Hockey Cards begin year 4-0

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton goalie Max McConnell had a pair of shutouts last week when the Cardinals won two Big Eight Conference games. Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Steve Libert knows there’s work to be done.

Middleton’s hockey coach fully understands his team is nowhere close to where it needs to be.

But Libert also knows this.

“It is more enjoyable to work on things while winning than the other way around,” he said.

And winning is exactly what these Cardinals are doing.

Middleton continued its impressive start last week, posting two shutout wins and improving to 4-0 on the young season.

Middleton skated past Sun Prairie, 2-0, last Tuesday. Then the Cardinals blasted Madison Memorial, 6-0, last Saturday.

“There are a few issues we need to address,” Libert said. “Defensively we watch the game when we are away from the puck. Forwards drift rather than speed back into defensive coverage, which leaves too big of a gap when there is a turnover. This stifles our attack, which in turn does not stress the opposition’s defense enough. 

“On offense, our defensemen have contributed nicely and our forwards have made smart decisions with the puck. But we need to be more relentless in our pursuit of loose pucks and more determined around the net.”

Middleton, which is 2-0 in the Big Eight Conference, has allowed just three total goals in its first four games. Sophomore goalie Max McConnell posted both shutouts last week.

“Max has played very well in the net making some nice saves through traffic in both games,” Libert said.

Middleton’s win over Sun Prairie wasn’t overly artistic. But it was extremely hard fought.

Kevin Wolfinger scored first with a shot from just inside the blue line to give Middleton a 1-0 lead at the 11:38 mark of the first period.

“Kevin has played well and has been our most responsible forward,” Libert said. “He has been making smart plays with and without the puck. Probably our most consistent forward as well.”

The second goal came from Nico Campbell midway through the third period. And the way McConnell and Middleton’s defense were performing, that was all the offense Middleton needed.

“Our defensemen were good and bad without much in between,” Libert said. “They did a great job of winning pucks and jump starting the offense by carrying the puck, but then delayed in getting back on the right side of the play. 

“They also struggled in supporting their partner, which does not allow us to reorganize our attack when one side of the ice gets cutoff. Max played well in a game where the shots came in inconsistent waves.”

McConnell was even better in the Cardinals’ win over Madison Memorial Saturday.

McConnell stopped a breakaway and a pair of two-on-ones to notch a second straight shutout.

“He ended up with 16 saves, but some of them were significant to earning a shutout,” Libert said. 

Middleton’s Clayton Brown scored just more than three minutes into the game. Then Jordan Carey scored twice within a two-minute span late in the first period as the Cardinals raced to a 3-0 lead.

It stayed that way until the third period when Clayton Brown scored just 1:25 into the period. Wolfinger tipped in a shot four minutes later and Jake Bunz finished the scoring at 13:21.

Per usual, Libert wasn’t totally satisfied.

“We played a bit soft in regards to finishing plays at the net, but over-aggressive in our pursuit of the puck,” he said. “Rather than one player in pursuit we had two or three, then one pass would beat all of them and give Memorial a numerical advantage versus our defense. 

“We need to improve our ability to defend the middle of the ice. Our transition to offense and defending the middle are at the top of the list of improvements.”

Yes, there’s work to be done. But the Cardinals are doing it with an impressive 4-0 record.


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