In what might have been one of the craziest games that the estimated 1500 fans at the South Wood County Rec Center Saturday afternoon had ever seen, the SPASH Panthers came back from an 8-1 deficit late in the second period and turned it into a much closer game, losing 8-6 in a contest that was still in doubt until the last 30 seconds of play.
For 33 minutes, West was in cruise control and the only question was: what would the final score be?
SPASH was missing two of its top defenders: Cole Beilke, who is one of the top defensemen in the state, and Trent Metz, another key player on the blueline. Not to say that made the difference, but it certainly did not help the Panthers on this day.
West got the power play cranked up right away.
Connor Healy fired a shot from the right circle through traffic that beat SPASH goalie Spencer Wierzba to make it 1-0 just over four minutes in. Cade Lemmer got an assist on the play.
After another SPASH penalty, West worked most of the two minutes but then got a rebound goal by Sam Techel, with helpers to linemates Lemmer and Marc Sippel with just over ten minutes left in the first.
Then it was the Panthers' turn.
They failed to score on the power play, but cut the lead to 2-1 shortly after on a goal by Brandon Vicko on a shot that seemed to be deflected past West goalie Adam Prokop.
Lemmer scored his first goal two minutes later on a shot from the top of the right circle that went bar-down and puck-in to make it 3-1, West. The helper went to Jake Bailey.
The teams had four power play chances in the last five minutes (three for SPASH and one for West) but the penalty kill squads did their jobs and the period ended with the scoreboard reading: WEST 3, SPASH 1. Shots were 9-8, SPASH.
The second period was a tale of two cities, as West dominated the first 15 1/2 minutes, and then SPASH took over.
Lemmer scored at 4:37 with his shot from the top that ramped off the goalie stick and into the net. Techel and Lucas Langlois got helpers on the power play goal.
A minute later, Nick Norrgran went in on a short-handed breakaway but was stoned by Prokop. A rebound attempt by Dayne Hoyord met a similar fate.
Once again, it was West that changed numbers on the scoreboard. Techel fired a shot from the left dot that beat Wierzba high blocker at 6:06 to make it 5-1, with assists to, who else, Lemmer and Sippel.
SPASH coach Brandon Busse took his time out to try and rally the troops, but West was on fire and was not ready to be put out. At least not yet.
West scored another power play goal, this time by Jacob Cebula. He picked up a loose puck in the NZ, strode up-ice, and sent a laser past the SPASH netminder at 10:29 to make it 6-1.
But then West did something different late in the period while scoring twice in a span of 22 seconds.
They scored while playing even strength.
First, Cole Hannes punched in a loose puck to make it 7-1, and then Dayne Hagedorn added his name to the 'goals scored' list for the game when he snagged a turnover and put the puck in the net to give West an 8-1 lead.
At that point, sophomore Landen Kawleski replaced Wierzba in the game, as the junior struggled against a red-hot West squad.
Seventeen seconds after that, SPASH found the golden ticket.
Unfortunately for the top-seeded Warriors, Lemmer was assessed a five-minute major for charging with 1:32 left in the period and SPASH took full advantage of the man-advantage.
Six seconds after the penalty, Trey Zagrzebski scored unassisted to give the Panthers a brief glimmer of hope at 8-2.
Then almost a minute later, 'Trey-Z' scored on a play that started as a 3-on-2 as the period wound down, making it 8-3. Assists went to Austin Conley and Barrett Brooks. Shots were 12-10 in favor of SPASH in the stanza.
SPASH scored almost immediately on the power play to open the final period, with Brooks firing a shot past Prokop from the left dot just 41 seconds in. Norrgran and Zagrzebski got helpers on the play.
That made the score 8-4 and the SPASH fans were in full voice right now.
Brady Dillingham grabbed a loose puck along the left boards, skated a couple strides and fired an on-ice tough angle shot that surprised and beat the West goalie to make it 8-5 with over 12 minutes left.
Anyone's puck game.
Shortly after, Point had to kill off a penalty but nearly scored after that. Brooks had a breakaway chance, but Prokop kicked out his left pad and negated the scoring chance.
The game went back and forth with no scoring until Norrgran scored on a rebound tap-in with 28 seconds left to cut the West lead to 8-6.
The collective breaths of 1500 strong were held until the final buzzer sounded on a miraculous, crazy game that sent Wausau West to state for the 17th time.
Shots in the final period showed SPASH holding an 11-3 margin.
Prokop stopped 26 shots in earning a hard-fought win, while Wierzba (10) and Kawleski (3) combined to make 13 saves.
The Panthers concluded a fine season with a record of 20-5-2, while West moves on to Quarterfinal Thursday with a mark of 23-3-1.