EAU CLAIRE — Momentum can be a fickle thing.
For the first five minutes of the boys hockey sectional semifinal matchup between Chi-Hi and Eau Claire North on Tuesday, the Cardinals were soaring. They applied constant pressure on the Huskies, and were as sharp as ever on both ends of the ice. It paid off with a goal by Jack Schimmel less than four minutes into the contest.
Things changed quickly.
The Huskies stole all the momentum in the final 5:35 of the first period, scoring four goals to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on their way to a 5-2 win at Hobbs Ice Arena. The victory gave Eau Claire North (19-6-1) a spot in Friday’s sectional final.
Once the first domino fell for the Huskies, the rest followed in a heartbeat.
“They have some firepower, and we just made some costly mistakes in the first period,” Chi-Hi coach Scott Parker said. “It just kind of snowballed on us really fast.”
Chi-Hi (14-11-1) took the early lead when Schimmel capitalized on a play off of a faceoff, finding the back of the net with a well-placed shot.
Zach Urdahl answered with a goal for North with 5:35 to go until the intermission. It opened the floodgates, and the flood didn’t stop until the Cardinals were able to get off the ice to regroup in the locker room.
A Chi-Hi turnover in the defensive zone gave North’s Cal Fadness a look at goal from close range a minute after Urdahl’s goal, and he promptly converted.
Sam Stange put the Huskies up 3-1 with a goal at the 3:12 mark, and Jeffrey Pippenger pushed North’s lead to 4-1 with 10.6 seconds to go until the intermission.
Chi-Hi skated off the ice suddenly facing a three-goal deficit that came in the blink of an eye.
“We had to collect our composure. The message was simple: We’re better than that,” Parker said. “We can play better than that. We just had some costly mistakes.”
The Cardinals did play better for the rest of the game. Isaac Lindstrom cut into North’s lead with a goal with 13:59 remaining in the second period, assisted by Tate Brisky. It was the second score of the game for Chi-Hi’s second line, and the second assist for Brisky.
“Our senior Tate Brisky went out and really led the charge there and had a whale of a game,” Parker said.
Chi-Hi had some good opportunities to cut into the lead even more as the game progressed, but just couldn’t get the puck in the back of the net.
“We just couldn’t capitalize. We had a couple point-blank (opportunities) that just didn’t go in,” Parker said.
Two power play chances in the second period weren’t enough for the Cardinals to cut the lead to one, and they entered the final period still trailing by two goals.
Down 4-2 with a minute and a half left, Chi-Hi pulled goalie Jaden Hoople off the ice to add another skater. They couldn’t score though, and an empty-net goal by North’s Joey Koller with 34 seconds left served as the final nail in the coffin.
Eau Claire North will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between Eau Claire Memorial and Marshfield in the sectional final with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Memorial-Marshfield game finished after press time.
Chi-Hi will lose five seniors who closed out successful careers on Tuesday: Brisky, Bryce Elkin, Lucas Steinmetz, Couper Fosvik and Chad Siverling.
“This is hard, this is not a fun thing to do as a coach to say goodbye to the guys that you’ve went to battle with,” Parker said. “Guys like Bryce Elkin don’t come along that often, he really truly could be a speedskater. He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever coached...Lucas Steinmetz, what a great leader he was this year. He was the linchpin to this team.
“Couper...the kid is our all-time blocked shot leader. He’ll do anything for you, he’s a kid that wears his heart on his sleeve...(Brisky), what a nice young man he is. Polite, thoughtful, ‘yes sir, no sir,’...Chad Siverling, that kid has worked his way into a backup goaltender that has really come a long way...Another nice young man who did whatever we asked.”
The Cardinals have reached the sectional round of the postseason four years in a row now, and did it with a fairly young team this season.
“As a team, the beginning of the year was hard because we had a lot of freshmen. There’s a lot of separation when you get those different levels in that locker room. By the end of the year, we came together. That’s a tribute to our seniors to bring those freshmen in,” Parker said.