REEDSBURG — Throughout this season, the Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells co-op boys hockey team has taken some getting up to speed.
The Cheavers were able to stave off another sluggish start Tuesday night, scoring three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 win over Tomah/Sparta in a WIAA sectional semifinal game at Reedsburg Area Community Arena. Second-seeded Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells will now face perennial power Onalaska co-op in the sectional final on Saturday at the Onalaska Omni Center after the top-seeded Hilltoppers dispatched Sauk Prairie, 8-1.
“These kids have done nothing but amaze me all season long,” Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells coach Neil Mattson said. “Everybody kind of wrote us off after what we graduated last year, but the coaches knew what we had coming into this season and we’re so happy for the kids. Now they get the chance to play the big boy of section 4.”
After the teams tied at 1 through the first period, the Cheavers (19-4-2) seized control with a pair of quick goals in the second. Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells came out of the first intermission with its foot on the gas, getting an early power play chance at 3 minutes, 48 seconds after Tomah/Sparta’s Logan Rego was whistled for a trip.
While the Titans (18-5-2) were able to kill off the penalty, including a number of Cheavers chances, Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells broke through shortly after.
After forcing a turnover along the far boards, senior Jonathan Zobel gathered the loose puck and whipped a shot towards Tomah/Sparta goalie Paul Vender. The wrist shot glanced off the glove of Vender and into the net at 6 minutes, 58 seconds to give the Cheavers a 2-1 lead.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells wasted little time doubling its advantage as Derek Pawlak pounded home a third goal just under 40 seconds later behind some precision passing. Sophomore Danny Ely hit an open Thomas Pfaff before the junior forward delivered a pin-point deliver to Pawlak on the backdoor.
The senior forward didn’t miss, firing pass Vender at 7:36 for the 3-1 advantage.
“It was incredibly important. I really thought we had our opportunities on the power play. When they killed it off and we came back and got two quick ones, you could feel the momentum shift,” Mattson said.
“The pass from Danny (Ely) to Thomas (Pfaff), who made a beautiful backdoor pass, that was an amazing play,” Pawlak added.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells continued to ramp up the pressure down the stretch of the second but failed to add to its lead. In need of some offense, the Titans came out the aggressor in the final frame.
The Cheavers were up to the challenge however as they kept Tomah/Sparta from cutting into the lead. Freshman goalie Cooper Oakes made 13 of his 31 saves in the frame, while Mattson praised sophomore Connor Schyvinck with a number of blocks and the team’s second intermission talk.
“It was a group of guys that really wanted to win and just listening to the camaraderie in the locker room between second and third periods, it was the best I heard it all season,” Mattson said.
A repeat trip to the sectional final took some time to materialize as the Titans struck first on the power play at 10:58 through sophomore Evan Long. The Cheavers didn’t wait long to equalize, as senior Ben Jones hammered home a rebound at 12:50 to tie things at 1.
Mattson credited the Jones goal with shifting the momentum and knows that the Cheavers will need a strong opening frame against the Hilltoppers on Saturday if they want to get back to state for the first time in 2015.
“I’m not going to try to say we’re the better team, they have more depth than we do, but I think our top-2 lines can match-up just fine with them,” he said.
“We just need to come ready to play and we need to be focused. Everyone knows what’s on the line; everyone wants to go to state so we’re just going to do the best and work together as a team,” Pawlak added.
REEDSBURG/WISCONSIN DELLS 3, TOMAH/SPARTA 1
First period: TS — Long (Christen, Hammer), 10:58 (pp); RWD — Jones (Cunningham), 12:50.
Second period: RWD — Zobel (Horzewski), 6:58; Pawlak (Ely, Pfaff), 7:36.
Saves: TS (Vender) 30, RWD (Oakes) 31.
Penalties-minutes: TS 2-4, RWD 2-4.