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Somerset hockey gets over playoff jitters, beats Menomonie

Somerset defenseman Drew Kelly (right) battles with a Menomonie player for control of the puck during the first period of last Thursday's playoff game.

It was a bad time to play their worst period of hockey of the season.

The Somerset hockey team suffered a complete meltdown in the first period of its WIAA tournament hockey opener against Menomonie last Thursday.

Fortunately for the Spartans, hockey games are three periods. The Spartans got their game together in the final two periods to eek past the Mustangs, 3-2. The win moved the Spartans into this Tuesday's sectional semifinal game against Hudson. The winner of Tuesday's game will advance to the sectional championship game, where they will face the winner of Tuesday's game between New Richmond and Superior. The sectional championship game will be played this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Dunn County Ice Arena in Menomonie.

The Spartans were fortunate to only be trailing 2-0 after the first period of Thursday's game against Menomonie. The Mustangs came out hitting the Spartans and celebrating their hits like they'd won the Stanley Cup. The Spartans played in a shell the whole period, taking several bad penalties and getting outshot 12-2.

"Menomonie tried to intimidate us and played really physically," said Spartan coach Dan Gilkerson. "We didn't respond well. I haven't seen the negative emotion type stuff all season."

The Spartans also gave up several open shots from the slot. Spartan goalie Jordan Langness stopped most of them, but two got past him.

The break following the first period might have been the most important huddle the team had all season. The coaches worked to calm down the players and to get the focus back on their attack, instead of Menomonie's antics.

The coaches also urged the Spartans to fire shots at the Menomonie net. Once that started, good things happened. At the 2:20 mark into the second period, Spartan defenseman Logan Wiederin fired a shot from the point. It bounced off bodies in front of the net and into the Mustang goal.

The Spartans got the tying goal 5:58 into the period. Somerset got the puck near the net and Reed Kelly was able to get control of it long enough to fire the puck past Mustang goalie Colin Strong.

The score remained 2-2 until 6:14 was left in regulation. Menomonie's defensemen had been sneaking into the offensive zone whenever possible during the game. The Spartans got several good scoring chances because of it, but couldn't cash in until they got the eventual game winner. Defenseman Drew Kelly fired a pass that hit Adam Marty in stride as he split the Menomonie defensemen. Marty went in on the breakaway and beat Strong for the game winner.

One of the key aspects to the game for the Spartans was keeping Menomonie's top line from scoring. Both Mustang goals were produced by their second line. Gilkerson said he always put out his top defensive tandem of Wiederin and Drew Kelly against Menomonie's top line and it produced the results the coaches hoped to see.