A lot of coaches would cringe at the notion of a 13-day break in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
Pacelli hockey players didn’t see the time off as a mini-vacation. Instead of kicking back and basking in their run of recent success, they wanted to be pushed harder.
So Cardinals coach Rusty Mitch relented to their wishes and used the time off over the past two weeks to fine-tune some things on special teams units and engage in extra conditioning work.
Not so coincidentally both areas were on display front and center Friday night.
Pacelli netted a pair of short-handed goals and added a power-play tally, while eventually wearing Rhinelander down in a four-goal third period outburst to stretch its winning streak to nine games with a 6-2 nonconference win at Ice Hawks Arena.
Those conditioning efforts will come in handy during a stretch of five games in eight days, including a trip to Black River Falls for a noon face-off today.
“The guys were asking for it and saying we needed to skate more, and that’s the type of thing you want to see from the leaders,” Mitch said. “I think these guys are hungrier and think we’re a better team and want to prove it.”
No one was more determined to drill that point home than junior forward Luke Yenter.
Showing off a vast array of methods to put the puck in the back of the net, Yenter picked up a hat trick in the third period and added an assist to spark the Cardinals offensive charge.
Yenter came off the boards to slide a back-hand shot past Rhinelander goalie Jacob Arno to make it 3-0 early in the final period.
Far from finished, he unleashed a heavy wrist shot Arno still may not see after numerous replays on tape, and then Yenter closed out his natural hat trick by mucking it up in front of the net to get a deflection goal. Chris Karch helped with two assists.
“We started playing more as a team, passing and made the right decisions (in the third period),” Yenter said. “It’s always hard having that long of a break. We started a little slow, but we picked it up.”
That was also the case whenever a Cardinals player was sent to the penalty box.
Pacelli killed off all three penalties in the first two periods, and even had a short-handed goal from Teagan Vezina in the first period to show for their penalty killing efforts.
Davis Cowden also found the back of the net during a 5-minute major slashing penalty in the third period to once again demonstrate the Cardinals’ ability to get the job done on the penalty kill.
“With the shorties (short-handed goals), that’s our speed through the neutral zone,” Mitch said. “We work on our offensive support and that’s just about guys being hungry to get to the net.”
That speed through the neutral zone caught the Hodags flat-footed in the second period too.
This time Charlie Beyer gathered in a seemingly harmless dump out pass from the defensive zone and outraced Rhinelander’s defensemen down the ice to beat Arno and give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead after 34 minutes.
Time and time again, Pacelli was able to get behind the Hodags with their speed, although more often than not, the Cardinals failed to find the back of the net.
“Our biggest thing is finishing, we still need to work on that,” Mitch said. “Rhinelander is always a tough team to play. Once we got our timing and sarted playing the game using all five guys, we flew.”
First period: 1. P, Teagan Vezina, 15:13 (sh).
Second period: 2. P, Charlie Beyer (Luke Yenter, Joel Oney), 7:54.
Third period: 3. P, Yenter (Beyer, Devin Kollock), 3:05; 4. R, Chris Hagen, 9:24; 5. P, Davis Cowden (Deven Durigan), 11:48 (sh); 6. R, Kyle Loher (Nick Spencer), 11:59 (pp); 7. P, Yenter (Chris Karch), 12:29; 8. P, Yenter (Karch, Oney), 15:13 (pp).
Saves: Rhinelander (Jacob Arno) 33, Pacelli (Joe Fuller) 14.
Records: Pacelli 11-3-0; Rhinelander 6-6-1.