WAUNAKEE — Since the current inception of the Badger North Conference, the Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells co-op boys hockey team has captured eight league titles but never won back-to-back crowns.
The Cheavers took a major step towards that feat Saturday night when they rolled to a 4-0 victory over Waunakee in a Badger North Conference game at The Ice Pond at Waunakee. Senior Derek Pawlak had two goals and an assist to lead the way for RWD, which remained unbeaten in league play.
“Between the two schools, even when it was Reedsburg independently, we were fighting them for the conference title,” Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells coach Neil Mattson said. “I’m proud of these guys and my hats off to these kids and this senior class.”
After narrowly escaping with a 3-2 win over the Warriors in their first game, the Cheavers used a pair of quick goals in the opening minutes of the second period to take control following a scoreless first period.
It was a difficult end to the first period for Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells (6-0-0 Badger North, 12-3-1), as it squandered a power play chance and put Waunakee on the power play at the 15 minute, 26 second mark. Starting the second period a man down, the Cheavers were able to kill off the power play and promptly scored with 1:13 played.
After forcing a turnover in the Cheavers end, Pawlak weaved through the neutral zone before delivering a precision pass to Thomas Pfaff waiting on the back door. After wasting a number of good chances in the first period, the junior forward didn’t squander the opportunity as he buried the shot past Waunakee goalie Hunter Beck for the 1-0 lead.
“It was a beautiful pass from Derek to Thomas on the back door to bury that one and it’s almost an impossible play for anyone to stop,” Mattson said. “Our guys have been capitalizing on plays like that all year.”
It didn’t take long for the Cheavers to double their lead, as Pawlak found the back of the net just over 3 minutes later. After killing off another penalty, RWD drove into the Warriors third and after a crash on the net, Pawlak was able to fire a shot past Beck for a 2-0 lead with 4:27 played.
The penalty kill was vital the entire night as the Cheavers were able to shut down a successful Waunakee unit. The Warriors entered having converted on 37 percent of their extra-man opportunities, but were stymied going 0-for-3 against the Cheavers penalty kill, which entered the night killing 85 percent of the opposing team’s power play chances.
Looking to add to its lead, Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells added a power play goal of its own in the waning minutes of the third period. Minutes after wasting a power play chance, the Cheavers wasted little time when it went on the power play with 4:43 remaining.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells needed just 4 seconds, as senior Jonathan Zobel fired a pass to sophomore Danny Ely on the back post after a face-of win to make it 3-0 with 12:21 played. Pawlak later finished things off, as he finished off his hat trick with an empty net goal at 16:06.
Along with the offensive success, goalie Cooper Oakes made 26 saves in the shutout effort. Mattson praised the freshman for the strong effort and knows how important games like these are as the season’s homestretch nears.
“We obviously want to finish off our goal of winning the conference, but every game that goes like this, your goalie gains more confidence and I’m very proud of Cooper and the rest of the team tonight,” Mattson said.
The Cheavers have now won nine of their last 10 games, and in the process extended its lead int he Badger North to two games. Mattson credits the team’s burgeoning chemistry and as strong as RWD has looked, he also knows that the Cheavers can’t get too confident, and that falls on the shoulders of him and his coaching staff.
“Being here 20 years plus, I’ve gone through everything and I try to learn from each of the processes that have failed me in the past,” he said. “Hopefully I can bring some wisdom to these guys down the stretch, because I believe we have a team that has a good shot to get to the tournament this year.”
Reedsburg/Wis. Dells 0 2 2 — 4
Waunakee 0 0 0 — 0
Second period: RWD — Pfaff (Pawlak, Oakes), 1:13; Pawlak (Pfaff, Ely), 4:27.
Third period: RWD — Ely (Zobel), 12:21 (pp); Pawlak (Zobel), 16:06 (en).
Saves: RWD (Oakes) 26, W (Beck) 34
Penalties: R 3-6, W 3-6.