Mike Wech

Mike Wech, pictured during a game last season, and the Baraboo/Portage boys hockey team opened the 2017-18 season with a 5-3 loss at Onalaska on Saturday.

BROCK FRITZ/News Republic Archives

The Baraboo/Portage boys hockey team left Saturday’s season-opening loss to Onalaska encouraged about the season ahead.

Baraboo/Portage was within one goal late in the second period before a talented Onalaska team pulled away to hand visiting Baraboo/Portage a 5-3 loss at the Omni Center.

“We generated some good scoring opportunities against a really good hockey team,” Baraboo/Portage’s second-year head coach Andy Waldvogel said on Sunday. “Onalaska is a team that is always competing to win our sectional, so it was good to see we could go punch for punch with a team like that.

“That’s a good team that beat us. When you compete with a team like that, it’s encouraging.”

Baraboo/Portage (0-1) came out of the gates strong in the first period, entering the second with a 1-0 deficit thanks to a goal by Onalaska’s C.J. Lass at the 4:43 mark.

“If you would have given us a scenario where we were down 1-0 to Onalaska at the Omni Center, I’d take it,” Waldvogel said.

However, Baraboo/Portage quickly ran into trouble in the second period. Onalaska’s Alex Duren took an assist from Ryan Gargaro and scored just 55 seconds into the period, and Gargaro tacked on a goal of his own at the 2:24 mark to give the Hilltoppers a 3-0 lead.

“In the second period, we were faced with some adversity and I was happy to see how we responded in that situation,” Waldvogel said. “That’s kind of one of those turning point moments in a game. You can pack it in or you can turn it on and compete. And we turned it on and responded with two goals of our own.”

Senior captain Jack Macdonald got Baraboo/Portage on the board with a power-play goal 4:50 into the second period, receiving assists from Mike Wech and Gabe D’Asto. D’Asto, a senior captain, added on at the 9:30 mark to pull Baraboo/Portage within 3-2.

Onalaska (2-0) regained control when Lass scored a short-handed goal at the 12-minute mark. The Hilltoppers eventually opened up a 4-2 lead as Gargaro and Boris Kacer assisted Andrew Walz for a goal 5:33 into the third period.

Macdonald closed the scoring with a short-handed goal at the 13:01 mark of the third period to provide the final score of 5-3.

Jack Weber made 18 saves for Onalaska, while Baraboo sophomore goalie Dane Hinz made 32 saves in his first varsity start.

“I feel like that’s going to be a strength for us this year,” Waldvogel said of Baraboo/Portage’s goalie situation, which will also include senior Giovanni D’Asto. “I talked to both of them, and both of those guys have a high compete level and a team-first attitude.”

Waldvogel also liked how his team battled and came out ready to play in the first game of the season.

“As a coach, you always want to see your guys come out in that first competition sharp,” Waldvogel said. “Our players bringing that mindset and intensity in practice helped us open sharp. They brought that same mentality and game focus to our practice sessions and it paid off. ... Our compete level was really high, the effort was really good.”

It was a different story last year, when Baraboo/Portage opened the season with an 8-0 loss at La Crosse Aquinas/Holmen/Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau before suffering a 6-1 loss at Onalaska.

Baraboo/Portage wanted to get off to a different start this year with a young group that is looking to improve on last season’s 10-14-2 record.

“Onalaska always has a strong team, so we knew our first contest would show us what we have,” Waldvogel said. “We have Xs and Os that we have to clean up and fine-tune, but as far as effort and compete level, some of those things that the kids need to bring themselves, they brought it.”

Baraboo/Portage will look to get in the win column when it hosts a non-conference game against Mosinee on Tuesday at Pierce Park Hockey Rink.

ONALASKA 5, BARABOO/PORTAGE 3

Baraboo/Portage 0 2 1 — 3

Onalaska 1 3 1 — 5

First period: O — Lass (Kacer), 4:43.

Second period: O — Duren (Gargaro), 0:55. Gargaro, 2:24. Lass, 12:00 (sh). BP — Macdonald (Wech, D’Asto), 4:50 (pp). D’Asto, 9:30. O — Lass, 12:00 (sh).

Third period: O — Walz (Kacer, Gargaro), 5:33. BP — Macdonald, 13:01 (sh).

Saves: BP (Hinz) 32, O (Weber) 18.

Follow Brock Fritz on Twitter @BrockFritz

Capital Newspapers Regional Sports Reporter