On a sunny, almost spring-like day in Eau Claire, host Eau Claire North and visiting Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha honored service veterans during Military Appreciation Day at Hobbs Ice Arena Saturday afternoon.
A four-man Color Guard from American Legion Post 53 presented the colors during the National Anthem, and after the last notes died off, players from both teams—standing on their respective blue lines—tapped their sticks vigorously on the ice for nearly ten seconds, paying homage to those vets and all others in attendance on this special day.
Also recognized was Ryan Cramer, sound man for ECN, who received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
Then it was time for the contest, which was also the WiPH Game of the Week.
The visitors led 2-0 after two periods, and then scored four in the final stanza to hold off the Huskies by a score of 6-3.
The Rockets had numerous chances in the opening period, with three power play opportunities—including 88 seconds of 5-on-3—but the North PK units and goalie Tyler Schreiter held the Rockets in check for the majority of the period.
But as often happens after expending tons of energy while short-handed, the opposing team was able to score late in the period.
With just five seconds left on the clock, N/H/M freshman Drew Sutton fired a shot from the high slot that bounced off Schreiter's right CCM leg pad and into the net behind him, giving the Rockets the dreaded late period goal which gave the guests momentum as they skated off after the horn sounded seconds later. Alec Elkin earned a helper on the goal.
Schreiter had a busy period, stopping 16 shots, while opposing netminder Calder Evans stopped all eight shots aimed at him.
North came out in the middle period, determined to get the equalizer. In a span of just over 90 seconds, Sam Stange got robbed on a 2-on-1 rush, and then Zach Urdahl airmailed a shot on a breakaway to keep the score at 1-0.
With about five minutes left, Stange had a short-handed breakaway, but Evans stuck out his left pad to negate the scoring threat.
Shortly after, a Rocket infraction led to a 4-on-4 goal for the Huskies.
With each squad one man down and a little more room to operate, North tied the game when Jaxon Vance scored from the high slot through a crowd of players past Evans to make it 1-1 with just over three minutes left. Joey Koller and Urdahl earned helpers on the play.
But just when North relaxed a little, the Rockets got another last-minute tally to take the lead.
Dillon Fox made a charge on goal in front of a couple defenders and just when he was being taken down, he loosed a shot that beat the goalie betwixt the wickets to make it 2-1, with just 16 seconds remaining. The Elkin bros, Alec and Luke, got assists on the play to give their team a little 'mo' going into the room between periods.
Evans turned aside 20 shots in the period, while Schreiter stopped six for North.
"He (Evans) saw a lot of shots," said N/H/M co-coach Jeff Lindemann. "But he kept us in the game."
The final 17 minutes turned into an act of its own, with six goals scored in the hockey equivalent of a baseball slugfest.
North tied the score at two apiece on a tough angle shot by Urdahl. The sophomore made a rush down the right side and just before he got to the goal line, fired a shot that beat the goalie between the left pad and the pipe. The goal came at the 1:31 mark, early in the period.
Then Alec Elkin showed why he is one of the finest players in the state.
While on a power play, he grabbed the puck in the NZ, chipped a pass to himself off the right side boards, raced past a North defender, curled behind the net before using his long reach to sneak in a wraparound goal before Schreiter could make it to the left post. The power play goal came at the 6:21 mark.
Just over a minute later, the visitors extended the lead to 4-2 on an odd-man rush.
Ethan Long and Fox had a 2-on-1 advantage, and when Long accepted a pass in the slot, he veered right and slipped a backhander past the goalie for the two-goal lead.
Not so fast, said the home boyz.
With just over eight minutes left, Koller scored from close-in to cut the lead to 4-3, with helpers to Urdahl and Luke Olson.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the balance of the scoring would occur on the guest's side of the scoresheet.
As the clock ticked down to five minutes to play, N/H/M's Cody Dias fired a shot from the right dot that Schreiter stopped, but when the rebound popped out in front, Dias followed his shot and scored from the low slot, making it 5-3, Rockets. Stephen Priest earned an assist on the play.
Three minutes later, Fox scored his second of the afternoon from the right dot, with an assist from Priest for the final score of the game.
Schreiter stopped eight shots for North, finishing with a game total of 30, while Evans kept six shots out of the net, ending with 34 saves on the day.
"Evans ended up getting the player of the game award for us, because of that second period, which allowed us to have that third period we had," noted Lindemann.
Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha improved to 13-4-1, with their fourth straight win. North dropped to 12-5-1.