Playoffs are here, which means all sorts of teams will be vying to see how far they can go. For the Lakeland boys’ hockey team, the road unexpectedly stopped short.
The Thunderbirds hosted Rhinelander in a 2v7 matchup at the Lakeland Ice Arena. The Hodags pulled off the upset, winning 3-1.
“We had chances, they had chances and they buried their chances and our guys were unable to,” coach Jake Suter said. “Tough game.”
The first period was as close to even as one can get. The first scoring chance for the Thunderbirds came from Max Toijala, take a shot on goal.
Four minutes later, River Nicklaus took a shot on goal that was nearly deflected in, but was cleared. Seconds later, Cody Olson took a shot on goal with Tyler Godfrey right there for a deflection. The puck got by him and the score remained at zero.
Rhinelander’s Harlan Wojtusik had a look at the goal midway through the period, but was stopped by Collin Guelcher, making the save. Guelcher finished with 24 saves on 27 opportunities.
The Thunderbirds were on the offensive with 2:15 to go in the period. Cody Olson took another shot, looking for that first goal.
The Hodags immediately countered with a scoring chance of their own, but was thwarted by the Lakeland defense.
Then with just four seconds left, Teag Wagner fired a shot in traffic that did not make its way through for the goal. The score was tied at 0-0 after a period.
It wasn’t long before the Hodags jumped in front in the second period. Jake Losch found an open spot past Guelcher to score the first goal of the game. The assist went to Leo Losch.
Shortly after, Conor Pequet went to the box for a two-minute minor for elbowing. The Thunderbirds looked to tie the game. Toijala took a hard slap shot that hit the left post, just missing the open crease in the net.
The Hodags killed the penalty and kept their lead.
Right after, the Hodags made another run at the goal with a scrum at the net. Multiple players were right at the net, but the puck was cleared.
With 9:45 left in the period, Rhinelander’s Seth Stafford made a nice save to preserve the score. He ended up making 30 saves on 31 opportunities.
Guelcher responded with a nice save of his own one minute later. Nicklaus took another shot on goal, but was unsuccessful in the attempt.
Not too long after that, the Hodags put a huge goal on the board. In a scramble near the net, it was Jake Losch who scored yet again. Guelcher then got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the goal. And he might have had a case.
“It was a big goal obviously,” Suter said. “From the bench it looked like the net was off by about a foot and a half, but all three refs missed it so it is what it is.”
After two periods, the Hodags were up 2-0.
The story of the third period was chances. The Thunderbirds had multiple chances to score on power plays, some successful and some not.
The first penalty was killed by Rhinelander after Wojtusik got called for hooking.
Just 30 seconds after killing the penalty, the Hodags took the breath out of the Thunderbirds with their third goal, courtesy of Wojtusik, assisted by Pequet. A 3-0 deficit with 11 minutes to play would be no easy task.
Yet the Thunderbirds kept coming at the Hodags. With another power play opportunity, Toijala took another shot on goal, looking for that spark.
That spark ended up coming from Wagner, who scored on the power play. He shot it through Stafford’s legs for Lakeland’s first goal, assisted by Kyle Schaub and Victor Masayesva.
“You always want to build off (that goal), but credit to Rhinelander — they played a very good game and worked hard and their coach had them prepared well,” Suter said. The Hodags were up 3-1 with nine minutes left in the contest. Could the Thunderbirds find two goals in that time?
Toijala made another run at the goal and took a high shot that just missed the upper left-hand corner of the net.
Another chance for Lakeland came on a shot that bounced off of Stafford high in the air, making for a loose puck on the ice. The Hodags eventually cleared it.
“We were getting pucks to the net, we just didn’t capitalize on our chances and Rhinelander did,” Suter said.
If Lakeland had any aspirations to make a comeback, they would need to take advantage of a Joe Schneider cross-checking penalty. There were four minutes left.
Stafford ended up making two tough saves, including one on a Wagner shot towards the end of the penalty.
Rhinelander killed the penalty and the Thunderbirds didn’t get any more looks after that.
The Thunderbirds’ season ends with a 16-5-1 overall record, 6-1 in conference.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].