On the first real night of winter, Wausau West and Stevens Point met in a conference clash at KB Willett Arena Tuesday night that was the WiPH Game of the Week.
On a night when the temperature and wind speed were both around 20, the Wisconsin Valley foes played a contest that had meaning at several levels.
Most importantly, it was SPASH's fifth annual Stick It To Cancer game, which raised over $4000 for St. Michael's Foundation Oncology Fund and for local cancer patients.
Secondly, it was a battle for supremacy in the Valley as both squads entered the match-up with unblemished records through four games.
And finally, the winner would have a temporary leg up for tournament seedings in Sectional Three, in which West and Point could be seen as front-runners, along with Northland Pines.
Thanks mostly to the netminders, the game lived up to advance billing as West hung on for a 2-1 win in a game that had end-to-end action for 51 minutes.
West freshman Adam Prokop (21 saves) and SPASH junior Spencer Wierzba (22) each had at least (by my game notes) four magnificent saves, keeping the opponents frustrated and off the board.
The first period had non-stop action as both teams made forays toward the opposing goals, but it took 12 minutes for someone to put a tally on the scoreboard.
With just under six minutes left, Trey Zagrzebski nearly put the Panthers on the scoresheet, but his shot from the low left side met left pipe resistance to keep the score at zero.
After each team sent a player to the bin of sin, Cade Lemmer took matters into his own hands to give West a 1-0 lead.
The junior forward gathered up a loose puck in the NZ and set sail down the middle of the ice with Point defenseman Jake Minch in hot pursuit. With a stride lead, Lemmer's wrister from the hash marks zipped past the glove of Wierzba to account for the only scoring in the first 34 minutes of play.
Prokop stopped four pucks in the first, while Wierzba had seven saves.
Period two saw no scoring despite two power play chances by the guests.
The middle of the period provided great netminding by both goalies in one ten second sequence. First, Prokop made a great stop on a back door attempt by Austin Conley, and then before you could say 'holy smokes,' the puck went the other way and Wierzba made a sliding pad save to deny Sam Techel as the clock ticked down to below the nine-minute mark of the middle stanza.
With just more than four minutes to go, a shot from the left side by Barrett Brooks was stopped by Prokop and for what seemed like moments, the puck sat all alone in the crease before Jacob Cebula alertly cleared it from harm's way.
The period ended with perfection from the goalies, with Prokop saving seven and Wierzba ten pucks.
The third period began with West having the best start possible, scoring just 17 seconds in. Marc Sippel scored from the top of the right circle through traffic as the puck flew past the SPASH goalie to make it 2-0. Lemmer and Techel had assists on the play.
Next came a 40-second sequence that would nearly change the complexion of the game.
Lemmer went off for a slash with 10:55 remaining and just 19 seconds later, Brooks scored a power play goal from the low left side, with assists to Cole Beilke and Zagrzebski to cut the lead to 2-1.
Lemmer—who was already a bit perturbed—receiving a second slashing penalty 12 seconds after the SPASH goal. As he sat in the penalty box, an official skated over and gave him a 10 minute misconduct for good measure. Despite the protestations of the player and the West coaching staff, the penalty stood and the West star was lost for the remainder of the game.
Then it got a little wild, as Prokop made a blocker save and a mask save in a two-minute span in the middle of the period.
A penalty on Point gave West a final man-advantage with just over three minutes left, but they failed to convert to keep the score at 2-1.
With the penalty almost over, SPASH took a time-out to discuss strategy, perhaps trying to figure how to get the player back on the ice and the goalie out at the same time, but due to circumstances, Wierzba did not skate off until there were 50 seconds left.
The horn sounded just seconds after a blast from the right point struck a Point player and bounced harmlessly into the corner, sealing the 2-1 West victory.
Prokop stopped 10 shots in the period, while Wierzba kept five out of the net.
West improves to 11-2-1 (5-0 WVC) while SPASH drops to 12-2-1 (4-1 WVC).