Earlier this week, a power poll was created on the Senior Class Tournament home page on Wisconsin Prep Hockey. Leading up to the Friday night opening games of the SCT, Section 4 was ranked as one of the least likely teams to win the tourney, polling at a lowly 7% rate.
The team most likely to win, according to the 'pundits,' was Section 8.
And as luck (or fate) would have it, those two teams met on the ice for the nightcap game on Friday. The final score? SCT4 snuck out a 5-4 victory over the tournament 'favorite.'
So what to do for an encore? Why, take out the team second most likely to win the SCT tourney—Section 5—by another margin of 5-4. And just like that, the 'Little Team That Could' was in the championship game with Section 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Building a two-goal lead in the first period and answering every score by SCT3, the group from the southwest corner of the state scored a solid 6-2 win to earn the 2018 version of the SCT title.
SCT4 got on the board first just over five minutes into the opening period. Jack Steinhoff sent a cross-ice pass to the back door on the left side, but Ben Horzewski's first shot was stopped goalie Ethan Polich. The rebound bounced right back out and Horzewski made his second shot count, snapping the puck into the upper reaches of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later play was stopped due to a broken panel of glass behind the net on the upper viewing section end of the rink. Eight minutes later, a new panel was installed and play was resumed. (Way to go, Brett Pribbenow, Steve Schouten, Greg Holz, and Jamie Beek!)
Each team had a power play chance in the middle part of the period, but neither could capitalize.
With just under two minutes remaining, Connor Duncan took a pass in the NZ and set sail down the left side. He fired a shot from 'hash mark high' inside the left circle and beat the netminder to give SCT4 a two-goal lead. Charlie LaPlount and Christian Dehning had assists on the play.
The period ended with Hayes Weiner stopping nine shots for SCT4, while Polich had 13 saves on the other end.
During a power play that bifurcated the first and second periods (blame Eau Claire radio legend Mike Sullivan for sticking that term in my head), SCT3 almost cut into the lead, but the crossbar on one shot and the right pad of Weiner on another kept the puck out of the net, at least for a few minutes.
Just over four minutes into the middle stanza, one of the smaller players had a large impact. Nick Campbell, generously listed at 5'8" on the Wisconsin Rapids roster, blocked a shot on the defensive end, and then outraced the defender to the puck in the NZ. He went in on a breakaway, made a deke, and beat Weiner to cut the lead to 2-1.
SCT bumped the lead to 3-1 just over a minute later. Steinhoff found himself with the puck in close, and chipped it over the blocker of the goalie, with an assist to Jacob Ely.
About a minute after the goalies swapped out, Richard Brown took a pass and broke down the left side and sent a shot from the left circle hash over the glove of new goalie Michael Janke to increase the lead to 4-1. Nate Hausman earned the assist on the breakout pass.
Sam Sippel cut the lead to two with his laser-guided puck from the top of the left circle that hit the smallest of openings in the upper left corner to make it 4-2 with just under seven minutes left in the period. Spencer Schmirler had an assist on the play.
SCT4 goalie Ben King made a great save on a point-blank shot thirty seconds later to maintain the two-goal lead.
Jacob Pupp made a bid to cut into the lead moments later, but his tough angle shot from the low left side dinged off the crossbar and harmlessly into the corner.
The period ended with 11 saves for SCT4 (Weiner 2, King 9) and a like number for SCT3 (Polich 6, Janke 5).
Duncan got his second goal for SCT4 on a rebound shot over a diving Janke to make it 5-2 with 13:20 remaining in the third. Hausman had his second assist on the play.
After a scoreless middle of the period, SCT3 coach MJ Laggis called a timeout, and three goals down, pulled his netminder with just over three minutes left.
Miraculously for SCT3, the opponents missed several empty net chances, but at last got one with eight seconds left by Steinhoff to seal the deal, making the final 6-2.
King had eight stops in the period, while Janke stopped 14.
When asked about his team's low poll ranking, co-coach Tim Franzini said, "We came in with no expectations, just to play our best."
SCT4 also finished first in goals allowed (3.33 per game).
Co-coach Todd Kirschbaum talked with the team about how to be successful during the tournament.
"Play team defense," said the Tomah coach.
Apparently the 2018 SCT champs tooks that advice to heart.