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December 17, 2017

12/5/2017 7:27:00 AM
T-Birds earn a split on the ice
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times

Lakeland freshman Max Toijala had a goal and an assist in a 7-4 win over Mosinee, accounting for the first points of his prep career.
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times

Lakeland freshman Max Toijala had a goal and an assist in a 7-4 win over Mosinee, accounting for the first points of his prep career.

Nick Sabato
River News reporter

After a tough start to the boys' hockey season last Tuesday night, Lakeland Union High School had an opportunity to get back on track with games on Thursday and Saturday nights.

The Thunderbirds showed some flashes in games against Mosinee and Wausau East/Merrill, earning a split in the two games.

T-Birds explode against Mosinee

Lakeland struggled in every aspect of the game against a talented D.C. Everest squad last Tuesday night, but a chance to bounce back presented itself Thursday as it hosted Mosinee in the first Great Northern Conference game of the season.

The Thunderbirds didn't waste any time in putting the previous game in the rearview mirror, as goals from Bret Benson and Caleb Menzia came 49 seconds apart to grab a 2-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.

Mosinee would get on the board in the waning moments of the opening period, but Lakeland stormed out of the gates in the second to explode for five goals in the frame, leading to a 7-4 win.

"I told them, 'Look at where we're at right now. We can either go down with the pressure and come out and pick it up and show Mosinee how we can play,'" LUHS head coach Ken Thanig said. "They responded."

Perhaps the biggest goal of the game came 1:35 in the second period. Lakeland held a powerplay, leading 2-1 after the Indians scored with 23.7 seconds left in the first to get back into the game.

Defenseman River Nicklaus was able to sneak backdoor and slammed a shot home for the freshman's first career goal.

The goal increased the lead to 3-1, which set off a firestorm of goals that led to a 7-2 lead at the end of the second period.

"You never want to get scored on in the last minute of a period and that's something we talked about," Thanig said. "Obviously I was not happy with the results there, but then Riv came through there. That was his first career goal, which is outstanding. With Blake (Berray) out he ended up getting a lot of playing time and he responded in a positive way. He played a great game. For a freshman, playing against upperclassmen, that's a big job out there for a young man and I thought our defense stepped up fairly well."

Nicklaus wasn't the only freshman to make a significant impact as classmate Max Toijala also scored his first career goal in the second and also added an assist to match. Meanwhile, freshman defenseman Victor Masayesva tallied two assists for his first career points at the prep level.

The upperclassmen then built upon what the young players were doing after being challenged by Thanig before the game. Benson added two goals, as did senior Max Ertl. Menzia had a goal and an assist, while Aidan Byrnes had two assists.

"Any time a freshman can contribute at that level it's huge because we haven't had that in a long time," Thanig said. "We had that with Bret last year, obviously, but to have three more come in and do that is progress for our program."

Lakeland's scoring explosion in the second period was certainly much needed after finishing last in the GNC in scoring a year ago and getting shutout in the season opener and it's a great thing to build upon, but Thanig was not happy with the way his team played in the third period.

The T-Birds put 15 shots on goal in the second period, but didn't get any in third as Mosinee was able to find the back of the net twice to cut into the lead.

"(In the) second period we played an excellent period," Thanig said. "First period was mediocre, second period was excellent and the third we went backwards."

The big lead still allowed Lakeland to walk away with a three-goal lead as Nathan Pitek made 21 saves in goal.

Still a work-in-progress

Lakeland played its first road game of the season Saturday night at East/Merrill and were able to take an early lead on a goal by defenseman Blake Berray.

Two major penalties put the T-Birds in a bind, however, and the Bluejacks capitalized, handing Lakeland a 5-4 loss.

"We made some mistakes out there," Thanig said. "We took a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the first period so that hurt us. Then we took a five-minute major so that hurt us. One was Max Toijala, the other was Bret Benson, so having those guys off the ice for that period of time cost us. It was a whole period where we didn't have our line together."

The T-Birds nearly killed off Benson's boarding penalty, but East/Merrill managed to score late in the power play.

Toijala came back from his penalty and put Lakeland back in the lead, but two goals late in the period, including one with one second left, put the Bluejacks ahead after two.

"We had that five-minute major, we basically killed that off and they scored in the last couple seconds on a lucky goal so that hurt us right there. We did a nice job and they score," Thanig said. "That's tough, it takes momentum away. Not having our line together in the first period hurt us a lot, all the way into the second period. So we had to talk about it. We have a young team, guys going through some growing pains and we're going to make some mistakes early in the season. We're going to have some individual growing pains to grow as a team. That's part of playing the game of hockey. These guys haven't been in situations before that we encountered there."

Berray tallied his second goal of the game 1:18 into the third period to tie it, but two more goals in the last six minutes cost Lakeland the game.

Ertl scored his third goal in two games with 11 seconds left to make it 5-4.

Lakeland (1-2, 1-0 GNC) is back on the ice tonight with a game at Northland Pines, with puck drop scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Nick Sabato may be reached at nick@lakelandtimes.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.

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