Wildcat skaters throw scare into Superior
After throttling Baron/Chetek, 8-2, in a WIAA regional semifinal at home last Tuesday, Feb. 12. the Wildcat hockey team picked up right where it left off in the regional final in Superior Feb. 14, jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
But the top-seeded Spartans scored five unanswered goals to end the Cats' season by a score of 5-2.
River Falls' head coach Mike Kealy said the Cats prepared all season long for a strong tournament run and was proud of the way the team competed.
"We were very clear on our message to the team that regular season was our test for the post season," Kealy said. "There is never a good time to have your season come to an end, but if I could draw it up like this every year; this is what I would hope for. This team played their hearts out and I am very proud of each and every one of them."
Kealy and his coaching staff put the Cats' top two scorers, Casey Jerry and Connor Maxwell, on the same line with Jerry's younger brother Billy and it had immediate results in the win over Barron. The trio accounted for seven of the eight Wildcat goals, including three in the first two minutes of the game, as the Cats jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead and never looked back.
"We were not playing our best hockey entering the playoffs but the kids did what they needed to do to beat Barron," Kealy said.
Maxwell scored the Wildcats' first two goals, beating the Barron goalie just 30 seconds into the game with an assist from Casey Jerry, then finding the back of the net again 56 seconds later, assisted by both Jerry brothers.
Casey Jerry scored an unassisted goal just 23 seconds later to give the Cats a quick 3-0 lead. Billy Jerry added a goal in the final minute of the period to make the score 4-0.
Maxwell got his hat trick with his third goal of the game midway through the second period before Tyler Eliason scored a shorthanded goal at the 15:32 mark, assisted by Brady Stocker, to widen the lead to 6-0.
Barron got on the board at the 4:38 mark of the third before Casey Jerry scored a pair of unassisted goals, the first shorthanded, 42 seconds apart, to register his hat trick.
Wildcat goalie Corbin Renslow finished with 13 saves as the Cats outshot Barron, 33-15.
Kealy said the Cats had a good game plan heading into Superior for Thursday night's regional final and it paid off early. River Falls led 1-0 after the first period thanks to freshman Austin Manglitz's first varsity goal, which was assisted by Casey and Billy Jerry.
The Cats made it a 2-0 game on their first shot of the second period when Casey Jerry scored on a hard wrist shot between the circles. Sam Shafer assisted on the play.
But Superior cut the Wildcat lead in half to make it a 2-1 game after two, then scored four goals in the third period to earn a 5-2 victory.
"The third period didn't go the way we wanted it to, but it was such a great game, with so much to build on this off season and into next year," Kealy said. "Austin Manglitz scoring his first varsity goal -- what a time and place for that!"
The Cats were able to keep Superior in check thanks in large part to the play of senior goalie Renslow. Despite outshooting the Cats 29-10 through the first two periods the fifth-ranked Spartans found themselves trailing 2-1.
"Corbin Renslow had one of his best game of the season," Kealy said. "He held us in it when Superior starting coming with more pressure. Corbin is one of the kindest, mature young men I have coached, he brought his 'A' game each and every day -- practice, regular season game or playoffs."
Renslow finished with 40 saves as the Spartans outshot the Wildcats, 45-16.
Kealy said the Cats represented River Falls well.
"Nobody wants to travel to Superior in the post season, but we were in a good position to catch them off guard," he said. "We had a great game plan and executed it very well and I hope these boys know they belong on the ice with any team we have played this season."