By Jim den Hollander
Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds begin the 2020-21 WIAA varsity hockey tournament tonight (Feb. 2, 2021) with a chance to erase a tough memory from last season.
Thunderbirds wrapped up its regular season with a spirited albeit unsuccessful come from behind effort against Marshfield that showed what the team is capable of.
Down 4-0 early in the second period at Pierce Park Pavilion to the visiting Marshfield Tigers, the Thunderbirds began a long uphill slog back into the contest before ultimately falling 7-6 in overtime.
Earlier games saw the Thunderbirds capture a 5-2 win against the Janesville Bluebirds at Pierce Park Pavilion Jan. 21 before dropping a 7-3 decision two nights later to the Onalaska Hilltoppers, also on home ice.
Janesville Bluebirds 2 @ Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds 5
Teams played through two periods without a goal, but made up for that in a wild seven-goal third period.
Bluebirds hit the scoreboard first 4:13 into the final period but Campbell Koseor evened the score 40 seconds later from Oliver Scanlan and Gabe Fitzwilliams.
Luke Schweda gave the Thunderbirds its first lead from Alex Rietmann and Kyle Poole with 10:01 to play and goals by Fitzwilliams and Peyton Sloan 25-seconds apart clinched it near the halfway mark of the period. Assist on those went to Scanlan, Koseor, Schweda and Carson Zick.
Fitzwilliams fired a secod with 87 seconds to play, from Scanlan and Rietmann and after opening the scoring, the Bluebirds finished it off with 31 seconds to go.
Andrew Schaetzl collected a 28-save win in goal for the T-Birds who outshot the Bluebirds 33-30.
Onalaska Hilltoppers 7 @ Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds 3
The Thunderbirds stayed with the Hilltoppers through the opening 17 minutes and led 1-0 after a late opening period goal scored by Schweda from Koseor and Luna Larson.
After an early second period goal for the Hilltoppers, Koseor had the Thunderbirds up again, from Scanlan and Larson.
The rest of the middle period belonged to the Hilltoppers who fired 22 shots at Schaetzl and grabbed a 4-2 lead by the start of the third.
A 3-1 margin down the stretch carried the Hilltoppers to the win, Larson collecting his third point of the night with an unassisted goal to break up a stretch of six Hilltoppers goals.
Schaetzl faced 46 Onalaska shots while the Thunderbirds tested the visiting goaltender with 27.
Marshfield Tigers 7 @ Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds 6 (ot)
Ultimately it was another seven goals against and another loss to end the regular season, but the Thunderbirds showed the kind of heart and resiliency that could carry it to a positive start to the post season. Short version – This team doesn’t quit.
A crazy game saw teams combine for more than 100 shots on goal including 16 in a wild overtime period that ended with 2:36 to spare.
Tigers held a 16-10 edge on the shot clock through a period but more importantly built a 3-0 margin on the scoreboard. Things were just getting started though.
Tigers added another and when Fitzwilliams finally found an opening six minutes into the period, from Koseor and Scanlan, the Tigers quickly responded, restoring its four-goal cushion 45 seconds later.
Larson collected an unassisted goal just over a minute later and Koseor cut the gap to a pair in the final minute of the period from Fitzwilliams and Zick.
An unassisted Zick goal had the Thunderbirds within a shot and Fitzwilliams’ second of the contest tied the game 5:41 into the final period with help from Kosero.
Larson’s second gave the Tbirds its first and only lead of the contest with 2:35 to play, from Fitzwilliams and Zick but a shorthanded goal just seven seconds from the final buzzer robbed the Thunderbirds of a big celebration.
Tigers held a 21-14 edge in shots in a back and forth third period but Thunderbirds held a 9-7 margin in the extra frame.
Burke Schweda and Schaetzl shared the work in goal, combining to face 58 shots on the night while the Thunderbirds triggered a season high 43 the other way.
Overall – 7-11
Regional Final vs. Sun Prairie Cardinals
The Thunderbirds have had had some drastic highs and lows this season, but if inspired as it clearly was in the second half of the game against Marshfield, the team will not be outworked.
A blue-collar squad, the Thunderbirds are probably best suited for a close physical type contest, but again, the team showed it can go wide open with anyone as well.
The Cardinals sat our most of the regular season – at least as far as WIAA competition goes. There are four games listed on its official 2020-21 schedule, all played in the final week of the season and all losses.
Last season, the Thunderbirds played host to an opening round contest as well and had difficulty finding the mesh in a 3-1 loss to Madison Memorial. That shouldn’t be a problem tonight. The Thunderbirds were shutout twice this season, but both of those were in the first half of December and the Thunderbirds have collected 17 goals in its last four games.
Winner of this contest moves on to play top seeded Madison Edgewood on Thursday, but a nice perk for the Thunderbirds is that game is also scheduled to be played at Pierce Park Pavilion.