Even people who don’t know playing hockey from playing hooky realize that three guys on the ice against five is not a good thing.
Appleton United goalie James Schroeder wasn’t worried about it. Too much.
“I knew the guys up front were blocking shots and working hard, making my job a whole lot easier,” the junior goaltender said after preserving a 4-0 WIAA regional shutout for the Appleton United over the Oshkosh Ice Hawks at the Appleton Family Ice Center on Thursday.
Appleton (10-9-2) travels to De Pere next Tuesday for a sectional semifinal against De Pere/West De Pere, which beat Neenah 8-0 on Tuesday.
Schroeder went from not having much to do in the first period, when he needed to stop only five shots as United grabbed a 2-0 lead, to a rush of business in the second. Appleton was called for five penalties in the second period, which led to three separate two-man advantages for Oshkosh.
“Well, we’ve had pretty good practice this year because we’re always shorthanded,” said Appleton coach Cliff Watson.
Watson credited his main penalty killers — Ben Koester, Matt McKeever, Kraig Mittelstadt, and Brady Seeliger — with holding things together during Oshkosh’s biggest power play threats.
“Our number one PK line, they’re good, and they take pride in it,” Watson said. “That’s their role on the team and we’ve got guys who care about it.”
Mittelstadt’s play was especially poignant, as he had suffered the unexpected death of his father late last week. Watson added that Appleton North High School had supplied counseling services to the team over the days leading up to Thursday’s game.
“There’s no guidebook on dealing with that (as a coach),” Watson said. “(Kraig) is a strong kid and a smart young man.”
Meanwhile, while Appleton’s defense held the Ice Hawks, its offense was finding bliss — Trenton Bliss, in particular. The freshman scored twice as United consistently beat Oshkosh to pucks and used its speed in transition.
Appleton dominated the first period, walking in several opportunities against Oshkosh goalie Chris Ray. Bliss took a cross-ice pass from Tyler Tumey at 5:47 into the first period and fired a short wrist shot past Ray for the initial goal. He then added a third-period score by splitting the Oshkosh defense to give him 17 goals for the season.
“I kind of panicked with the puck a little bit, but I got my composure,” Bliss said of his second goal, which came little more than two minutes into the third period and put Appleton up 3-0.
Freshman defenseman Michael Alfaro added a first-period score and Cooper Watson the final goal in the third as Appleton posted just its second shutout of the season. Removing Oshkosh’s 15 shots in the second period with the power plays, the Ice Hawks (11-13-1) got off only nine other shots on Schroeder.
“From the start of the game we came out exceptionally flat tonight,” Oshkosh coach Jonathan Schubert said. “But not being able to capitalize on all those penalties … obviously, Appleton’s penalty kill was outstanding, but for us not to be able to do anything is frustrating.”
Oshkosh also played without senior Nick Monfils, who left the team after the conference tournament to begin playing junior hockey. United, however, still shut down sophomore Ryan Mantz, one of the state’s leading scorers with 35 goals this season.
“We’ve got two hot goalies right now in Schroeder and our freshman (Dylan) Phinney,” Watson said. “This is the perfect time of year to have two hot goalies. We struggled with that earlier this year, trying to find a hot goalie. And now we’ve got two.”
Goals — First period: Trenton Bliss A (Tyler Tumey) 5:47; Michael Alfaro A (Ben Koester, Gunnar Springer) 12:44. Third period: Bliss A (Keon Schmidt, Carver Watson) 2:43; Cooper Watson A (Devon Blob) 7:45. Saves: Chris Ray OSH 36, James Schroeder A 26.