Conner Simmers’ eyes were as big as a couple full moons as he skated toward the Northland Pines net Saturday afternoon.
There the puck was sitting on the ice, no one around and the Stevens Point Area Senior High sophomore forward staring at an open net.
Simmers wasn’t about to let the chance to play hero for a day pass him by, as he scored with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in regulation to give SPASH a thrilling 2-1 nonconference win over the Eagles at K.B. Willett Arena.
“When I was skating into the zone, I was thinking the puck would come to me. I saw the open net and knew I had to put it in,” said Simmers, who wasn’t complaining after being mobbed by teammates shortly after the puck found the back of the net. “This is probably my biggest (goal) so far.”
The final seconds weren’t without some controversy.
Northland Pines appeared to have tied the score with 30 seconds left in the third period after pulling its goalie in favor of an extra attacker.
The official on the goal line waved off the goal, saying the Eagles’ player had intentionally kicked the puck into the goal, while Pines felt the puck simply went off a players skate with no intent of directing it in the net.
In search of words to describe his feeling after receiving the explanantion from the officials, all Pines coach Charles DuPuydt was willing to offer up was “hosed.”
“Right now, I can’t get past the interpretation of the rule I was given,” said DuPuydt, holding a rules book in his hand and reading the rule up for debate. “I guess they (the officials) had to get the game over with.”
Simmers appeared to have all but ended the game when he came off the bench late on a line change and found a rebound sitting all alone in the slot.
His scoring chance would never have been possible without the hard work of Bryan Quinn, who dug the puck out along the board and passed to Matt Hoyt at the right point.
Hoyt unloaded a shot through traffic that Eagles goalie Jacob Stephan saved, but couldn’t control the rebound, leaving the puck on a silver platter for Simmers.
“We talk about how it’s important to get the puck to the net and look for second chance opportunities,” SPASH coach Dan Francis said. “Here’s the deal, we tell the guys if they work hard, things are going to go your way. I thought we outplayed them the last two periods and did the little things to win the game.”
The Eagles held the upper hand in the opening period, and left the ice with a 1-0 lead to show for their efforts.
Austin Ramesh took care of the scoring honors just 2:06 into the first period as Pines came out strong. Adam Kresl and Dylan Weber assisted on the goal.
Sustaining that early momentum turned out to be the tough part for Pines, however.
“We didn’t play well. We were lackadaisical in D zone and we had multiple turnovers in crucial areas of the ice,” DuPuydt said. “You were looking at two of the top teams in the section.”
One of those turnovers helped the Panthers tie the game 1-1 at 9:29 of the second period when Jacob Dufresne stole the puck at the SPASH blueline and beat Stephan on a breakaway.
Francis felt his team came out a little slow and let Pines dictate the play from a physical standpoint.
Once the Panthers matched the physical tone of the game, it was as Wayne and Garth used to say, ‘Game on.”
“One of out talking points after the first period was how we needed to be just as engaged in the physical play and throw our body around,” Francis said. “It was a huge win. Pines is a real good team.”
First period: 1. NP, Austin Ramesh (Dylan Weber, Adam Kresl), 2:06.
Second period: 2. SPASH, Jacob Dufresne, 9:29.
Third period: 3. SPASH, Conner Simmers (Matt Hoyt, Bryan Quinn), 15:35.
Saves: Northland Pines (Jacob Stephan) 27, SPASH (Nathan Siclovan) 22.
Records: SPASH 4-0; Northland Pines 2-1.