By Jim den Hollander
The Badger Lightning has shown – in stretches – a vast improvement in both offensive and defensive play this season but continue to struggle to find the elusive ‘W’s.
The past three games saw the team dropping a 4-2 decision on home ice against the Warbirds from Fond du Lac on Jan. 19, then hitting the road for a disappointing 3-2 loss against the Brookfield Glacier a team it defeated at Pierce Park Pavilion earlier this season.
Finally, just 24 hours after the opening round WIAA Sectional playoff seeds were announced, the Lightning faced off against the Onalaska Hilltoppers who they will meet on the road Thursday (Feb. 4) in its opening round playoff contest.
Warbirds 4 @ Badger Lightning 2
Once again, the primary damage was done in the opening period as the Warbirds scored twice in 56 seconds near the middle of the period to carry a 2-0 lead into the middle frame. In their earlier meeting a few weeks prior, the Warbirds scored five unanswered first period goals, then held on for a 5-2 win.
The other two Warbirds goals came on clean ice inside of the opening minutes of the second and then third periods.
Freshman goaltender Alyssa Gada played a key role in keeping the Lightning close facing 37 shots in the first two periods and despite an 18-6 edge in the second, the Lightning seemed to grab some momentum in the late minutes, following a goal by sophomore Bella Bowden about halfway through the period.
Junior Signe Begalske and sophomore Kayla Capener assisted on the goal. The Lightning still trailed by a pair entering the third and any thoughts of a comeback were stifled by another early goal for the Warbirds.
Bowden’s second, with Begalske and Capener on the set ups again, came early enough to give the Lightning a chance and they threw all they had at the Warbirds keeper, outshooting its guest 14-11 down the stretch. However, Gada was still the busiest player on the ice, stopping 44 of 48 Warbirds’ shots.
Badger Lightning 2 @ Brookfield Glacier 3
The middle game of the stretch saw the Badgers dominant on the shot clock, but unable to convert that into goals.
Both teams fired seven shots in the opening period and Glacier fired the lone goal of the frame. Despite a massive 18-3 advantage on the shot clock, in the middle period, the whole got a bit deeper for the Lightning with the host Glacier again notching the only goal of the frame.
The door finally got pushed open in the final period for the Lightning who needed just 37 seconds to tie the contest with goals from Capener and Bowden. Both picked up an assist and Mallory Ruhland also helped.
The Glacier snatched the win away and broke Lightning hearts with a goal jut 66 seconds from the final buzzer.
Gada kicked out another 17 shots in the contest while the Lightning held a 37-20 edge overall.
Onalaska Hilltoppers 4 @ Badger Lightning 1
The Hilltoppers doubled the Lightning in shots 44-22 and held a double-digit to single-digit edge in each period, but the game seemed more even, in the second and third periods. The Lightning at times had the Hilltoppers locked inside their blueline for long stretches but didn’t get many shots on goal out of it.
All but one of the goals came in the opening period, Capener slamming on e home from he slot area with assists for Begalske and junior Carson Blosenski.
The Lightning looked to have something good happen early in the third to get back into it and instead the Hilltoppers notched the game’s final goal in the opening 30 seconds to put a stranglehold on the win.
The loss to Onalaska dropped the Lightning to 2-10 on the season so far.
The Lightning prepares for the much more important rematch with the Hilltoppers at the Omni Center in Onalaska Thursday, with a round-robin event at Pierce Park Saturday (Jan. 30) with games against Medford Mustangs (0-9) who they have not played yet this season at 10 .a.m. and against Northern Edge from Rhinelander at 4 p.m. In an earlier meeting at Rhinelander in December, the host Edge held on for a 3-2 with Bella Bowden out of the Lightning lineup.
On Tuesday, the Lightning will travel to Black River Falls, facing off in its final regular season game against the host Tigers at Milt Lunda Memorial Arena at 7 p.m. That game can be seen on LiveBarn.