The hockey teams who generally make the deepest playoff runs have plenty of it on their roster.
Bay Port fits that bill.
The Pirates relied on their depth in pulling off wins against the top three seeds in their sectional to advance to the WIAA state tournament for the first time in program history.
“I think the proof is in the pudding,” said Bay Port coach Mike Buchan, whose team beat Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha 3-2 in a sectional final Saturday.
“We’re playing against Neenah, a top-six team in the state, and we go down with injuries, and penalties in some cases, and we just keep throwing out more guys that can get the job done. When you’re in this stage of the game, that’s going to get you a long ways.”
Bay Port (19-9) is hoping to enjoy a long stay at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison for the state tournament. The Pirates face Sun Prairie (17-8-1) on Thursday at approximately 1:45 p.m. in a state quarterfinal.
“We know we can play with the top teams,” Bay Port senior forward Spencer Challe said. “We have to show up and play our game.”
The Pirates have won seven straight games since letting a two-goal lead evaporate in the third period of a 5-4 overtime loss to Green Bay Notre Dame on Jan. 28 in the Fox River Classic Conference championship game.
It was one of five one-goal losses for Bay Port.
“That definitely got us ready for those types of games because we had to play the (Nos.) 3, 2 and 1 seeds in the playoffs,” said Bay Port senior forward Bennett DeBouche, who scored a short-handed goal for the deciding tally in Saturday’s sectional victory. “We were ready for those games.”
The Pirates have 10 players with at least 10 points, including five who have notched at least 10 goals.
Senior forward Austin Mikesch leads the team with 45 points, totaling 25 goals and 20 assists. DeBouche is second with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists).
Mikesch and DeBouche earned first-team all-FRCC accolades along with senior defenseman Joe Cavil.
“I think offensively with three lines we’re pretty solid,” said Mikesch, the FRCC player of the year. “Defensively, too. We’re just solid throughout and there is no real loose gaps in between. Everyone works really well together and that’s what helped us get this far.”
What sparked the Pirates to make their trip south for state this week was actually a trip north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last month. Bay Port beat Hancock 6-3 on Jan. 20 and lost 6-5 to Houghton on Jan. 21.
Hancock is ranked No. 4, while Houghton is ranked No. 8 in Michigan’s Division 3 state rankings.
“We started to turn the corner really right around our Houghton, Hancock trip,” Buchan said. “Whether we went up there and bonded or went up there and played well against two good teams, whatever the case was it was at that point in the season for us. We battled a lot throughout the year and at some point it was going to change for us, and it certainly did.”
The Pirates, who avenged regular-season losses to Antigo and Notre Dame in the playoffs, have kept the same lines since their U.P. trip.
The top line features Challe, Mikesch and senior Matej Huncik. The second line includes DeBouche, sophomore Caleb Johnson and sophomore Aaron Ribar.
Bay Port’s defensive corps is rather young. It’s led by Cavil, who was one of four defensemen on the team to get all-conference recognition. Sophomore Spencer Kring, sophomore Sam Gustafson and junior Matt Minch all received honorable mention.
“We’re getting contributions from everybody,” Buchan said. “The fact that we’re that deep really helped a lot.”
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