The Janesville Bluebirds have put in the work, and they’re starting to reap the rewards.
After a 1-11 start to the high school boys hockey season, the city’s co-op team had won four of its last six games heading into Thursday’s Senior Night against Verona.
There, the Bluebirds hung tough with the Big Eight Conference’s first-place team. But it was Verona, behind two goals apiece from Riley Frieburg and Brockton Baker, that skated away with a 4-1 victory at the Janesville Ice Arena.
Verona improved to 17-3-2 overall and 12-1 in league play. Janesville is 5-14 and 4-6.
“We put ourselves in position in the third period to be competitive in the game and maybe even win it. We had a couple chances and could have made it 3-2, and then who knows,” Janesville coach John Mauermann said. “That’s what is exciting.”
In the end, a pair of early goals by Verona was enough to get the job done. Frieburg scored just 2:14 into the game, and Baker got his first goal less than five minutes later to put the Bluebirds on their heels.
Janesville had a chance to cut its deficit in half seven minutes into the second period, but Verona goalie Ethan Maurisak stopped a shot and a rebound attempt against the then-shorthanded Bluebirds. Janesville finished with just 13 shots on goal, but more than half were on quality chances.
“Are we going to get 30 shots against them? No,” Mauermann said. “But we had enough to make it a game.”
Frieburg squirted his second goal through traffic at 12:24 of the second to make it 3-0.
Janesville got a golden opportunity early in the third when the Wildcats were whistled for a five-minute major penalty and then took another two-minute minor four minutes later that gave the Bluebirds a brief five-on-three advantage.
The city team cashed in when Craig junior Ben Coulter redirected a shot by Hayden Funk to make it 3-1.
“We were trying to play with as much energy as we could, and that was all we could do at that time just to get one,” Mauermann said. “But all of the sudden, we’re back in it.”
But the Bluebirds couldn’t generate much offense in the final nine minutes, and Verona added insurance with a breakaway goal with 97 seconds remaining.
Craig senior Owen Aldrich was very good in the net for the Bluebirds, stopping 27 shots and keeping his team in the game.
“The whole thing is trying to keep getting better, and Owen has continued to improve throughout the season, and Dylan McGuire—a new defenseman for us—stepped up and had a nice game,” Mauermann said. “We’ll leave here not feeling too bad about ourselves.
“We’ve always liked the attitude of this group. ... They come to work, and that’s what’s been fun. Through the ups and downs of this season, we continue to move ahead.”
Janesville plays at Sun Prairie on Saturday night before hosting a nonconference makeup game against Kenosha at 6 p.m. Monday.
VERONA 4, JANESVILLE 1
Verona 2 1 1—4
Janesville 0 0 1—1
V—Riley Frieburg (Leo Renlund), 2:14. V—Brockton Baker (Ty Curtis).
V—Frieburg (Curtis, Baker).
J—Ben Coulter (Hayden Funk, Nik Sitter), pp, 7:57. V—Baker (Graham Sticha), 15:23.
Saves—Ethan Maurisak (V) 12, Owen Aldrich (J) 27.