The Fond du Lac boys hockey team entered Thursday’s WIAA Regional Final against St. Mary’s Springs seemingly as the team to be feared most.
The Cardinals had won four straight games on the strength of junior Jack Nejedlo’s remarkable return from a torn ACL. One of those wins was a 5-0 drubbing of the Ledgers just 12 days ago.
But on the same sheet of ice Fondy dominated back then in the Badgerland Conference Tournament championship, it was Springs (18-8) that looked like a team possessed in the third meeting between the city rivals.
The Ledgers used a three-goal barrage in a span of 2 minutes and 59 seconds early in the second period, to take control and power them to a 6-3 win over Fond du Lac (12-12-1) at the Blue Line Ice Center.
“The last game (Feb. 12) was nnot a testament of how we play. We were flat, they were good and that’s a bad combination,” Springs head coach Tim Ahern said. “This time the boys came out, worked hard and we took it to them.”
With the win, Springs advances it to Tuesday’s sectional semifinal, where it will host eighth-seeded Brookfield, which upset No. 1 Homestead 4-3 in overtime. The Ledgers also took 9-8-1 advantage in the all-time series against Fondy.
“It was just a totally different game,” said Springs junior Connor Blanck, who had two goals. “We changed some systems up. We came out a lot tougher, switched our game up and there it was.”
“I give Springs credit. Their sense of urgency and want was good tonight,” Fond du Lac head coach Ryan Sarazin sad. “They were fired up.”
Already up 1-0 after one period, Springs got goals from Brady Sarauer, Zach McLaughlin and Conner Blanck to blow the game open for a 4-0 lead with 13:44 left in the second.
“We talked to the boys on the bench saying ‘we have a little blood in the water,’ and we seized on it,” Ahern said. “We got their goaltender back on his heels and we just started peppering him.”
The Cardinals answered with three goals of their own — one late in the third by Alex Graf, one early in the third by Bailey Koenigs and another by Ian Tess-Wanat with 5:26 to play, but it wasn’t enough. Springs tacked on another goal 46 seconds before Fondy’s last to give it and one more with 3:21 left, allowing Ledger fans to breathe easy.
Entering the game, a return trip to the state tournament didn’t seem far-fetched for Fond du Lac, which looked like a different team with Nejedlo back than the one that went 8-11-1 without him. But Springs has aspirations of a deep playoff run as well, and it showed Thursday.
Springs got on the scoreboard first just over 10 minutes in when it moved the puck in the zone from Blanck to Jackson Voight and then to Mark Austin, who put a shot past Fondy goalie William Shober for a 1-0 lead.
Possession was essentially even that period, and then Springs’ offense erupted early in the second. It began 34 seconds in when Sarauer tapped in a loose puck in front of Fondy’s net.
A Nejedlo stick-swat at it missed before it went in. A minute and 21 seconds later, McLaughlin scored when he fired straight on from 20-feet out and past Shober for a 3-0 lead. Another 81 seconds later, Blanck went top shelf over right shoulder and suddenly it was 4-0.
It was an eerily similar start to the Feb. 12 game, just reversed. In that game, Fondy used a four-goal second period to bury the Ledgers.
“I thought they almost opposite mirrored each other. That second period was just like the one we had,” Sarazin said. “Tonight we just seemed a little disjointed and they capitalized when they needed to. We were playing behind the 8-ball the entire time.”
Fondy answered with goals by Graf and Koenigs to cut the deficit in half early in the third, but Springs had two third-period goals of its own, coming from Johnny Welsch and Blanck to preserve the victory.
“We needed that next one to make it 4-3 and get them reeling,” Sarazin said. “But 5-2 was deflating.”
Cardinals’ senior Michael Wilson became the school’s career scoring leader with his assist on Graf’s goal in the second period. It gave him 194 career points, one better than Jason Lettau (1999-2002).
|Fond du Lac||0||1||2||— 3|
First period: SP – Mark Austin (Jackson Voight, Conner Blanck), 6:58.
Second period: SP – Brady Sarauer (unassisted), 16:26; SP – Zach McLaughlini (unassisted), 15:05; SP – Conner Blanck (Voight), 13:44; FDL – Alex Graf (Michael Wilson, Jack Nejedlo)..
Third period: FDL – Bailey Koenigs (Chase Koenigs), 15:26; SP – Johnny Welsch (Blanck), 6:12; FDL – Ian Tess-Wanat (B. Koenigs), 5:26; SP – Blanck (Logan Mertens), 3:21.
Saves: Springs (Andrew Riehl) 26, Fond du Lac (William Schober) 27..