It was a busy week for the Waunakee boys’ hockey team.
The Warriors played four games in five days, including three in the 20th annual Groundhog Tournament.
Waunakee opened their week with a big win on Tuesday over the rival Norskies. The game served as the opening round of the Groundhog Tournament as well as a conference matchup.
It took until late in the first period before the Warrior offense finally started clicking.
After a scoreless first 11 minutes, the Warriors found the back of the net twice in the final six minutes of the first. Steven Pasinato scored the initial goal of the night, followed by a Danny Reis goal with just under two minutes to go until the first intermission.
In the second, Waunakee’s offense picked up right where it had left off. Reis scored his second goal of the night in the first minute, followed by a pair of goals from Tyler Hoffman to put Waunakee up 5-0.
After Isaac Nett and Spencer Stokes added to the lead in the third, Waunakee held a 7-0 advantage. The final period went by quickly with a running clock, and the Warriors emerged with their seventh conference victory of the season.
Hunter Beck earned his first shutout of the year in goal, making 28 saves.
The Warriors then traveled to Baraboo to take on the Thunderbirds two days later.
After another hot start by Waunakee, the play of Baraboo’s specials allowed the Thunderbirds to make a comeback.
Midway through the second period, Waunakee held a 3-0 lead following goals from Nett, Hoffman and Weston Price. The Warriors had a chance to extend their lead on a power play, but Baraboo instead secured a shorthanded goal to narrow Waunakee’s lead to just two goals.
In the third, the Thunderbirds netted a pair of power play goals early to even the game at 3-3. While both teams had their share of opportunities as time ticked down in the third, neither side was able to score a game-winner before time expired, sending the game into overtime.
In the extra period, Baraboo continued riding their momentum built late, scoring the game-winner after 5:20 to deal Waunakee their first conference loss of the year.
Starting in goal, Ben Luebke made a total of 29 saves.
The Warriors had a quick turnaround, heading to Sun Prairie on Friday to face off against Kettle Moraine/Mukwonago/Oconomowoc in the Groundhog Tournament semifinal.
Danny Reis was the star of Waunakee’s rematch with KMMO.
Reis scored the first goal of the game, the final goal of the game, and managed to find the back of the net twice more to power the Warriors to victory, avenging their loss from a week prior.
Nett was the lone Warrior player besides Reis to record a goal; his second-period power-play score put Waunakee up 2-0.
KMMO responded with a goal of their own a minute later to shave the lead to 2-1, but Reis’ third and fourth goals of the night made it 4-1 heading into the final period.
Early in the third, KMMO mounted a comeback. They scored twice in the first eight minutes of the third period, cutting Waunakee’s lead to just one.
Clinging to their 4-3 lead, the Warriors turned to Reis to put the game on ice. Reis netted his fourth goal of the game with 6:37 to play to extend Waunakee’s lead back to two goals.
Beck and the Warrior defense did the rest, holding KMMO scoreless the remainder of the contest. Beck made 33 saves in goal to earn the win.
This lifted Waunakee to the Groundhog Tournament title game against Sun Prairie on Saturday.
Sun Prairie 4,
Special teams proved to be Waunakee’s Achilles heel again against the Cardinals on Saturday.
Already trailing 1-0 in the second, the Warriors surrendered a shorthanded goal, increasing their deficit to two goals.
Waunakee refused to go quietly, however. Pasinato cut the lead to 2-1 late in the second period, and the Warriors continued to build off that momentum in the third.
Hoffman tied the game at 2-2 barely a minute after play resumed in the third, and the Warriors appeared poised to take the lead when they went on a power play a minute and a half later.
For the second time, however, the Warriors surrendered a shorthanded goal to the Cardinals.
“It’s hard to come back from,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Eric Olson. “All year, we’ve only given up one or two shorthanded goals. To give two up in a big game like this, it’s devastating.”
The Cardinals sealed the deal with a late goal, giving the game its final score of 4-2.
“Like [Assistant Coach Kevin Stormer] said: I think we expended a lot of physical and mental energy by beating Kettle Moraine last night, which is a really good hockey team,” added Olson. “Coming into tonight, I think we were prepared, but we were just a little fatigued.”
After the week’s games, the Warriors’ record now stands at 14-7-0 (7-1-0) heading into a monumental contest against Sauk Prairie on Thursday. With a win, Waunakee claims the Badger North title.
“As I said before, all of our goals are still in front of us,” Olson said. “We play Thursday night for the conference championship; we’re going to try to pack the pond.”
The puck is scheduled to drop at the Ice Pond at 7:15 p.m.