Merrill skaters put Cardinals in hole, but Pacelli rises
The MHS hockey team appeared on the verge of capping its best season in school history with its first-ever playoff win, leading host Stevens Point Pacelli 6-2 in the third period of last Tuesday’s game.
Then the bottom dropped out.
For the third time this season and by a margin much greater than before, the Cardinals rallied from a third-period deficit. They tied it up 6-6 in regulation, then scored the winning goal 1:15 into overtime to hand the Bluejays a stunning loss.
“This is a very tough one to swallow,” MHS coach Chase Nelson said. “To be so close to that first playoff win, and then it just slips away. I am just in disbelief.”
The teams played to a 1-1 tie in the first period, with Pacelli scoring almost immediately and Merrill answering with 13:15 elapsed on a Dylan Heller goal (A-Nick Hoffmann).
Midway through the second, the MHS boys turned up the heat, tallying two in a 13-second span from Hoffmann (A-Jaako Holopainen, Austin Burgener) and Kyle Kleinschmidt (A-Michael Baumann), and adding another from Heller (UA) with 13:07 gone for a 4-1 lead.
Pacelli’s Luke Yenter scored his second goal to cut it to 4-2 a couple minutes later, but the Jays’ Brian Root offset it 36 seconds later (A-Baumann, Ben Brown).
“The first period seemed like a ‘feeler’ period,” Nelson said. “We gave up a very early goal, but then we played well the rest of the period and were able to tie the game with under four minutes to go in the period.
“The second was a lot like the first period, just feeling each other out, until we were able to take the lead about half way through. Then we started turning on the pressure and lead 5-2 after two periods.”
Merrill pushed it to 6-2 5:49 into the third when Burgener netted a Holopainen assist and held off their hosts until less than seven minutes remained.
“When we came out and got that sixth goal to up 6-2 with about 12 minutes to go, we were just buzzing,” Nelson said. “Then about six and half minutes later, the unbelievable started happening. Pacelli just turned up the pressure and we panicked. We stopped doing what got us a four-goal lead, and they took advantage. I have to give them a lot of credit. We had them right where we wanted them, and we let them regain the momentum and they were able to finish.”
Yenter scored two more in 11 seconds to cut it to 6-4, and goals with 11:46 and 13:23 tied it up. Joel Oney scored the game-winner.
Saves–MHS– Carlo Corbani 11-12-21-3–57. SPP–Joe Fuller 7-89-6-0–22.
The Jays finished with an 11-12-1 overall record after finishing 1-4 in the WVC. Pacelli (17-6) fell 2-1 to fifth-ranked Antigo (21-1-2) on Friday.
“Although the season ended like this, there is a lot for this team to be proud of. They now hold the record for most wins in a season with eleven. They scored the most goals in one season and also had the most assists in one season, recording 206 points, also a school record. Our goalies combined for the highest save percentage in a season, our powerplay had the highest percentage in one season, and our penalty kill also had the highest percentage in one season.”
“We graduated five players (2 seniors and 3 foreign exchange students) with the loss. Nick Hoffmann and Ryan Marsceau had endured a lot of losing until this season. They were both captains this year, and they were both extremely hard workers. Nick set the school record for most goals in one season with 26, and also ended his career with 62 points, third-highest in school history. Ryan had a career highlight game against Medford in early January, posting four points in a 6-1 win. We will miss both of these guys next year, not just because they were solid high school hockey players, but also because they were great kids.
“Our three foreign exchange students helped out tremendously this year. They made everyone else on our team better because they forced you to compete in practice. Juuso Valtanen and Jaakko Holopainen, both from Finland, secured the blueline for us. They are both very unselfish players who could care less if they were scoring points, as long as we were winning. They did a pretty good job of scoring points, though, too. Jaakko finished with 26 and Juuso finished with 21. Carlo Corbani had the second-best season in school history with a 90.2% save percentage. He was a true competitor, both in games and practices.”