The Appleton United girls’ hockey team knew it faced a tough task at the Appleton Family Ice Center on Saturday with the Central Wisconsin Storm providing the opposition.
The defending WIAA state champion Storm, ranked No. 1 in the Wisconsin Prep Hockey poll and sporting a 9-0-0 record, limited the United’s scoring opportunities and skated to a 3-0 nonconference win.
“I thought we played well,” United coach Marcus Nejedlo said. “We’ve got a couple housekeeping things we’ve got to take care of. I thought our effort was very good and we made them earn everything they got from us.”
While the Storm controlled the puck for much of the contest, it wasn’t able to score with the ease that allowed it to score 45 goals in its first nine games.
Instead, the United made the Storm work for its shots, with Libbey Breaker turning away 28 of them.
“We started hard today,” Storm coach Jana Wimmer said. “I thought we played well and matched the intensity that Appleton came out with. They came out hard, too.”
United senior defenseman Katie Trucco said her team played well.
“The fact that they are the top-ranked team in the state, we really stuck with them,” Trucco said. “We really proved ourselves out there.”
Kylie Gazzolo, who scored all three goals, put Central Wisconsin ahead in impressive fashion.
Getting the puck just inside the United’s zone, Gazzolo skated toward Breaker’s left side, cut across the front of the goal and shot the puck back from Breaker’s right into the left side of the net.
Her second goal came on a power play off a scramble in front of the net in the second period.
Gazzolo completed her hat trick in the third period, coming around behind the net to Breaker’s left in front of the net and put a shot just inside the right post.
The United found that offense was hard to come by against the Storm, which had surrendered only 11 goals and came in with four shutouts.
“Their ranking is well-deserved,” Nejedlo said. “They’re undefeated. They do a nice job of flowing to the puck and disrupting any flow that you might try to generate. They’re very skilled and very quick.”
Part of that could be due to the young top line of the United, which has freshman Greta Brown and sophomores Molly McKeever and Natalie West.
“It is a young group,” Nejedlo said. “Right now, we’ve got three brand new skaters that have never played hockey before. We’re solid for what we need to be. Sometimes, it comes down to chemistry with lines and those three seem to work well together, as does our second line.”
The United also doesn’t have the Miss Offense that it did last year in Anna Westmark, who finished her career with 115 goals and 71 assists over four years.
“We’re really just coming together as a whole team and blending together really well,” Trucco said. “It’s good to see that the younger girls are stepping up and taking her position where she left off.”
The United doesn’t have much time to take care of the housekeeping things that Nejedlo referred to, with three games at the Green Bay tournament Thursday through Sunday.
“It will be good,” United forward Natalie West said. “We’re excited for a tournament.”
Goals – First period: Kylie Gazzolo (Caylee Jensen, Arielle Riedel) 10:04. Second period: Gazzolo (Megan Marlowe) 5:41. Third period: Gazzolo 5:22. Shots: Appleton United 10, Central Wisconsin 31. Saves: Libbey Breaker AU 28, Lisa Fowle CW 10.
— Jim Oskola: 920-993-1000, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org