When a team loses by a goal, players will often ask themselves the “what if” question.
What if I had made one more save? What if I had not taken that penalty? What if I had pulled the trigger on that shot I had?
Notre Dame made sure Appleton United wouldn’t be asking the “what if” question, routing United 11-0 at the Cornerstone Community Center to win the WIAA Sectional 5 title and advance to the state tournament, which begins with quarterfinal play on Thursday in Madison.
Notre Dame, which will be going after its second straight state title, will face Wisconsin Rapids, which advanced with a 3-0 win over West Salem/Bangor.
“We had a good run,” Appleton United coach Cliff Watson said. “We had our ups and downs all year. I told the young guys we’ve got to get back here next year and, to the seniors, they had a great year and that’s about where we left it. We played a very good hockey team.”
The Tritons, who made it difficult for United to clear the puck out of its own end of the ice, took a 1-0 lead at 5:23 of the first period when Brett Gruber, who was skating in on United goalie James Schroeder’s left, found Mason Appleton.
“I saw Brett Gruber streaking to the net and I told him to drop it (the puck) because I saw he had a little space behind him,” Appleton said. “He dropped it right to me. Somehow, I didn’t even see where it went in.
“I really didn’t expect it to work out like that. I was just hoping for a shot on goal.”
It took only two minutes for the Tritons to make it 2-0. After a United penalty on Tyler Tumey, Appleton got his second goal on the resulting power play.
“We were trying to step on the gas early so we got a second one real quick,” Appleton said. “That was going to put us off to a good strong start. Then we worked it around for a little bit, got a quick bounce to put us up 2-0 and we didn’t look back from there.”
Gruber, who finished with two goals and two assists, said the win over United was a confidence booster.
“Winning against a team like Appleton who is pretty good and we just came out there and dominated them, that means a lot to us as a team,” Gruber said.
Winning by as large a margin as Notre Dame (23-1-2) did was unexpected, according to Gruber.
“I was expecting it to be a lot closer,” Gruber said. “We stuck to our keys as a team and we were able to put them away.”
Cory McCracken, coach of the No. 1-ranked Tritons, echoed Appleton’s thoughts about starting fast.
“The key thing for us is to establish our game plan and get started fast in the first portion of the game,” McCracken said. “We want to dictate things. I thought we did a good job of that. Our foot speed was really good early. We won a lot of races and created a lot of problems for Appleton on their time and space issues. We did a real good job five-on-five, which led to them taking a couple penalties early in the game that we capitalized on.”
Watson, meanwhile, said that his team wasn’t intimidated by Notre Dame’s record and ranking.
“Our guys didn’t come out and execute,” Watson said. “They didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to do. Early on, you go down four goals against a team, you go down two goals against a team like this and you’re screwed. We didn’t play our best hockey today and that’s what happens.”
Goals – First period: Mason Appleton (Brett Gruber) 5:23, Appleton (Sam McCormick, Tony Stillwell) pp 7:23, Grant Kluesner (Luke Davison) 10:05, Davison (Will Pavek, Grant Kluesner) :07. Second period: Jason Reynolds :40, Steven Phillips 3:59, Gruber 4:52, Christensen (Stillwell, Gruber) 6:12. Third period: Guber (Davison, Sam McCormick) pp :42, Appleton ND (Will Woodward) pp 3:25, Phillips (Grant Kluesner, McCormick) pp 16:45. Shots: ND 46, AU 13. Saves: Eli Hicks ND 13, James Schroeder AU 25, Dylan Phinney AU 10.
— Jim Oskola: 920-993-1000, ext. 230, or email@example.com