By Jim den Hollander
The Sauk Prairie Peewee ‘A’ Flyers were selected as the top seed for the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association (WAHA) 3A Peewee State Championship tournament in Ashland, WI this past weekend and went to work making that to be correct.
After moving to the winning side of the draw with a 10-0 shutout against Marshfield peewees Saturday morning, the team returned to the ice a few hours later and earned its spot in the championship game with a 9-5 edge against Black River Falls.
In the championship game Sunday afternoon, the Flyers doubled the Tomahawk Hatchets 6-3 to claim the championship plaque and banner.
The peewees set the table for its state championship with a 29-10-2 record including a 6-2 win against the RWD Peewee Cheavers in their Regional test Feb. 5 to officially qualify for the state event.
Following that, the locals dropped its next three before rebounding from an 8-2 loss against Onalaska with an 8-0 win against the same team on the same day. The Flyers rolled from there with a 6-2-1 run to wrap up the season. Clearly the team was firing on all cylinders heading to Ashland.
“We really felt good about how we were playing last weekend heading into the tournament,” said Coach Dave Jolicoeur in an email interview. “The kids were loose and having fun. We were in a really good spot.”
Flyers 10 Blades 0
The Flyers opened tournament play with a 10-0 win against the Marshfield peewee Blades, a team they had not faced this season.
The game was all but over by the time the first period buzzer sounded as the Flyers pounded the Blades’ goal with eighth unanswered tallies. Single goals in the second and third wrapped it up.
Leading the scoring parade was hat tricks for both Michael Joliceour and Natalee Gesicki. Brayton Bahe chipped in a goal and three assists, Braden Schlough and Davis Lombard both adding a goal and assist. The other goal came from Reid Knoll and Kirk Alexander had a pair of set ups.
The opening round of games eliminated half the field from a shot at the state title and moved the Flyers along with Black River Falls, Somerset and Tomahawk to the Championship semis.
While the team had not faced Marshfield before, Jolicoeur said he and his players were confident heading into the contest.
“We didn’t have any butterflies going into that game. For the core of the 2010’s on this team, it was their third trip to State so they knew what it was all about.
“We also got a look at Marshfield at the Altoona tournament (Jan. 28-29), so even though we hadn’t played the, we got to see them in action before the State Tournament. Coming out strong against them and scoring so early n the first period let us know our kids were ready to make a run at this thing.”
Flyers 9 Tigers 5
Saturday night against the Black River Falls Tigers, the Flyers were a facing a team it defeated 7-5 and 12-6 in exhibition games at Sauk Prairie Area Recreation Center (SPARC) on Dec. 3, then 9-5 and 5-3 in Black River Falls Jan. 15.
Once again the team found its offense early, grabbing a 3-0 first period lead. Both teams added a pair in the middle frame and the Flyers outlasted the Tigers in a wild third period with a 4-3 edge to make the 9-5 final.
Logan Harrington set the pace in this one scoring two and adding three helpers for the Flyers. Jolicoeur and Bahe both scored two more, Bahe adding an assist. Kirk, Lombard and Knoll had the other goals with assists for Haakon Hoeltke, Schlough and Gesicki.
Jolicoeur said despite the success againt BRF in earlier matches, the team wasn’t overconfident heading into the game it needed to win to reach the state championship match.
“We were feeling good, but two of our four previous games against Black River Falls were two-goal games with the last of those including an empty netter,” said Jolicoeur. “It’s tough to beat a good team like that five times in a season. They’ve got some talented skaters, especially Brooke Lakowske. She’s tough, if not impossible to contain.”
That win put the Flyers three periods away from a state championship game, going up against the Tomahawk Hatchets, also 2-0 with an 8-2 win against Beaver Dam and a 6-3 doubling of Somerset.
The Flyers previously played the Hatchets at a tournament in Waupaca Jan. 7-8 collecting 8-3 and 8-1 wins.
Flyers 6 Hatchets 3
Tomahawks flipped the script a bit on the Flyers scoring the first pair and carrying a 2-0 cushion to the middle period. Teams were even at 2-2 heading to the third and a 4-1 margin through the final period put it away for the Flyers.
Jolicoeur said the Tomahawk team has bolstered with the addition of defenseman Jake Albert, a member of the 2010 Team Wisconsin team who is double rostered and played with the bantam squad through most of the season.
“He played with the Tomahawk bantam team that won state (the previous weekend,” said the coach. “We knew he’d be a challenge and he factored in an all three of their goals.
“We came out nervous and tight for the championship game and found ourselves down 2-0 after a period. We just told the kids to loosen up and get back to playing hockey. They were scoring nine goals a game (average) coming into the championship game and we knew the goals were going to come.
“By the end of the second period we tied it and never trailed again.”
Bahe scored the goal that would stand up as the state championship winner 8:19 into the period, his second of the contest and Jolicoeur scored his first of a pair seconds later to put his team in cruise control.
“Going up 4-3 and then scoring our fifth 16 seconds later probably took a bit of wind out of their sails,” said Jolicoeur. “Then, about two minues later, we got the sixth which pretty much put a comeback out of reach.”
Kirk and Harrington scored the other goals, Schlough setting up a pair and other assists for Kirk, Jolicoeur, Gesicki and Knoll.
In goal, Benjamin Freeman put in the work, kicking out 26 of 29 shots and picking up the win in all three games.
Coach Jolicoeur is of course pleased with the efforts of his team throughout the season and said as early as the beginning of the season the team was destined for greatness.
“We knew going in that it could be a special year,” said the Coach. Two years ago, the core of this team went into the 2021 State Tournament looking pretty good. We then lost a heartbreaker first game to Somerset 5-4. That was a game we had in hand until we had some emotional and mental breakdowns that began a parade to the penalty box.
“Give credit to the kids though. They learned from that experience and even being down 2-0 after the first to Tomahawk, they stayed positive and didn’t have those types of breakdowns. They were able to channelize that energy, stay mentally tough and go out and battle their way back into the game.
“That growth and maturity for this team was really a neat thing to experience and a great life lesson for these kids.”
After celebrating at the rink, the Flyers players and families paid a price, with what Coach Jolicoeur called “A white-knuckle driving experience,” returning home through a snowstorm. Plans for a team celebration are currently in the works.
“Winning a State Championship is a special and rare occasion, so we want to make sure we acknowledge it.”
Congrats from Saukhockey.info to all team players, Coach Dave Jolicoeur, Assistant Coaches Michael Freeman, Jeffrey Harrington and Brian Schlough and Team Manager Ryan Kirk.