Dean Hall/lakeland times
T-Bird Brandon Boh prepares to kick the ball towards a well defended goal during a scoreless game against the Hodags on Thursday, Aug. 31.
Dean Hall/lakeland times T-Bird Brandon Boh prepares to kick the ball towards a well defended goal during a scoreless game against the Hodags on Thursday, Aug. 31.
Although Rhinelander held a 30-2 advantage in shots through 90 minutes of soccer, Lakeland Union battled the Hodags to a scoreless conference draw Thursday in front of a great crowd at River Valley Bank Field in Minocqua. 
The Hodags controlled much of the rivalry game offensively and put pressure on junior goaltender Vincent Strong early. After a Lakeland penalty in the 10th minute, Rhinelander senior Matthew Van Oepen sent the free kick towards the net from 35-yards away, his teammate Hunter Hicks got a foot on the ball as he was rushing towards the goal but the senior bumped into Strong as he made the save. 
One minute later Strong made a diving save on another Hicks shot but play was stopped as the T-Birds goalie had to leave the game with a hand injury sustained earlier during the collision with Hicks. He was replaced by senior Mason Holmquist in the 12th minute.
Lakeland’s only shot on goal in the first half came in the 22nd minute on a free kick when junior Brandon Boh booted a low line drive through traffic from 25-yards away but it went wide left of Hodags goalkeeper Josh Randolph to remain scoreless.
Rhinelander continued to put pressure on the T-Birds defense for the rest of the half. Sophomore Hugh Wiese shot one just over the crossbar in the 32nd minute; sophomore Joseph Heck’s weak shot up the middle was saved by Holmquist in the 35th minute and Van Oepen weaved through the Lakeland defense for another scoring opportunity in the 42nd minute but Holmquist made a terrific save. The Hodags outshot Lakeland 15-1 but despite the shot disadvantage, the teams went into the half tied at 0-0 in a defensive battle.
“Fortunately we had good goaltending and solid defense,” Lakeland assistant coach Matt Thiessen said. “Our defense was very strong.”
It was more of the same in the second half of this physical contest. Hicks had a golden opportunity in the 54th minute when he had the ball in traffic after a free kick in front of the Lakeland goal, but he booted it over the post from point blank range.
Boh was the most physical player on the field and used it to his advantage to create scoring opportunities for the home team. In the 62nd minute he hooked a 35-yard shot from the left side toward the goal but it went wide right. Five minutes later Boh took a shot through traffic with his right foot and the ball hit the left post before going out of bounds. The physical play was allowed on both sides during the contest.
“It was a very physical game,” Thiessen added. “The referees allowed them to play and that’s OK as long as it doesn’t impede the players.”
“If you really know the game some of the contact was 50/50 challenges and it’s like you throw up your hands and say who are you going to call it on,” Rhinelander head coach Dan Millot said. “I thought they did a nice job tonight.”
Rhinelander’s best opportunity in the final minutes to score was in the 82nd minute when senior forward Russell Benoy sent one high over the Lakeland defense towards the top of the goal but Holmquist was able to get his fingertips on the ball and it went over the top of the crossbar. Hicks then hit the right post in the 84th minute.
The home team had two more opportunities to score in the final three minutes but Boh’s shot went wide left in the 87th minute and Lakeland's rush in the 89th minute failed to yield a shot as time expired and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. 
“It was a hard game and it was a close game,” Lakeland head coach Julian Beltran said. “Both teams have really good defenders so it’s really hard to score, but I think we had more opportunities in the second half and at the end we had two or three really good opportunities.”
With the tie, Lakeland’s record moves to 3-2-1 overall and 0-2-1 in the Great Northern Conference while Rhinelander went to 1-1-1. The T-Birds return to the field today as they host Three Lakes at River Valley Bank Field in Minocqua.