Sooner or later, a team’s struggles will catch up to them.
For the Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells boys hockey team, the Cheavers’ first period foibles came to a head Saturday in a 6-0 loss to the Onalaska co-op in a WIAA sectional final game at the Onalaska Omni Center. RWD’s offense was put on ice all day as it was denied its first trip back to the state tournament since 2015.
“The first period, I’m not going to sugar coat it, we sat back on our heels,” Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells coach Neil Mattson said. “I thought we would have been a bit closer, but at least now we know how to prepare for the new sections because there’s going to be three or four Onalaska’s in each one.”
The Cheavers (19-5-2) were outshot 40-19 on the night, including 12-4 in the first period alone as the Hilltoppers came out of the gates with plenty of pressure. Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells nearly escaped the opening 17 minutes with a scoreless draw but Onalaska eventually broke through.
After squandering a power play, the Hilltoppers (24-3-0) worked the puck into the Cheavers’ zone and cycled things around the right circle before eventually working the puck to Tommy Duren in the slot. The junior forward didn’t miss, firing a shot through Cheavers goalie Cooper Oakes’ five hole for the 1-0 lead with 14 minutes, 41 seconds left in the opening period.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells followed the Toppers goal by going on its own power play at 15:51. The Cheavers missed on a pair of opportunities during the extra-man chance before the horn, including a sprawling block on a shot by Cheavers’ junior Danny Ely.
“Our first periods always stink and to go into that first intermission down 1-0, I still had the confidence when we started the second to have that power play,” Mattson said.
The Cheavers failed to capitalize on the abbreviated power play to open the second period, but quickly went back on the power play after Onalaska’s Ryan Gargaro was whistled for his second interference penalty of the night with 14:48 left in the second.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells came close to knotting things up on the extra-man chance as senior Derek Pawlak’s wrist shot was deflected on net by senior Jonathan Zobel. The tip-in crept behind Onalaska goalie Jack Weber, but the Cheavers were unable to get to the loose puck before Onalaska’s Brennan Mason dove behind Weber and cleared the puck.
“We nearly scored and it would have made it 1-1; I don’t know that the outcome would have been different, but I think it would have been a closer game,” Mattson said.
The goal surely would have changed the momentum, which the Hilltoppers quickly snatched back. Just after the conclusion of the penalty, Onalaska doubled its lead as CJ Lass went bar down off a turnover by Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells goalie Cooper Oakes at 13:45 in the second to make it 2-0.
Things then went from bad to worse when Zobel was whistled for 5-minute major penalty for checking from behind at 8:05. While Onalaska scored one goal on the non-releasable penalty, Mattson felt the door begin to close.
“Unfortunately we took a 5-minute major, and honestly as a coach, once you’re down three goals to that team, it’s basically over,” he said.
Mattson turned out to be correct, as the Hilltoppers scored three goals in the first 9-plus minutes of the third period, including two in 95 seconds, to seize control and put things away. Mattson said that Toppers’ speed was too much to keep up with, and the Cheavers “didn’t have any legs in the third period.”
Things could have been much worse for the Cheavers if not for Oakes, who made 34 saves in the loss. And even though a trip to state eluded the Cheavers again, Mattson praised the senior class’ efforts, including back-to-back Badger North Conference and regional titles, following a 1-1-1 start.
“I think they started questioning themselves a bit, but if you look back to Dec. 15, it’s basically that date we went on a run to end the season. This senior class just worked hard, they believed in each other and that’s the biggest thing,” Mattson said. “The kids really enjoyed every one of them and I enjoyed every one of them as well.”
Reedsburg/Wis. Dells 0 0 0 — 0
Onalaska 1 2 3 — 6
First period: On — Duren (Lass, Ziegelbein), 14:41.
Second period: On — Lass, 4:15; Gargaro (Lass, Ziegelbein), 9:44 (pp).
Third period: On — Lass (Ziegelbein, Popp), 2:32; Weiner (Walz, Popp), 4:07; Duren (Lass, Gargaro), 9:26.
Saves: RWD (Oakes) 34; On (J. Weber) 19.
Penalties-minutes: RWD 2-7; On 2-4. At Omni Center, Onalaska.