One shot made all the difference. Zach Welsch fired a shot into the net at 11:39 of the third period to break a scoreless tie and give the St. Mary’s Springs boys’ hockey team a 1-0 victory over University School and send the Ledgers to the state tournament.
The Sectional 8 Final on Saturday, February 24th at The Blue Line Ice Center in Fond du Lac between the sectional’s top two seeds, USM, the number one seed, and Springs, the number two seed, was a hockey game that purists love.
It displayed the speed and graceful skating and passing that makes hockey such a beautiful game. It had non-stop back and forth action. It had great goaltending by USM’s Patrick Kelly, who made 18 saves, and St. Mary’s Springs’ Colin Ahern, who made 27 saves. Both goalies stopped shots from outside and shots from in close as bodies gathered and sticks swatted at the puck. Outstanding backchecking and defensive plays in open ice, in the corners and in crowds near the crease also aided the night’s fine netminding.
Most of all, the game was full of tension. With a trip to the state tournament at stake, the tension mounted continuously as the game moved on: scoreless until Welsch’s goal, then even more tense as the Wildcats tried valiantly to tie it. The Ledgers held them off thanks to the outstanding effort put forth by Ahern and his cohorts as the clocked ticked away the final minutes of an exquisite game between two fine hockey teams.
The game’s single scoring play began when Noah Pickart sent a breakout pass across the Ledgers’ blue line to Connor McLaughlin. McLaughlin passed the puck up the left side to Welsch, who was streaking along the boards through center ice. Welsch sped into the Wildcats end then turned toward the net. From the circle, he launched his shot. The puck flew over Kelly’s glove into the far side netting for the score.
In the final five minutes the Ledgers had to kill off a penalty and endure six shooters in their defensive zone after the Wildcats pulled Kelly with 1:59 left. The Ledgers were successful. As a result, they are headed to Madison.
After the game, Jason Woods, USM’s head coach, said, “Tough loss to swallow. I credit Springs and their goalie; they brought it all night. It’s tough to play a game like that in someone else's home rink but that's what was required. End of the day, we will look back and be incredibly proud of this season. No doubt but we wanted more. Hard to say goodbye to this group; they were incredibly fun to work with every day. One of the most enjoyable groups I have ever coached.”
As Woods noted, the loss abruptly ended a fine season for USM. The Wildcats finished the season with a 23-4 record.
St. Mary’s Springs enters the state tournament competition that begins on Thursday, March 1st with a season record of 21-4-2.