By Scott Williams
STEVENS POINT – Stevens Point Area Senior High spent the better part of the first two periods of its WIAA boys hockey regional final going through the motions Thursday night.
So coach Brandon Busse took his turn trying to light a fire under his players by calling a timeout to get his point across.
When that didn’t get the intended results, the No. 5-ranked Panthers turned to assistant coach Brock Molski, who loudly got their attention prior to the third period.
The players got his message loud and clear.
SPASH struck for three goals in the opening five minutes of the final period to break the game open and the Panthers eventually cruised to a 7-1 victory over Rhinelander at K.B. Willett Arena.
The exact language used by Molski during the intermission remains a mystery. However, there were suggestions his tone was perhaps louder than his normal talking voice.
“It all started with coach Molski. He lit a fire under us,” said SPASH junior forward Dayne Hoyrod, who finished with a four-point night, including a hat trick. “After the second period he was screaming man. That third period we wanted to prove him wrong. We wanted to show something because it’s playoffs.”
SPASH (19-4-2) earned a date with Northland Pines, a 5-1 winner over Lakeland/Mercer, in sectional semifinal Tuesday night.
The teams met during the regular season and for the second consecutive year the Eagles came out on top, picking up a 3-2 win on Dec. 13.
The Panthers are looking forward to another shot at Pines with a berth in the sectional title game on the line.
“It’s always tough playing in (Pines’) barn. They’re a great team and really well-coached, but it’ll be a sweet victory if we can pull it off,” Hoyord said. “It’s a rivalry. They’re going to play their best. We just have to bring it too.”
Rhinelander showed it wasn’t going to just hand the Panthers a spot in the sectional final.
When Freddy Wisner tallied a power-play goal at 1:44 of the second period, the game was on.
The Hodgas had clawed within 2-1. All the momentum was on their side. Their confidence was growing by the minute. Their forecheck was causing SPASH all kinds of fits. The third-seeded Panthers were searching for answers.
Jake Minch, who finished with a three-point night, offered a response with a power-play goal late in the second period that enabled SPASH to take a 3-1 lead into the final period. Coach Molski supplied the remainder of the motivation.
“We knew Rhinelander was going to come out hard,” SPASH assistant coach Jon Bockmann said. “We had to burn a timeout in the second period, which we don’t like to do. We needed to get the troops together and get on the same page.”
SPASH certainly figured things out between the second and third periods.
Barrett Brooks, Leo Knapp and Hoyord all scored in a span of 4:58 to open the final period to push the lead to 6-1 and all but punch their ticket to the sectional.
Goalie Seth Stafford had kept Rhinelander in the game with 23 saves through the opening 34 minutes. But the junior netminder finally succumbed to seeing a stady stream of rubber coming his way.
When Brooks picked up his second goal at 7:48 of the third period, a running clock was invoked. There was nothing left for Stafford or the Hodags to do but play out the season.
Hoyord accounted for both goals in the opening period and Cole Beilke chipped in with a pair of assists.
Busse understands his team will need a much better performance against Pines if it wants its season to continue.
“We responded well in the third period, but we let them hang around the first two periods,” the Panthers head coach said. “All the credit to Rhinelander. They were coming after us and we were just kind of going through the motions.
“We came out flat. We can’t do that at this time of the year, especially in the playoffs. We definitely hope we’re going to learn from this.”
Panthers 7, Hodags 1
Rhinelander 0 1 0 – 1
SPASH 2 1 4 – 7
First period: 1. SPASH, Dayne Hoyord (Jake Minch), 6:08; 2. SPASH, Hoyord (Cole Beilke), 12:44 (pp).
Second period: 3. R, Freddy Wisner (Abe Laggis, Conor Pequet), 1:44 (pp); 4. SPASH, Minch (Barrett Brooks, Trey Zagrzebski), 15:41 (pp).
Third period: 5. SPASH, Brooks (Hoyord), 2:47; 6. SPASH, Leo Knapp (Nick Norrgran), 3:40; 7. SPASH, Hoyord (Minch), 4:58; 8. SPASH, Brooks (Beilke), 7:48.
Saves: Rhinelander (Seth Stafford) 27; SPASH (Spencer Wierzba) 14.
Records: SPASH 19-4-2; Rhinelander 14-9.