere. It felt like the longest 17 seconds of my life. Finally, the buzzer went off, and it was the best feeling ever.”
The loss ended a fine season for Warbirds. Fond du Lac finished with a 20-4-2 record.
USM is now 13-11-2. The Blue Line Center in Fond du Lac is becoming like a second home for the Wildcats. They return there for a game at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, February 24th. For the fourth season in a row, the Wildcats and the Bay Area Ice Bears will content in the Sectional Final to see who will head to the state tournament.