Ty Rebedew remembers the pain of losing one game short of state. It happened at this time last year. The Fond du Lac High School hockey team entered the WIAA playoffs as a 7-seed and made it to the sectional final, only to lose 2-1 and fall just short of a trip to Madison.
“We were hurting,” the Cardinals senior said after practice Thursday. “I didn’t want to take off my jersey because it was the last game of the season. I felt bad for the seniors.”
Fond du Lac is back in the same scenario tonight as the top-seeded Cardinals play Homestead at 7 p.m. in Hartland, with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
They want to make sure they don’t have to feel those same emotions as last year when it’s over.
“It came up in my speeches,” Fondy coach Ryan Sarazin said. “We’ve been there. It’s a crazy environment. We can use that experience to our advantage. Being there, feeling the disappointment, tasting defeat — it just helps.”
“We’re definitely using it as a motivator,” Rebedew added. “We were so close last year. A lot of our seniors never had a chance to go to state when they were younger, so do it in high school would be a big accomplishment.”
Standing in the way of such an accomplishment is upstart Homestead — which has been a Cinderella story this postseason. Seeded seventh, the Highlanders are still below .500 at 12-14-1. They beat 10-seed Waupun, then upset 2-seed University School (Milwaukee) and 3-seed Arrowhead to reach the sectional final.
While tonight’s matchup appears to be a mismatch on paper with Fond du Lac (21-3-2) sitting near the top of the rankings all season facing a team that had only nine wins in the regular season, the Cardinals are ever-weary of their opponent.
“If you asked at the beginning of the season, I would have said they’d be one of the top teams in our sectional,” Sarazin said of the Highlanders, who beat University School and Arrowhead by a combined score of 9-2. “They took a while to get it together, but we have full respect for them. They’re a scrary 7-seed. We’re going to take them like they’re a 2-seed.”
Rebedew said focusing on what his team can control will be key.
“We go back to what we’ve been doing all along,” he said. “We work hard and we know our systems. We know what we do best. We’re confident but not overconfident. We stay within ourselves.”
Another storyline entering the game is that this will be the first time the Cardinals have had to leave the friendly confines of the Blue Line Ice Center since Jan. 27. They’ve played their last six games at home. On the flipside, Homestead enters having played its last two games on the road, and they played at tonight’s arena just three days ago when they beat Arrowhead on Tuesday.
Even though Fond du Lac makes its first road trip tonight in nearly a month, the Cardinals say it should be a non-factor.
“I think we’ll be OK,” Sarazin said. “It’s a little concerning because we do play here (Blue Line). “It will be a different rink with different size and dimensions, but we’ll compete no matter where we play.”
“It’s nice to have a home crowd and feel comfortable, but I think we can look past that and say it’s just another rink,” Rebedew added.