During a roller coaster-like WIAA boys hockey tournament opener Thursday night, Ben Coulter and his Janesville Bluebirds teammates did their best to hold on and stay the course.
They didn’t panic when they fell behind by two goals early on and didn’t seem flustered by the fact that they led their game against rival Beloit for a total of 1 minute, 39 seconds of regulation play.
Coulter scored four goals and assisted on the game-winner, when Kyler Kobs tipped the puck past Purple Knights goalie Taven Santucci at 2:24 of overtime, and Janesville won a regional final game 6-5 at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“We just stuck together and played hard,” said Coulter, a Janesville Craig junior who scored the team’s final four goals in regulation. “This is our season, so we have to keep grinding and we have to go.”
The fourth-seeded Bluebirds will face top-seeded Waukesha North co-op in a sectional semifinal Tuesday night thanks to some perseverance by Coulter and Kobs in overtime.
Coulter brought the puck into the right side of the zone and slid a pass through the slot to Kobs, who pulled a shot just wide left of an open side of the net. But both players circled back out. Coulter collected the puck skating toward the blue line and circled to his left, forehand side, flinging the puck back toward the goal. Kobs tipped it home, sending the Bluebirds into a frenzy in front of a spirited student section.
“I’m proud of our team,” Coulter said. “We’re going to go for the next (game), too. We’re going to make a run, and it’s going to be fun.”
The teams went back and forth throughout regulation.
In the first period, Beloit’s Casper Clark scored a pair of goals in the opening five minutes to seize control. But Janesville Parker senior Nik Sitter lobbed a puck into the back of the net from the top of the left circle at 5:21 to calm the Bluebirds down, and Coulter scored with less than five minutes left in the period to forge a 2-2 tie.
Coulter back-handed home a rebound off a shot from Kobs midway through the second period to give Janesville a brief lead.
“We had a great third-line shift leading up to that third goal, and I thought things were kind of going to go our way,” Bluebirds coach John Mauermann said. “But then they took advantage of a third line/first line matchup.”
The Purple Knights tied the game at 10:04 of the second and then regained the lead on Clark’s third goal less than 90 seconds later.
Coulter’s power-play goal with just over a minute remaining left the teams tied at four after two.
Clark got his fourth goal on a breakaway just over three minutes into the third period. But Coulter answered with his fourth goal just 36 seconds later.
“I thought our supporting cast was a little stronger, and that was the difference,” Mauermann said. “Ben was great. But it was more than just Ben. There were guys stepping up. Our defensemen sometimes got the puck to the net at times, and sometimes it’s not about how hard the puck is going when it gets there, it’s just getting it there for an opportunity.”
Bluebirds goalie Owen Aldrich, a Janesville Craig senior, stopped 21 shots in earning the victory. That included two stops on Beloit breakaway opportunities and a big save or two with 15 seconds left in regulation.
Kobs finished with a goal and three assists for Janesville, which has won three straight games to get to 8-16 and gets a chance to play Cinderella against seventh-ranked Waukesha.
JANESVILLE 6, BELOIT 5 (OT)
Beloit 2 2 1 0—5
Janesville 2 2 1 1—6
B—Casper Clark, 2:48. B—Clark (Jack Cronin, Kyle Hanaman), 4:44. J—Nik Sitter, 5:21. J—Ben Coulter, 12:06.
J—Coulter (Kyler Kobs), 8:35. B—Cade Whalen (Hanaman), 10:04. B—Clark, 5:30. J—Coulter (Conor Joyce, Kobs), pp, 15:48.
B—Clark, 3:15. J—Coulter (Anthony Russotto, Kobs), 3:51.
J—Kobs (Coulter), 2:24.
Saves—Taven Santucci (B) 25, Owen Aldrich (J) 21.