WESTON – D.C. Everest boys hockey coach Dan VanSlyke didn’t know what to expect from goalie Sam Erickson this year, in part because the senior was barely on the ice last season.
As a backup to starting goalie Michael Moe, Erickson had just over 37 minutes of playing time for the Evergreens.
“The funny thing is that I didn’t know if he would be our starting goalie at the beginning of the year,” VanSlyke said of Erickson. “We graduated a senior, in Michael Moe, who got the majority of the playing time last year. I really didn’t know completely what to expect from Sam.”
Erickson has posted a 15-6 record and a 2.21 goals against average as Everest’s No. 1 goalie this year.
“He definitely has been a pleasant surprise,” VanSlyke said. “The thing about Sam that stands out is that he is such a level-headed kid, he never gets too high or too low. He doesn’t let things affect him. He sees the puck really well, and our defensemen are making plays in front of him and limiting the second or third opportunities. He’s just fundamentally sound and gets the job done.”
Erickson is a reason why the fourth-seeded Evergreens enter Fridays’s WIAA regional final against Mosinee playing their best hockey of the season. Everest, a veteran team with 12 seniors on the roster, ended the regular season winning its last four games and nine of the past 10 to earn a home playoff game.
The Evergreens have allowed two or fewer goals in eight games in that stretch, including a pair of shutouts.
“We’re playing pretty good hockey right now. I like where we are right now going into the tournament,” VanSlyke said. “I think we’re playing with confidence, and that’s one of the biggest things at this time of the year.”
Everest hit a rough patch from late December into early January, which included losses against state-ranked Bay Port, Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha, Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point Area Senior High.
“That was an eye-opener for us and put it into perspective that maybe we weren’t as good as we thought we were. But since Jan. 15, we have been playing some pretty good hockey,” VanSlyke said. “I think it’s just been consistency and controlling what we do (on the ice) more than anything else. It’s just making the little plays.
“I think early in the year we got into some trouble trying to make plays that just weren’t there and turning pucks over.”
The turnaround for the Evergreens culminated in a 3-2 win in Stevens Point last Thursday.
“Point has had our number the last couple years, and we haven’t played really well down at The Willett,” VanSlyke said. “But we played really good hockey and were getting pucks to the net and doing the little things well, stuff that we didn’t do back in January when they shut us out at our place.”
Everest now hosts a Mosinee team that finished second in the Great Northern Conference and is coming off an 8-1 win over Lakeland in a regional semifinal Tuesday.
Everest beat Mosinee 2-0 on Jan. 19 in a game in which Erickson made 22 saves.
“We’re familiar with Mosinee, I believe I have watched them play about four times this year,” VanSlyke said. “When we played them, it was a pretty tight game, and they outshot us without one of their better players, Chris Tomski, in the lineup. I think it’s going to be one heckuva hockey game again, and we’re up for the challenge.”
Tim Johnson can be reached at 715-845-0731. Find him on Twitter @timmyjo11
HOCKEY REGIONAL FINALS
Medford at Central Wisconsin Storm
Point/Rapids at Tomahawk
Marshfield at Northland Pines
Marshfield at Eau Claire Memorial
Pacelli at Wausau West
Northland Pines at SPASH
Wausau East at Antigo