ASHWAUBENON — The tears and dejected looks told the story: the Bay Port hockey team’s magical season was over.
The No. 1 state-ranked Pirates couldn’t advance to Madison for the first time ever after dropping a 3-1 contest to Appleton United on Friday night in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final game at the Cornerstone Community Center.
Appleton (22-4-1) will take on the winner of Wausau West and Antigo, to be played Saturday, in the WIAA state semifinals on Thursday, March 5 at 7:15 p.m. Bay Port’s season ends at 22-5-0.
“It was a hard-fought game by both sides,” said Bay Port coach Mike Buchan. “They got a lucky bounce early (on the first goal) that set us behind and we were climbing the mountain since then.”
The Pirates had split the season series with United this year, losing 1-0 early on in the season, before taking a 5-1 victory in the Antigo tournament.
After dominating the shots on goal in the early going, Bay Port saw Appleton slowly take charge and gain the momentum midway through the first period and continue their strong play the rest of the game.
“They are a well-coached and hard-working team,” Buchan said. “They play a system where the players all buy in, and they have a goaltender to stop the puck. They’re a good team and a tough opponent. On any given night, anything can happen.”
Appleton United players Trenton Bliss (23) and Michael Alfaro (19) are greeted by an excited student section following their 3-1 victory over Bay Port at Cornerstone Community Ice Center in Ashwaubenon, Wis. on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.
United goalie Dylan Phinney was stellar in net, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced.
Appleton went up on a goal by Trenton Bliss 29 seconds into the second period. The shot beat Pirates’ goalie Sean Angle to give United a 1-0 lead. Appleton took charge with another tally with just over a minute remaining in the period when Liam Johnson jammed in a rebound.
Bay Port pulled to within one at the 7:14 mark of the third period when captain Logan Froberg slammed in a one-timer to make it to 2-1. Froberg was assisted by Martin Suda and Connor Bagnieski on the goal.
Any chance of a comeback win was ended three minutes later when United’s Connor Zilisch snuck a puck past Angle.
“It was a heck of a game,” said Appleton United coach Michael Brolsma. “Bay Port is a fantastic team, as are Notre Dame and De Pere. We’ve had a tough battle to get this far. Kudos to our players – they were resilient in getting the victory.
“We’ve had that issue all year,” Brolsma said of his team’s slow start. “It’s almost like we get shell-shocked in the big games we’ve played this year. We’ve tried to motivate the kids in several ways, but tonight they fought through it and the rest is history.”
For the eight seniors leaving the Bay Port program, they’ve left a lasting impression on Buchan and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I could not ask for more,” Buchan said of his senior group. “They are the reason we were even in this game – their leadership, their hard work all four years and what they’ve done for this program. The group put us on the map in the state of Wisconsin, so hopefully the younger guys can carry the torch.
“We will regroup this summer and take a look at things. We’ve got some good prospects coming up and a lot of guys that want to play. Like I said, our seniors did a lot of things to turn the corner and pave the way, and we just have to keep going.”
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @richpalzewic.