For the first time in 10 years, the Waunakee boys hockey team made an appearance in a WIAA sectional final this past Friday.
The Warriors were looking to advance to state for the first time ever when they took on Verona in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final at the Omni Center in Onalaska last Friday.
The fifth-seeded Warriors would fall short, 5-2, of advancing to state.
“The Verona game was a great opportunity for our kids to experience something that’s only happened two previous times in the program’s history — back in the early 2000s with Brian Suter, Pat Gilles, Mark Thue, among others and in 2011 with Jason Ford — and play in a sectional final,” Waunakee coach Kevin Stormer said. “I thought with the game being in Onalaska with fans being restricted and not the typical sectional final atmosphere you’d find in a normal year it would help it feel like a normal game. Verona has been in this game the last 4 years in a row, so they have a lot of experience.”
Verona earned its fourth straight trip to state with the win.
Waunakee, which opened the playoffs with an 8-6 win over Onalaska, earned a spot in the sectional final after top-seeded Edgewood had to forfeit the sectional semifinal because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I was surprised when I got the call from Aaron May, but in a season with so many changes and things out of our control this was just another hand we were dealt,” Stormer said. “I do feel for the Edgewood players, parents, and coaches. The timing couldn’t have been worse. They had a really good team this year and definitely could have made a run towards a championship. That said, we did a good job this year making sure our kids weren’t doing things that were high risk of exposure, wore our masks, and did what we could to keep the team COVID free and continue playing. I’m very proud of how the kids all bought into the restrictions and regulations, and like it or not, agree with it or not, they followed the rules and we were able to compete.”
The Warriors finished the shortened season with a 6-2 record.
“The season as a whole has been a difficult one,” Stormer said. “On top of all the COVID restrictions and not being able to play any games at home or even close to home, coach Ole suffered a tragic loss and was unable to coach this year. Given all those circumstances, our kids represented Waunakee High School, Waunakee Hockey, The Warrior Way, and this community the best they could, and I think they did a tremendous job. While it was short and sweet, I’m honored to have coached these young men.”
Both teams had a slow start offensively in the sectional final. The game was scoreless through one period of play.
“We started just like we wanted,” Stormer said. “We came out playing on our toes, pushing them on their heels, and making them defend. We felt good about how we played after the first period.”
Verona would take control of the game with three goals in the second period.
“When we started taking penalties is when we got in trouble,” Stormer said. “You can’t be killing penalties for almost a whole period against a good team. It ruined the flow we had going getting more guys in the game and involved, and Verona capitalized.”
The Wildcats opened the scoring with a power-play goal by Josh Osting 10 minutes, 39 seconds into the second.
Waunakee tied the game four minutes later with a goal by Isaac Nett. Pavel Rettig had the assist.
Verona closed out the second period with goals by Reece Cordray and Andrew Aune.
The Wildcats went up 4-1 with a goal by Anthony Heinrichs 5:04 into the final period.
The Warriors garnered their final goal at the 11:32 mark of the third period. Jack Samuelson scored the goal, while Daniel Gumley and David Emerich assisted.
Les Renlund had a late power-play goal for Verona.
Waunakee goalie Logan Walmer finished with 27 saves.
The loss marked the end for the Warriors’ senior class of Will Roe, Steven Pasinato, Drew Christianson and Jack Samuelson.
“Our seniors really led the way this year, keeping the boys on track with the program goals and mission,” Stormer said. “They all served the program with respect and dignity and we wish them the best in whatever path in life they chose.”