The Pines Classic Tournament trophy has returned to Milwaukee. Playing in the championship game of the annual tournament in Eagle River, the University School boys hockey team rallied from behind to defeat Northland Pines 4-2 on Saturday, January 27th at the Eagle River Recreation Association Ice Arena.
The Wildcats made it into the championship by defeating Hayward under the dome on Friday evening. The Wildcats outshot the Hurricanes 42-12 in the lopsided contest. They scored a single goal in each of the first two periods, then found their form and put three past Gavin Abric in the final frame. USM’s goaltender Patrick Kelly earned the shutout for USM. Christian Blomquist. Alvin Pokel, Robby Newton, Tyler Herzberg and Ethan Mann scored goals in the victory for USM.
Things were different in Saturday’s championship match. The Wildcats faced the hometown team, Northland Pines, which was in the championship game thanks to a 12-1 win over Mosinee on Friday.
In the game between two of the top ten teams in the state, the 10th ranked Eagles let the 2nd ranked Wildcats know they were in for a battle by scoring early in the first period. Jack Rhode collected a loose puck in center ice and sped all alone into the Wildcats’ zone. He closed in on Kelly and fired a low shot. The rebound came right back to him, and he immediately shot it again, this time into the net at 1:41. Riley McGee and Gunnar Schiffmann were awarded assists on the play.
The Wildcats outshot their hosts by a 14-5 margin, but they were frustrated by Pines’ goalie Ethan Polich in the period. USM had a 32-20 shot advantage in the full game.
Northland Pines went further ahead with a goal in the first minute of the second period. Taking a faceoff in the Wildcats’ left circle, Brady Snedden won the draw and pushed the puck to Tucker Wittkopf on the side boards. Wittkopf passed it back to Snedden who skated into the slot and fired a shot over Kelly’s glove into the upper corner at 0:50 of the period.
The Wildcats edged closer with a goal at 2:03 of the second period. As the Wildcats forechecked, the puck bounced away from Reid Woods to Andrew Malek along the right mid-boards. Malek skated toward Polich and fired a shot that eluded the Pines goalie and moved into the net to make the score 2-1. Ethan Ford was given an assist on the play.
USM tied the game late in the period. Charlie Keough sent a breakout pass to Christian Blomquist. As Blomquist and Tyler Herzberg headed into the Eagles’ zone on a two-on-one Blomquist passed the puck to the left to Herzberg. Herzberg dashed on, deked Polich, and buried his shot at 13:06.
With seconds remaining in the second period, the Wildcats scored again. While killing a penalty, Robby Newton knocked the puck to the side boards in the USM end and went after it. As he began to skate, Newton saw Blake Carey speeding ahead in center ice. Newton’s pass hit Carey’s stick. Carey skated in on a breakaway and fired a shot past Polich at 16:36 for the eventual game winner.
The teams battle furiously in the final stanza but there were no more goals scored until Newton put the puck into an empty net with 3 seconds left in the game, to seal the victory. Carey and Malek assisted on the play.
After the game, Jason Woods, USM’s head coach, commented on the tournament, “Really happy to be able to finish off the championship of the Pines Classic today. Pines is a strong team and really took it to us early. We got down 2-0, did not panic, and found a way to get the comeback win. It was a big deal for us to get this one. Now our focus is solely on Thursday and our rivalry game with Marquette.”
Despite the loss, Northland Pines still has a fine 16-4 record overall and an 11-0 mark in the Great Northern Conference. The Eagles play Antigo in a conference contest at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 30th in Antigo.
USM is now 17-3 overall and 4-1 in the Classic Eight Conference. The Wildcats take on conference rival Marquette at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 1st at the Eble Ice Arena in Brookfield.