MOSINEE - Before a much-awaited rematch against Northland Pines looming on Saturday, Lakeland Union High School had to get through Great Northern Conference boys' hockey foe Mosinee on the road Tuesday night.
The last time the two teams faced, the Thunderbirds used a five-goal second period to blow past the Indians. With a chance at revenge around the corner, however, it had the potential to be a trap game.
Lakeland washed any of those notions away by building an early lead, before using a three-goal second period to pull away with a 6-2 win.
"We're preparing for Pines so we wanted to play a solid game tonight because it's our only game this week to prepare for Saturday," LUHS head coach Ken Thanig said. "We talked to the kids about the upcoming game and needing to have a solid game leading into that one. For us, this was a big game. We scored three early and three late and they sandwiched two in between. I thought our kids did a real nice job. Defensively, we played a solid game. We gave up a rebound goal and the other one, basically, was a fluke."
Starting slow has been a bugaboo at times for Lakeland this season, but not on this night.
Max Toijala scored less than seven minutes into the game and Caleb Menzia scored almost exactly two minutes later on a power play goal to give the T-Birds a 2-0 lead after 17 minutes.
Lakeland would add another crucial goal 36 seconds into the second period when Toijala found Bret Benson to take a 3-0 lead.
"We played close to three periods of solid hockey. Probably about two and a half, maybe," Thanig said.
A goal to give a team a 3-0 lead may not seem crucial on the outside, but on this occasion it was pivotal.
Mosinee refused to go quietly, as Max Beste scored two goals in less than three minutes to cut the lead to 3-2. Fortunately for the T-Birds, they were able to quickly right the ship.
Lakeland scored two goals before the end of the period as Benson found Toijala for his second of the night and he would later find Kyle Schaub to give his team a 5-2 advantage heading into the final period.
Tyler Carroll was able to punctuate the win with a short-handed goal on the team's only penalty of the game.
"We did a nice job. When it got to be 3-2, that's where the guys head to dig deep," Thanig said. "We got through that and scored another two."
Benson had another huge game as the sophomore had a hand in five of Lakeland's six goals in the game, notching a goal and four assists, while Toijala had two goals and an assist. Victor Masayesva and Tanner Nicklaus each added an assist in the game. Nathan Pitek made 25 saves between the pipes in the win.
The T-Birds can now finally turn their attention completely to the current GNC leader, Northland Pines. On Dec. 5, Lakeland imploded late in the game as the Eagles scored seven goals in the third period to turn a two-goal game into a 10-1 rout.
Not only is Lakeland looking for some revenge, but its also looking for its first win over Northland Pines in 15 games.
"When you play a team like that, taking the body is important. We're going to have to play the duration. We're going to have to play three solid periods of hockey," Thanig said. "We're going to have to block shots, we're going to have to play tough in the defensive zone and we know that coming in. We're playing at our rink this time and just watching our kids, you can tell they've improved a lot. On Saturday we'll see what happens, but our guys are going to be ready to play."
Lakeland (9-5, 5-2 GNC) hosts Northland Pines tomorrow at Lakeland Hawks Ice Arena, with puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.