Rhinelander and Mosinee battle for a puck in front of the Rhinelander net during the third period of a Great Northern Conference boys’ hockey game at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Friday, Feb. 9. Mosinee scored three goals in the third period to defeat Rhinelander 4-3. The same two teams will meet tonight in a WIAA regional semifinal playoff game in Rhinelander. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
2/13/2018 7:32:00 AM Mosinee downs Hodag hockey in playoff prelude
As the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team prepares for its first home playoff game in nine years, it can only hope that Friday's performance in the third period was a blip on a radar rather than a harbinger of things to come.
Mosinee scored three times in a 3 1/2-minute span in the third period to rally past the Hodags 4-3 in the regular season finale at the Rhinelander Ice Arena. The same two teams will play again tonight in Rhinelander in a WIAA regional semifinal.
The Hodags set the tone early in Friday's game, posting a pair of first-period goals, but Mosinee stole momentum with a goal in the final minute of the first period and controlled long portions of the second and third.
Two Trey Fitzgerald goals in the third period, and another credited to Gunner Colbert that went in off a Hodag skate, gave Mosinee the lead and only its fourth win of the season.
"We got outworked," RHS boys' hockey coach M.J. Laggis said. "We really did and I'm disappointed about that. I realized we played back-to-back nights, but so did they and we just didn't do what it took."
The Hodags got back within a goal with 3:10 to play on a Freddy Wisner tally, but were unable to tie the game despite having goalie Seth Stafford pulled for the final 2:45 of the contest and a late fracas that gave the Hodags a 6-on-4 power play.
"We did generate chances for sure," Laggis said of the late flurry. "Part of it was them blocking shots. Part of it was us missing the net. The third element was us not being able to find a rebound."
Wisner gave the Hodags the lead just 1:38 into the contest with a shot off a won offensive zone faceoff by Abe Laggis. Bridger Flory got a rebound at the 12:10 mark and it appeared the Hodags were well on their way to their ninth win in 10 games, up 2-0.
But Mosinee's top line of Fitzgerald, Max Beste and Keign Charneski - which had combined for 40 goals on the season entering the game - did damage in the contest, combining for six of Mosinee's nine points.
Fitzgerald threw a puck in front of the net in the final minute of the first period, leading to a mad scramble in front of Stafford, who stopped two Beste point-blank chances but couldn't stop Charneski on a third rebound attempt.
"Giving up a goal in the last minute of a period is just absolutely a terrible things to do, momentum-wise and we did it. What's really disappointing is we did it with our sticks at our waist and the puck bouncing around," coach Laggis said.
After a scoreless second, Fitzgerald tied it for Mosinee with 9:16 renaming, and two seconds left on a Mosinee power play, when he got on the back post for a Grant Lindell centering pass.
Mosinee took the lead 30 seconds later on a puck that skid through the crease deflected off Rhinelander forward Hunter Hicks' skate and into the Hodag net.
"That one goal we gave up was just crazy," Laggis said. "Hunter was trying to make a play, but that's how it went tonight."
Fitzgerald doubled the lead at the 11:03 mark as he stole the puck near the blue line and skated in on a breakaway for a short-handed goal.
The game certainly had a playoff feel to it as both teams were penalized six times for 12 minutes, including a scrum in front of the net with 31 seconds left in which three roughing penalties were assessed, giving Rhinelander a late power play chance.
"We took foolish penalties and we couldn't get out of a kill very well," M.J. Laggis said. "We took bad penalties tonight, penalties away from the puck, penalties with our mouth, just things that we absolutely can't do and win hockey games."
A win on Friday would have moved Rhinelander into a tie for third in the final GNC standings. Instead, the Hodags finished in a fourth-place tie in the conference with Lakeland and enter tonight's playoff at the RIA potentially as home underdogs.
"It's got to make these guys feel that we've got to come out and play better hockey. It's got to be a wake up," M.J. Laggis said. "We've played good hockey in the last nine games with a lot of wins, but we didn't get it done tonight. There's a great lesson there. On any given night, if you don't show up, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you're not going to get it done and we didn't tonight."
Tonight's faceoff is set for 7 p.m. The winner will move on to face Northland Pines Thursday in the regional finals.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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