A hot goaltender can take a team a long way.
The Wisconsin Rapids boys have that in junior Tyler Gilbert. The junior has stone-walled the competition during the playoffs, leading the Raiders to three shutout wins and their first trip to the WIAA state tournament since 2010 and eighth in school history.
Gilbert, who has turned away all 77 shots in three playoff games, has credited the players in front of him.
“Our defense has been consistent in the playoffs and the guys have played so well in front of me that I haven’t had many difficult shots to stop,” said Gilbert,. “A lot of shots I’ve faced have been up high and that makes them easier to save.
“We’ve also been scoring a lot of goals in the playoffs. When we play with a lead it allows me to play more relaxed and just take care of things in our end of the ice.”
Added Raiders coach Pat McDonald, “We’ve had some very good goaltenders in the past and some undefeated teams that have never had a run like this in the playoffs. I think what we have is our guys are playing well in front of our goaltender, who is playing very well behind us.”
The Raiders have scored 12 goals in the playoffs, six against La Crosse Logan/Central and three each against Sauk Prairie and West Salem.
And one player isn’t doing it all. Against La Crosse, six different players scored goals, making it difficult for teams to focus a single skater.
“I think it’s been a whole team effort in the playoffs,” senior forward Logan Zimmerman, who has 37 points this season. “Tyler has been ‘standing on his head’ in the playoffs, doing some crazy things back there and the defense is playing good in front of him. When all that is happening, we can just focus on scoring goals.”
Three years ago the Raiders faced No. 1 ranked Wausau West in the state quarterfinals. This year, they get another top-ranked team in Green Bay Notre Dame, which also happens to be the defending state champions.
“When you go to state you want to play the best, but maybe not in the first round,” McDonald said with a chuckle. “Notre Dame is a very good team and they’re disciplined all over the ice. They capitalize on mistakes and we can’t afford to skate shorthanded against a them because they have an excellent power play.”