The Pines Classic Tournament trophy has returned home. On Saturday, January 26th, the Northland Pines boys’ hockey team upset the number one team in the state, University School, 4-0 in the championship game of the annual tournament in Eagle River to bring the trophy home.
USM has won the tournament for three straight years, but not this year, thanks to junior goalie Brett Wilkins. He led the Eagles to victory by turning aside all 28 shots the USM players fired at him. His teammates helped him gain the shutout by putting 4 of their 23 shots past USM’s senior goaltender Frank Fee. Senior Lachlan Seigmeier scored twice for the Eagles, and seniors Andrew Rothmeier and Jack Rhodes each scored a goal to help please the hometown crowd.
Junior Casey Roepke, a captain of the USM team, said, “We give a lot of credit to Pines in today’s game. They came ready, and we were off of our game. Not much to say besides that. Tough game, but we will bounce back.”
The sixth-ranked Eagles did show up ready. From the start, they played a solid defensive game, clogging the tiny neutral zone on the famed Dome stadium’s ice, thereby preventing the Wildcats from completing their typical spread passes to a wing shooting out of the D zone during breakouts. They also protected Wilkins with a tight, disciplined, defensive formation around him, picking up Wildcats lurking like vultures near the net, as well as body-checking them along the boards.
When the Eagles got the puck into the USM zone, they forechecked well and won battles for the puck along the boards.
Eventually the Eagles’ determined efforts paid off. Taking a faceoff in the USM right circle, junior Brady Snedden drew the puck back to Seigmeier, who was cutting through the circle. Seigmeier shot the puck. The rebound fluttered off of Fee’s pads into the left circle. Junior Harmon Marien stopped it and tipped it back to Seigmeier who was charging after it. Seigmeier swiftly whipped it past Fee for the what would be the game-winning goal at 13:04 of the first period.
The Eagles extended their lead with another goal a few minutes later. Battling for the puck along the boards in the Northland Pines zone, junior Gunnar Schiffmann chipped up the boards to Rhodes. He knocked it past a pinching defenseman and took off on a two-on-one rush with Rothmeier. Rhodes skated down the right side and cut in on Fee, falling as he moved through the crease. Rothmeier was steaming into the play and clubbed the rebound into the net at 15:48.
The Pines players remained persistent and they made the score 3-0 at 13:09 of the second period. Skating out of the Eagles’ zone on a three-on-two break, Snedden skated through center ice then centered the puck to Marien as Marien crossed the blue line. Marien then passed it to left to Seigmeier who skated in and shot the puck past Fee.
The Wildcats played a better third period, outshooting the Eagles 14-4 in the frame. But the home team stayed with their game and kept the Wildcats from scoring. The Eagles killed three penalties in the period and vanquished the Wildcats’ final frenzied fury when they scored an empty net goal after USM had pulled Fee, on a shot by Rhodes off a pass from Schiffmann at 13:21.
“Just an ugly performance by our team today,” said Jason Woods, USM’s head coach. “We lacked focus and energy from the get go. Credit Pines, they played hard and smart. They outplayed us in every single phase of the game. Hopefully, this is the wake-up call; we need to be reminded that we need to show up ready to work every day, practice or game. There are very few teams on our schedule we would have beat with our performance today. Throw it in the dumpster, move on, and get back to work.”
As a result of the game, Northland Pines and USM have similar records, Pines is 17-2 while USM’s record stands at 16-2. These two top ten teams hope to improve those records in their upcoming contests. The Eagles play their next game on Tuesday, January 29th. The Wildcats return home to play their long time Milwaukee area rival, Marquette, in a Classic Eight Conference game at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30th.