Happy New Year. The University School boys’ hockey team had a little more to celebrate on January 1st than the start of 2019. The Wildcats began the New Year Tuesday by winning the trophy for the Championship in the Schwan Cup Tournament. They came home to Milwaukee with the cup by defeating Totino Grace of Fridley, Minnesota 5-3 in the Bronze Division Championship game at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
Casey Roepke, who is one of USM’s captains, commented on the win and the four days of tournament time in Minnesota, “This was a pure businesses trip for the boys. Huge building blocks for our season on and off the ice. We had great team bonding off ice and great work and effort on the ice all weekend. This championship game meant a lot to us; we wanted to finish with hardware. The boys came out focused and ready to play. The game was a battle and lots of ups and downs. The boys faced some adversity and responded well. Business was finished; now we’re back to work to keep preparing for the future.”
The Wildcats played their usual style of fast skating, frequent shooting, and tight defense, to defeat the Eagles. As they do in many games, the Wildcats out shot their opponents. In Tuesday’s game, the Wildcats took 48 shots while allowing the Eagles 15.
Although USM took 20 shots in the first period, and the Eagles just 6, the score at the end of those first 17 minutes was still 0-0.
USM changed that early in the second period while on a power play. After the Eagles had cleared the puck, Roepke went back into the USM zone to get it. He turned up ice and passed it out to Tyler Herzberg along the left boards in center ice. Herzberg simply directed the puck into the Eagles’ zone. Racing after it, Ethan Mann grabbed the puck behind the net and passed it to Robby Newton who had moved to the post on the left side. Without hesitation, Newton shoved it toward the net. The puck made it past Totino Grace’s goalie, Jon Howe, at 1:35 of the second period.
The Wildcats took a two-goal lead a few minutes later. In the USM end, Blake Carey gained control of the puck and fired it out of the zone to Newton, who was dashing away. Newton skated the puck into the Eagles’ end. Realizing he’d be checked, Newton passed it back to Herzberg who was trailing the play.
Continuing, Newton moved past a defenseman, so Herzberg returned the puck. As Howe slid over to stop Newton, Newton craftily passed it back to Herzberg. Herzberg fired it into the opening on the far side of the net at 3:39.
The Eagles closed the gap with a power play goal less than a minute later. On the faceoff to start the power play, Kyle Heffron drew the puck back to Nick Sticha at the left point. Sticha passed it to his defensive partner, Ben Palmer, at the center of the line. Palmer took a shot. The puck rebounded off Frank Fee, USM’s starting goaltender. Jake Wacek sprinted to the loose puck and whipped it into the net at 4:39.
Heffron tied the score at 15:55 of the second period while the teams were playing four a side. Jack Bonfe started the play by sending a breakout pass to Wacek on the left boards in the Eagles’ zone. Wacek saw Heffron skating into center ice and forwarded the puck to him. Heffron tipped the puck past a USM defenseman and sped into the USM zone on a breakaway. He made a move to make Fee dive out to stop him then moved to the left around the sprawling goaltender. Heffron’s momentum took him past the net, so he turned and shot the puck at Fee’s extended stick. It hit the stick and trickled across the goal line to make the score 2-2 heading into the third period.
Despite Totino Grace’s late second-period goal, the Wildcats were not disheartened as they headed to the locker room. They came out and scored two goals in the first four minutes of the third period to take a lead they would not surrender.
USM re-took the lead at 2:11. Forechecking, Mann body checked an Eagle defenseman on the right side boards. The puck bounced away toward the slot. Mann jumped to get it. He then backhanded a pass to Sterling Cooke who was skating out of the right corner unmarked. Cooke headed across the low crease and snapped a shot past Howe for the goal.
Herzberg scored the eventual game winner soon thereafter. Newton started the play by knocking the puck away from a defender at the Eagles’ blue line. He raced into the zone to get the loose puck, then rolled on toward the net. He deked Howe and shot. Howe stick-checked the puck into the slot. Herzberg grabbed it, stepped in, fired and scored at 3:57.
The Wildcats held a 4-2 lead, but they let Totino Grace move closer by allowing the Eagles a power play that resulted in a goal at 12:26. Bonfe collected a loose puck in USM’s left circle. He skated toward the near corner, then circled and headed out to the blue line. He skated along the line to the right point then stopped and fired a shot toward the far post. Colin Neilsen was there. Neilsen tipped it past Fee for the score.
Fee was hurt on the play so Patrick Kelly replaced him in the USM net. The Wildcats made sure Kelly was not threatened. He did not have to make any saves, even though, as would be expected in a close game with a championship on the line, the play was furious in the final minutes of the final period. The Eagles eventually pulled Howe for a man advantage, but the maneuver went for naught. Newton scored an empty net goal at 16:10, with an assist by Carey to give USM a two-goal lead, the victory, and the championship.
USM is now 12-1 and 2-0 in the Classic Eight Conference. The Wildcats return to Milwaukee to play Greendale in a Classic Eight Conference game on Friday, January 4th at Wilson Park in Milwaukee at 6:30 pm.