Hockey Cards move to 15-0

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Gregg Hammill/Special to the Times-Tribune
Middleton’s hockey team improved to 15-0 last week./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

VERONA — Middleton fired away, one shot after another, only to come away empty-handed time and again.

Fortunately, the Cardinals’ hockey team connected just enough to grind out a 3-1 victory over rival Verona in a showdown between Big Eight Conference unbeatens at the Verona Ice Arena Saturday night.

“It’s kind of bad when you don’t score on some of those opportunities, but it’s also good when you get a lot of those opportunities,” Middleton junior defenseman Zach Heidel said. “That means that you’re working them down low and stuff. It’s always nice to get shots on them.”

Middleton coach Steffon Walby was happy with the effort, but wanted to see more scoring from his Cardinals.

“We might have hit five or six posts and we hit a crossbar,” Walby said. “We had plenty of pucks just laying there for us to tap in and we didn’t have that extra little bit of hunger that it takes to score a big goal in a big game and that makes you nervous. But, at the same time, our D-men played excellent, (goalie) Tony (Wuesthofen) was great, and we scored when we needed to score just enough. But you could tell the boys still haven’t figured out the recipe for how to fully win and dominate a game.”

Middleton, ranked No. 2 in the latest Wisconsin Prep Hockey poll, entered the game averaging 6.2 goals per game and outshot the Wildcats, 31-15. But nothing came easy.

Luckily, Wuesthofen and the defense were up to the task.

With the Cardinals leading 3-1 late in the contest, Wuesthofen survived a barrage of shots on goal.

“The big thing is we played well enough to win,” Walby said. “There are ugly wins and there are ugly losses and tonight was an ugly win, because if it wasn’t for our goaltender, we’d probably be playing in overtime right now.

“They got a couple great opportunities toward the end there where we fell asleep. Maybe we were watching the scoreboard, but I can’t fault the effort of the guys.”

Senior forward Griff Gussel agreed.

“There are definitely some things we could have done better,” Gussel said. “I think the game was a little too close for our liking, but it was nice to get the two points and next time we’ll make some improvements.”

Middleton improved to 8-0 in the conference and 15-0 overall, while taking over sole possession of first place in the Big Eight. Verona dropped to 8-6-1 and 6-1.

“It was awesome. It was a war,” Heidel said. “These are the fun games. We’ve played a lot of games where we come out 8-0, 9-0 and it’s really run to play those tough games, especially when you come out on top.”

Facing perhaps its biggest challenge yet, the Cardinals struck first when senior forward Jordan Hylbert tapped a shot past Verona goalie Nathan Cleghorn in front of the net at the 7-minute, 29-second mark of the first period. Senior Davis Bunz and senior Casey Harper assisted on the goal.

With the teams skating four-on-four, Verona’s Jeff Bishop capped an evenly matched first period with a slap shot past Wuesthofen high in the net to knot the score, 1-1, at the 14:54 mark.

In the second period, Verona battled to kill off a slew of penalties before Middleton’s Heidel made them pay. Heidel took a pass from teammate Garrett Graf and drilled a long-distance power-play goal past Cleghorn from just inside the blue line 10:34 into the period.

“Garrett Graf made a great pass to me and then we just locked eyes and I gave it back to him and I knew he would give it to me and I just shot,” Heidel said. “I was surprised Verona wasn’t blocking the shot there because they blocked a lot of our shots on the point. When I saw an open shot I took a chance. 

“I saw three Verona guys and my teammate Troy (Reifsteck) in front and then I saw the net and I was like, ‘Yeah, there we go.’ ”

The Cardinals took control in the third period. After narrowly missing on several opportunities in front of the Verona net, Gussel scored off a pass from Bunz for a 3-1 Cardinals lead at the 9:20 mark. Bunz circled wide around the Verona net and fed a charging Gussel in front.

“Davis is a great playmaker,” Gussel said. “He drove it wide just like he’s supposed to straight into the net. I knew he was going to get to the net so I drove the net hard, had my stick on the ice, waited for the pass and, sure enough, it was there. When he goes wide, you know he’s going to get there, so you want to get in front of the net because he will pass it. You’ve got to be there.”

The play worked exactly as Walby had drawn it up.

“That’s one of the things we’ve worked on in practice,” Walby said. “We’ve realized that Davis has tremendous speed, but he’s going to start attracting a lot of attention, so somebody’s going to be open.

“We really worked hard on him driving wide, and instead of trying to cut to the net and doing it yourself, pick your head up and find an open stick. That’s exactly what happened.”

The Cardinals, who are known for their superior depth and conditioning, seemed to wear the Wildcats down in the third period. Other than a brief moment late in the period, the Cardinals controlled the action and kept the puck on Verona’s end.

“I pride myself on playing the best conditioned team because you know that’s something that we can control,” Walby said. “We can’t control anything else but that. So the guys have been rewarded for the hard offseason work and are certainly being rewarded for their season right now by getting stronger every single shift.”

The Cardinals run four quality lines, and Walby said he makes adjustments to the rotations throughout the game based on each player’s performance.

“We’re rotating them in and everybody knows that the first five minutes of the period I’m finding out who wants to play,” Walby said. “We adjust the lines accordingly and everybody knows that, if you want to play, then you’ve got to show up and so everybody can play everybody’s role and everybody knows where they are and that’s actually held the team accountable for each other.”

As the Cardinals keep rolling up victories, Walby has kept things in perspective by focusing on the overall goal.

“The biggest challenge this year is keeping these guys grounded and humble because, yes, it’s 15-0, however, you don’t get two out of three in playoffs,” Walby said. “It’s one and done, so you have to be able to take each game individually and be able to feel the magnitude and let the record speak for itself.”

It’s apparent the players have heeded Walby’s message.

“Our coaches definitely keep us humble,” Gussel said. “Definitely keep the hype limited. We know there’s a lot still to come so we don’t want to get too far out ahead of ourselves. We know there’s a lot to do still.”

“Our coach just keeps telling us to stay humble,” added Heidel. “We’ve got to believe that we can win, and then when we do, we come out on top.”

• Middleton 9, Beloit Memorial 0 — The Cardinals cruised past the Purple Knights last Tuesday.

Eight different Cardinals scored, led by Justin Engelkes’ two goals and one assist. Davis Bunz and Jake Livesy both added a goal and two assists.

Casey Harper and Jordan Hylbert both had a goal and an assist, while Zach Heidel, Michael Wolfinger and Garrett Graf all had goals. Nolan Kouba and Colin Butler each had two assists.

Goalie David Vodenlich notched a shutout for the Cardinals.

• On deck: Middleton hosted Janesville Tuesday, travels to Sun Prairie Thursday at 7 p.m. and is at Madison Edgewood Saturday at 7 p.m.


Jan. 9

Middleton……………....1    1    1 – 3

Verona…………………….1    0    0 – 1

First period: Mid – Jordan Hylbert (Davis Bunz, Casey Harper), 7:29; V – Jeff Bishop (Mason McCormick), 14:54.

Second period: Mid – Zach Heidel (Garrett Graf, Troy Reifsteck), 10:34.

Third period: Mid – Griffin Gussel (Braxton Walby, Davis Bunz), 9:20.

Saves: M (Tony Wuesthofen) 15; V (Nathan Cleghorn) 31.



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