New Richmond boys hockey wins "Hodag" title
The Hodag is a mythical creature.
But there was an intensity that was very real in the play of the New Richmond boys hockey team that brought the Hodag trophy back to New Richmond for the second straight year.
The Tiger boys played their final tuneup before the WIAA playoffs in the Hodag tournament at Wisconsin Rapids over the weekend. The Tigers won both their games in the tournament for a final regular season record of 17-5-1.
The Tigers are scheduled to open WIAA tournament play this Thursday. The Tigers are the third seed in the sectional tournament bracket. They will host Menomonie, the sixth seed, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the New Richmond Sports Center. The winner of that game will likely end up playing at Superior on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the WIAA sectional semifinals.
In the weekend tournament, the Tigers faced the host Wisconsin Rapids team in the opening round. The Tigers took charge almost immediately, scoring twice in the first 73 seconds of the game. By the end of the opening period the lead stood at 4-1. The Tigers never let up in an 8-3 victory.
The Tigers are at their best offensively when they swarm around the net. Both of the opening goals Friday came from players battling for position in front of the net, with Hayden Bradbury and Eric Langer scoring those goals. Both of them came when they were in position to put away rebounds.
After Rapids scored midway through the opening period, the Tigers netted two more rebound goals. They came 16 seconds apart, with Brayden Carpenter and Nick Johnson getting the scores.
Carpenter, Johnson and Langer would all score again for the Tigers in the second period. Johnson scored his 24th goal of the season in the third period to complete his hat trick.
The Tiger coaches gave sophomore Max Davis his first varsity start in goal in Friday's game. Davis has seen action in relief of starter Jake Erickson in four previous games this season. He stopped 13 of the 16 shots he faced to get the win on Friday.
With the playoffs looming, the Tigers were looking for a good test in this tournament. They got it Saturday, facing a West Salem team that is seeded second in Sectional 4. The Tigers were able to win, 3-1.
West Salem is led by Jake Gorniak, a University of Wisconsin recruit. Gorniak and Nick Johnson were teammates this offseason on Team Wisconsin.
This was another game where the Tigers started quickly. The Tigers are recognized for their large and skilled senior class. But the younger players have been contributing more and more. The Tigers scored twice in the first period and both were scored by sophomores. Bradbury scored 5:28 into the game and Garrett Thomas scored at the 8:47 mark. Johnson assisted on both goals.
The score remained 2-0 until the final 90 seconds of the game, when Gorniak scored on a power play.
Tiger coach Adam Swanda said the team played some of its best hockey of the weekend in the final minutes Saturday, killing off four penalties in the final nine minutes of the game.
With 43 seconds remaining, senior Blake Kretovics scored an empty net goal to ice the victory.
Erickson made 17 saves in goal for the Tigers. Swanda said Erickson performed especially well in the third period, shutting down several excellent West Salem scoring chances.
The win gave the Tigers the Hodag trophy, a traveling trophy that goes to the champion of this tournament.