New Richmond boys hockey opens WIAA playoffs at home on Friday
This is the time for which hockey fans wait all year.
The WIAA state playoffs begin this week, with dreams of skating at the WIAA state championships in Madison filling the heads of high school hockey players all across Wisconsin.
The New Richmond boys begin their playoff journey this Friday when they host River Falls. The Tigers are the third seed and River Falls is the sixth seed in the sectional bracket. Friday’s game will be played at 7 p.m. at the New Richmond Sports Center.
The winner of Friday’s game will play again next Tuesday in the sectional semifinals, in a game that would likely be played against Superior on the Spartans’ home ice.
While every Tiger fan is looking forward to a possible New Richmond-Superior rematch, Tiger coach Adam Swanda said his team can’t look past Friday’s game. River Falls may have a 6-18 record, but the Wildcats play a difficult schedule in the Big Rivers Conference.
“River Falls isn’t a bad team. Their record doesn’t give them credit,” Swanda said.
The Tigers began this week with a 16-7 record, with Tuesday’s game against St. Paul Johnson as their final regular season game. Johnson is the 11th ranked team in Minnesota, so that will be an excellent primer to get the Tigers ready for the playoffs.
Getting ready for the playoffs has been the focus of the past several weeks of the schedule for the Tigers. That includes playing in a tournament at Wisconsin Rapids over the weekend. The Tigers won the tournament championship. The Tigers defeated Monona Grove 4-2 on Friday and West Salem 3-2 in Saturday’s championship game.
West Salem came into Saturday’s game with a 19-2-1 record, earning the top seed in its sectional bracket.
While West Salem boasts an impressive record, it’s schedule doesn’t come near what the Tigers play. West Salem’s two previous losses came against Baldwin-Woodville and Antigo and Swanda said those are teams that are comparable to West Salem.
West Salem scored first on Saturday, but the Tigers got two goals late in the first period. The first came from senior Stuart Pearson with 1:28 left. The second was scored by Noah Towberman with 2.5 seconds left in the period.
The goal was the product of one of the Tigers’ faceoff plays. Pearson won the faceoff. Towberman, a defenseman, slid up front for the faceoff and cut toward the net at the drop of the puck. Pearson sent the puck right into Towberman’s path and he snapped it past the West Salem goalie.
West Salem tied the score three minutes into the second period. Pearson remained hot, scoring the go-ahead goal with 1:52 left in the period. This time the goal came on the power play. Swanda said both of Pearson’s goals Saturday came when he carried the puck into the offensive zone and made good reads at the blue line on what was his best opportunity to score. Over the past seven games, Pearson has scored 11 goals.
In Friday’s game, junior Dane Swanda scored the only goal of the first period. The Tigers stretched the lead to 2-0 early in the second period on a goal from senior defenseman Chris Lubow. Lubow led a rush into the offensive zone. Swanda said Lubow usually goes right to the net on these plays. But when Lubow saw the Monona defensemen split to cover the wingers, Lubow ripped a shot from the high slot that cleanly beat the Monona goalie.
“It was a really nice thinking goal,” Coach Swanda said.
Nick Johnson scored late in the second period to extend the Tigers’ lead to 3-1 and Cole Thomas bumped the lead to 4-1 with a goal 5:56 into the third period.
Jake Erickson got the win in goal for the Tigers in both of the weekend games. He stopped 22 of 24 shots against Monona and 24 of 26 shots he faced from West Salem.