Bluebirds fall in state tournament
That’s all you need to know about Eau Claire Memorial High School’s boys hockey team.
Despite playing what coach John Mauermann said might’ve been “it’s best game of the season,” the Janesville Bluebirds lost 3-1 to the top-ranked Old Abes in WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinals here Thursday at the Alliant Center.
Eau Claire Memorial (24-0) plays Superior (18-6) in tonight’s 7:15 semifinal game. The 5 p.m. game matches Madison Edgewod (23-2) against Appleton (21-2), and winners play for the state championship at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
The Bluebirds (19-2-2) wasted too many scoring opportunities and a brilliant goaltending performance from David Jacobson in seeing a magical season come to an end.
“We played against a team that I don’t think had anybody under 175 pounds, and my little guys played their hearts out,” Mauermann said. “I’m proud of the effort, but somebody’s gotta win, and somebody’s got to lose.
“It’s hard to drop a tear over the thing because we just played our hearts out. We were right there with the No. 1 team in the state.”
The Bluebirds fell behind 1-0 in the first period on Nate Verbracken’s goal. That was all the scoring until the third, as Jacobson made one spectacular save after another.
The Janesville Parker junior had 11 saves in the second period, including two sprawling stops on breakaways by Verbracken at 8:07 and Mike Miettunen at 12:32.
Leading 1-0, the Old Abes got an insurance goal, thanks to a questionable roughing penalty on Janesville’s Michael Valentine. The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Valentine seemed to put a clean hit on an Old Abe forward early in the third period, but the trailing referee whistled the Bluebird defender for a two-minute roughing penalty. Eau Claire Memorial converted early in the man-advantage as Ben Kincaid lifted a wrist shot past Jacobson.
The Bluebirds, as they’ve done all season, battled back. A flurry of activity in the Memorial zone culminated with Ross Mauermann’s power-play goal at 11:26 that cut the lead to 2-1. Janesville’s Kenny Durfee hit the pipe earlier in the third as Janesville dictated play after Kincaid’s goal.
With Janesville on the attack late in the game, Verbracken silenced the large contingent of Bluebird fans with his second goal of the game at 16:13.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full. They’re a very good hockey team with a very good goaltender,” Eau Claire Memorial coach Mike Schwengler said of the Bluebirds. “Their top line is as good as any in the state, and they play a style of hockey that we hadn’t seen all season.
“We’ll take the victory and move on, but I’m glad that one is over. That’s a good hockey team we beat.”
Janesville saw a golden scoring chance slip away in the second period. Eau Claire Memorial was whistled for two penalties on the same play to give Janesville a 5-on-3 advantage for two minutes.
Unfortunately for the Bluebirds, they couldn’t capitalize. Mauermann got off the only legitimate shot during the power play, as the Old Abes’ defense was able to clear the puck the length of the ice on four different occasions.
“We had some opportunities, and I like the way we ran our power play, but let’s give some credit to Eau Claire Memorial,” coach Mauermann said. “They’re an outstanding hockey team, and their big defensemen made plays the entire game.
“The bounces we got during the year, we didn’t seem to get tonight. But it wasn’t because of our effort on the ice.”
Jacobson came into the game as one of the state’s most talented but unknown commodities. That should change after another solid effort between the pipes.
Jacobson finished with 23 saves and already is looking forward to next season. The Bluebirds return many key players, including Jacobson, as well as four of their top five scorers.
“Next year we have just as good a chance to get to state as this year, and hopefully, we can get a win,” Jacobson said. “We had a great year this season, but no one wanted it to end like this.”
The Bluebirds will lose eight seniors who were a part of two state tournament teams and two Big Eight Conference championship teams.
MEMORIAL 3, JANESVILLE 1
Janesville 0 0 1—1
Eau Claire Memorial 1 0 2—3
ECM—Nate Verbracken (Mike Miettunen, Brady Keegan), 9:03.
ECM—Ben Kincaid (Shayne McLaughli, Hunter Scott), :42. J—Ross Mauermann (Derek Mussey, Kenny Durfee), 11:26. ECM—Verbracken (Miettunen, Ryan Falch), 16:13.
Penalties—Janesville 6/12:00, Memorial 9/18:00.
Saves—David Jacobson (J) 23, Brady Sand (ECM) 21.