It’s early in the season, but both the Cap City Cougars and the Madison Metro Lynx knew Tuesday’s contest at Sun Prairie Ice Arena would have major implications on the Badger Conference race.
“We talked before the game; this is a very talented team that we’re playing,” said Cap City’s Head Coach Jeff Thornton. “They’ve had a lot of time together… We knew they’re fast; we knew they’re very talented with the puck. But we’ve been in a lot of big games over our four years, for our seniors.”
Both the Cougars and the Lynx boasted unblemished records — Cap City at 3-0-0 and Madison at 4-0-0 — heading into Tuesday’s conference clash. The winner would claim an early advantage in the Badger Conference standings.
In the end, Cap City prevailed, 3-1.
With the two teams averaging a combined 18 goals per game, fans may have been surprised to witness a scoreless first period.
Both the Cougars and the Lynx played a fairly conservative game for the first 17 minutes of the game, and neither side was able to find the back of the net. The defensive battle didn’t surprise Cap City’s head coach, however.
“When we play the Lynx – or any of our rival games – everyone is really careful about making mistakes…” added Thornton. “As the game went on, it evolved into what I expected it to be: limited chances, coming down to special teams… When you have two teams that are matched that evenly, it’s going to come down to a bounce; it’s going to come down to a rebound that gets put away or not put away.”
The Cougars’ first chance to become more aggressive came after the Lynx were hit with a penalty late in the first period. The power play extended into the second, when Cap City took advantage.
Just 54 seconds into the second period, Olivia Thompson beat Madison’s goalie off a rebound from Amanda Bauer and Mackenzie Rosin to put Cap City up 1-0 on the power play.
Special teams proved to be the difference throughout the night; the Cougars’ defense stymied a pair of power plays in each of the first two periods, while Lauren Bliefernicht – from Rosin and Mary Goss – scored a second power play goal on the other end of the ice to put Cap City up 2-0 heading into the final period.
“We take a lot of pride in our special teams,” said Thornton. “We’ve got a veteran team; that power play unit, this is their second year together. It really comes down to a belief in the system, everyone doing their job and not overreaching.”
Cap City’s goalie Lexi Holman played a phenomenal game, as well; throughout the first two periods, she stopped all 17 shots sent her way to keep the Lynx off the scoreboard.
“Our goaltender did a fantastic job of making the first save and clearing the rebounds,” Thornton added. “She did a really nice job.”
Still, as the Cougars entered the third period leading 2-0, they knew a cruise to the finish wasn’t in the cards.
The Lynx wasted little time shaving Cap City’s lead to just one goal, scoring less than three minutes after play resumed. Madison continually made offensive pushes in the period, but were turned away time after time by the Cougar defense.
“We take a lot of pride – as a staff and as a culture here – that we really defend our net well,” said Thornton. “We really want to limit the number of shots and the quality of shots; we did a pretty good job of that today.”
With 3:45 left to play, the Cougars were hit with a two-minute penalty, giving the Lynx an opportunity for one final push to force overtime.
Cap City’s veteran power play unit held firm, limiting the Lynx’ shot opportunities as the clock wore down.
“That experience and that trust of knowing what your partner’s going to do when things break down, that becomes so critical…” Thornton said of Cap City’s power play unit. “Killing penalties in the state tournament, killing penalties in the sectional final, getting power play goals when the game’s on the line; that team’s got that experience, and that means so much in these games.”
With 30 seconds left on the power play – and 105 seconds remaining in the game – the Lynx pulled their goalie in favor of an extra skater on the ice.
Madison was unable to put the puck past the Cougar defense, though. Cap City, on the other hand, found a way to put the game on ice; after a scramble for a loose puck, Zephryn Jager found an open Goss behind the Lynx defense, and Goss drilled a long shot on the empty net to put the Cougars up 3-1 with 34 seconds remaining.
The 3-1 score went final, giving Cap City sole possession of the top spot atop the Badger Conference.
“This was a team win for us; it wasn’t just our top-end players. It wasn’t just special teams,” said Thornton. “Everyone that touched the ice today really worked their tails off and really bought into what we’re trying to teach. As a coaching staff, that makes us really happy.”
Cap City puts its unbeaten record to the test on Friday, when they travel to River Hills to take on Central Wisconsin in a battle of state semifinalists from a season ago. The puck is scheduled to drop at 5 p.m. at Uihlein Ice Arena.
CAP CITY 3, METRO LYNX 1
Metro Lynx 0 0 1 — 1
Cap City 0 2 1 — 3
First period: No scoring.
Second period: CC — Thompson (Bauer, Rosin), :54 (pp); Bliefernicht (Rosin, Goss), 16:27 (pp).
Third period: ML — Bonnell (Mirwald, Byce), 2:52; CC — Goss (Jager), 16:26, (en).
Saves: ML (McKersie) 28; CC (Holman) 20.