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T-Bird hockey puts together successful season

Place second in the GNC

April 17, 2020 by Brett LaBore

In one of the most successful seasons, the Lakeland boys’ hockey team brought big wins with exciting talent, producing one of the best records in the Great Northern Conference.

The Thunderbirds finished the season with an overall record of 16-5-1, 6-1 in conference, second in the GNC.

“I am very proud of our kids and how they competed throughout the season,” coach Jake Suter said. “We have a very good group of young men and we are looking to improve going into next year.”

The season started with an 8-0 victory over Chequamegon co-op on Nov. 22, 2019, at the Lakeland Ice Arena.

Four days later, the Thunderbirds lost to Rhinelander 6-3, their first loss of the season. After that, Lakeland took off.

Hot start

From Dec. 3 of last year to Jan. 23, the Thunderbirds lost just one game. They went a combined 12-1 in that span, winning both non-conference and conference games. 

“In my opinion it was just all of the kids buying in and putting the team first in everything that they did,” Suter said.

Their one loss came to state participant Northland Pines on Dec. 17, by a score of 7-2. The Eagles were the best team in conference with an undefeated record of 7-0. 

The Thunderbirds and Eagles only played the one time on Dec. 17. Lakeland did give them a scare, as the game was tied at 2-2 in the second period.

The Eagles ultimately prevailed, but Suter was proud of his guys.

“It was a good measuring stick for us,” he said. “(Northland Pines) had one heck of a hockey team this year. Anytime you can compete against a team like that, it makes you better.”

During the Thunderbirds’ streak of wins, they defeated conference foes Waupaca 7-0 on Dec. 7 and Mosinee 3-2 on Dec. 10. Mosinee ended up finishing third in conference and Waupaca fourth.

A big non-conference win came against Amery on Dec. 14, winning 4-1. Max Toijala put the game away with a late goal in the third period, an empty-netter.

In a rematch with Rhinelander on Jan. 14, the Thunderbirds won big by a score of 7-2. They were establishing themselves as one of the teams to beat.

Bump in the road

From Jan. 25 to Feb. 20, the Thunderbirds finished with a 3-3-1 record with several overtime games.

“Unfortunately, due to some key injuries, we probably peaked a little early,” Suter said. “When it came to playoff time we didn’t have much depth and that came back to hurt us.”

Their win streak ran out when they tied D.C. Everest 1-1 on Jan. 25. Next, they lost to Marshfield 4-3 in overtime, their first loss in over a month.

They rebounded with a 4-1 win over Medford on Feb. 4 in the GNC tournament quarterfinals. In the GNC semifinals, Mosinee took them to overtime again and won 3-2.

In the third place game on Feb. 15, Lakeland played yet another overtime game against Waupaca. This time they won thanks to a goal by Kyle Schaub to give them a 3-2 win and third place in the GNC tournament.

Playoff surprise

The Thunderbirds drew the Hodags with their first game of regional play. Lakeland came in with the No. 2 seed and Rhinelander the No. 7 seed on Feb. 20 at the Lakeland Ice Arena.

With high hopes for a playoff run, the Hodags surprised the Thunderbirds with a 3-1 win to end the Lakeland season. Teag Wagner scored the goal, assisted by Schaub and Victor Masayesva. But it wasn’t enough to win the game.

“Honestly they just out-played us. (Rhinelander boys’ hockey coach) MJ (Laggis) has the kids playing very good at the right time,” Suter said. “They took Mosinee to OT in the semifinals and probably should’ve won that game.”

Player of the Year

To be a successful team, one needs to have successful players who work together. That is exactly what the Thunderbirds have.

It all started with GNC Player of the Year Toijala. In 21 games, he scored 35 goals and 24 assists for 59 points. All three numbers led the team. He also led the team with 10 power play goals and 2.81 points per game. He also had six game-winning goals.

“Max is a great player, but even more so he’s a great young man and a great role model for not only his teammates, but also for the community,” Suter said. “He’s a great leader, student and is a very good example of the culture that we hope to establish with the Lakeland hockey program.” 

Over the course of the year, Toijala had a number of hat tricks. One such game came on Jan. 23 against the Northwest Icemen. He scored three goals and finished with four points. He scored one goal and assisted another against Northland Pines. Toijala was a unanimous first teamer.

Stout defense

As Toijala did the scoring, first-team goalie Collin Guelcher stopped the scoring. He recorded three shutouts, made 542 saves for a 94% save percentage and allowed 1.88 goals per game. One of Guelcher’s best games came against Amery when he allowed just one goal on 33 shots.

“Much like Max, Collin is a great leader for us. He was a brick wall in net and stole some games for us this year that we probably shouldn’t have won,” Suter said. “He has improved each day over the last two years I’ve been around him and in my opinion is undoubtedly at least a top five goalie in our state.”

Helping Guelcher out on the defensive side was second team defender Cody Olson. He did score one goal and assisted 11 more for 12 points. His 11 assists were fourth on the team.

Wagner was voted honorable mention all-conference. He scored five goals and assisted 10 more. His 15 points were fifth on the team.

“They were huge for us on the back end. Those two along with Thomas McCumber and River Nicklaus were great for us this year in defense,” Suter said. “All four of those guys along with Brody Vizanko and Nick Carlin helped establish our defensive identity and they were a huge part of our success.”

Big-time depth

One player who paired well with Toijala was Victor Masayesva. He assisted many of Toijala’s goals and would be part of an offensive attack that put pressure on other teams. He finished with 16 goals and 19 assists, both second on the team. He was also second with five game-winning goals. Masayesva scored the first Lakeland goal against Northland Pines on Dec. 17.

“Vic played defense his freshman and sophomore seasons and this year we wanted to try him at forward and he did not disappoint,” Suter said. “He is always one of our hardest workers and we are looking forward to a big season out of him next year.”

Joe Beda and Schaub were other guys on the attack. Beda finished with nine goals and 14 assists. Schaub finished with nine goals as well and assisted eight others.

“Kyle Schaub should be extremely proud of his career here at Lakeland. He is an amazing kid and it was an honor to coach him the past two years,” Suter said. “He is going to leave a pretty big hole in our lineup and locker room that will be very hard to fill.”

The other player who scored at least 10 points for the team was Tyler Gillich. He finished with 11 points and scored six goals. He assisted one of Lakeland’s goals against Pines.

Look for the Thunderbirds to improve on this season during the 2020-21 campaign.

Brett LaBore may be reached at bre[email protected] or [email protected]

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