The Chi-Hi boys hockey team’s defense was banged up, but didn’t let up in a 4-1 victory over River Falls on Thursday evening at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.
The Cardinals (8-4-1, 4-1-0) played the majority of the game without defensemen Tyler Bohland and Cole Bowe due to injury, forcing the team to go with four backliners for the majority of the contest.
But those players — Ben Steinmetz, Blake Trippler, Carsten Reeg and AJ Schemenauer — were up to the task as they combined with goaltender Jaden Hoople to allow just one goal while four different Cardinals found the net in the victory.
“They played well for most of the game,” Chi-Hi coach Scott Parker said of the defense. “We ran into a buzz saw at the end of the third, they were really putting some pressure on us. But we held in there.”
The sophomore Schemenauer also found the net for his first goal of the season, snipping home a low-to-the-ice shot from near the blue line off an assist from Brady Fixmer at the five-minute, eight-second mark of the second period to put the Cardinals up 3-0.
“AJ’s got a hard shot and it was on the ice at the back of the net,” Parker said of Schemenauer’s goal. “Well deserved. We work on that, so it’s not by accident and good for AJ. That’s a quality shot and a good goal for us and we hope there’s more of that to come.”
Isaac Lindstrom opened the scoring 14:42 into the opening period with his 10th goal of the season with help from Jack Schimmel and Isaac Frenette. Fixmer scored 1:49 into the second on an assist from Sawyer Bowe prior to helping out on Schemenauer’s goal later in the period.
Jake Bergmanis scored a power-play goal with a two-man advantage for the Wildcats (5-8-0, 2-4-0) with fewer than three minutes left in the second period to cut the gap to 3-1. But the Cardinals retook their three-goal lead in the final seconds when Frenette banged home his team-high 13th goal of the season with two seconds left to go in front 4-1.
Chi-Hi committed just three penalties in the contest, but two of them 13 seconds apart in the second period put the Cardinals on the tough end of a 5-on-3 situation while in front 3-0. Bergmanis scored at the 15:09 mark on an assist by Braedon Harer and the Wildcats still had a man advantage. But the Cardinals drew a penalty soon after and after both teams skated 4-on-4 for a short period of time, Frenette got a second swing at his deflected shot and beat River Falls goaltender Jake Miller shortly before the end of the period.
“When it was 3-1 and then we go up 4-1, that was really something,” Parker said. “We call that a backbreaker, so that’s a huge goal. If it’s 3-1 going in, who knows coming out in the third period.”
The Cardinals were without two of their defensive veterans but still kept a Wildcats offense that averages more than three goals per game to just one power-play goal.
“They put some pressure on us in the third period,” Parker said. “I thought Jaden played a whale of a game. He played hard. He stayed focused the whole game and Big Rivers games are hard to win. We had to work for this one.”
Hoople stopped 20 of 21 shots in goal and in front of him the defense kept the Wildcats from piling up shots. Chi-Hi outshot River Falls in each period.
“Jaden Hoople is a brick wall back there,” Schemenauer said. “We win a lot of games because of his success and a lot of credit goes out to him.”
The initial scoring came from a familiar place in Thursday’s win as the team’s second leading scorer Lindstrom found the back of the net on an assist from the team’s third (Schimmel) and top scorer (Frenette).
But between that goal and Frenette adding to his team lead, the Cardinals got goals from beyond their first line as Fixmer scored his fourth goal of the season and Schemenauer netted his first of the year.
“That helps us a lot, because then we don’t have to put all our eggs in one basket,” Schemenauer said of the balanced scoring.
Big matchup awaits
The victory combined with Eau Claire North’s 5-1 victory over Eau Claire Memorial on Thursday evening moves the Cardinals into a second-place tie with the Old Abes in the league standings with a huge showdown with the Huskies looming on Tuesday evening at Chippewa Ice Arena.
The Huskies (8-5-1, 5-0-0) boast a pair of University of Wisconsin recruits with Sam Stange and Zach Urdahl and will enter Tuesday’s game atop the Big Rivers standings.
“It’s a team that’s on our radar,” Parker said of the matchup with the Huskies. “If we want to make the next step as a program, we’re going to have to play well that game and we’re going to have to get everybody contributing. It’s a game that we’re putting a little pressure on our players.”