It was midway through the third period Thursday, and only one thing remained in question in the WIAA state quarterfinal boys hockey game between Green Bay Notre Dame and Eau Claire Memorial.
Would the top-ranked Tritons reach double-digit goals before the Old Abes — last year’s state champions — recorded double-digit shots on goal?
It didn’t happen, but that it was even a possibility late in the game showed how dominating Notre Dame’s 7-0 victory at the Alliant Energy Center against the Old Abes was.
Juniors Collin Appleton and Sam McCormick both scored a pair of goals, while seniors Mason Appleton and Brett Gruber both posted a goal with two assists in the win.
After pitching a 7-0 shutout in the quarterfinals for a second straight season, Notre Dame (27-1) advances to the state semifinals for a fifth consecutive year and will face Verona at 6 p.m. Friday.
It will be the third year in a row the teams will meet in the semifinals.
The Wildcats won 5-2 last season to end the Tritons’ hopes of repeating as state champions.
Earlier this year, Notre Dame rallied to win a 5-4 overtime contest over Verona on Jan. 24 at the Resch Center.
“We respect Verona at a high level because obviously they ended our season last year and we ended theirs the year before that,” Notre Dame coach Cory McCracken said.
“Based on what we had in Green Bay in January, it’s going to be a tight game, and we’re ready to play in a tight game.”
Notre Dame’s game Thursday was anything but close.
The Tritons scored even-strength, power-play and short-handed goals while posting their 13th shutout of the season.
“We’ve been having good gaps and trying to get pucks out quick to try and eliminate shots,” Notre Dame senior defenseman Luke Davison said. “Aaron (Campbell) has been standing on his head when we break down a little bit, too.”
Campbell, a senior goalie, made 14 saves, and Notre Dame forced a running clock by taking a 6-0 lead 59 seconds into the third period with a short-handed goal by Gruber.
By the time senior forward Anton Brix recorded the game’s last goal at the 8:40 mark of the third period, Eau Claire Memorial (22-5-1) had made only nine shots on goal. Notre Dame finished with a 31-14 advantage in shots on goal.
It was the most goals the Old Abes allowed this season. Their previous high came in an 8-5 loss against Notre Dame on Jan. 25 at the Resch Center.
Eau Claire Memorial senior Jacob Bresser scored four goals in that game, which marked the most goals the Tritons have allowed this season.
Bresser, who Wednesday was named the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association’s player of the year, was limited to one shot on goal Thursday.
“Our game plan was to make sure we were aware of Jake on the ice,” said McCracken, whose team is 22-0 against Wisconsin teams this season. “He’s a really special hockey player. But with that said, we’re confident that our five guys on the ice can do their job. Our guys defended him well.”
The Appleton cousins scored goals less than 2 minutes apart to give the Tritons a 2-0 lead 6 minutes into the game.
After the Appletons assisted on each other’s first-period goals, they did so again at the end of the second period to give Notre Dame a 5-0 lead with Collin’s second goal of the game.
“The Appleton boys have great chemistry, and it’s really hard to break those guys up,” said McCormick, who scored a pair of goals off assists from Gruber during a 25-second span in the second period.
McCormick, an Ohio State recruit, got the first tally on the game’s first power play at the 5:46 mark in the second frame before following with an even-strength goal.
While Notre Dame had an impressive showing Thursday against last year’s state champion, the Tritons know it means little if they can’t return to the title game for a second time in three years.
“We got to punch our ticket to Saturday,” Davison said. “That’s what we’re focusing on now.”
Eau Claire Memorial …0 0 0 — 0
G.B. Notre Dame… 2 3 2 — 7
First period: 1, ND, Collin Appleton, 15 (Mason Appleton, Jett Jaraczewski), 8:06; 2, ND, M. Appleton, 27(C. Appleton), 10:04.
Second period: 3, ND, Sam McCormick, 27 (Brett Gruber), 5:46 (pp); 4, ND, Sam McCormick, 28 (Gruber), 6:11; 5, ND, C. Appleton, 16 (M. Appleton), 7:53.
Third period: 6, ND, Gruber, 33 (unassisted), :59 (sh); 7, ND, Anton Brix, 13 (unassisted), 8:40.
Shots on goal: ECM, 5-3-6 — 14; ND, 9-16-6 — 31.
Goalies: ECM, Nick Schreiter (28 shots, 22 saves) Alex Geving (3 shots, 2 saves); ND, Aaron Campbell (14 shots, 14 saves).
Power-play opportunities: ECM, 0-for-3; ND, 1-for-1.
Penalties: ECM, 3-6; ND, 4-8.