Harlan Wojtusik take a shot during a boys’ hockey scrimmage between Rhinelander and East/Merrill at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Nov. 21. Wojtusik scored twice and recorded two assists for the Hodags in the scrimmage. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Conor Pequet fires a shot toward the goal during a boys’ hockey scrimmage between Rhinelander and East/Merrill at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Nov. 21. Pequet scored twice and recorded two assists for the Hodags in the scrimmage.
11/23/2019 7:31:00 AM Top line shines for Hodag hockey in scrimmage
Even without its points leader from a season ago, the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team was able to find plenty of ways to put the puck in the back of net in its preseason tune-up on Thursday.
Conor Pequet and Harlan Wojtusik each scored twice and the Hodags looked sharp, unofficially outscoring East/Merrill 8-1 a scrimmage at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
The scrimmage consisted of three 25-minute running-clock sessions of 5-on-5 hockey and concluded with each team getting 12 continuous minutes of power play.
Rhinelander scored three times in the first session.
"I thought there were some good things and that we were finishing (scoring chances)," coach M.J. Laggis said. "Coming into the season, us finishing in front of the net is something I was worried about, and I still am, but we finished some pucks off tonight."
Pequet and Wojtusik provided plenty of firepower even though their linemate from last year, Abe Laggis, has gone on to play junior hockey in Helena, Montana - taking his team-best 33 points with him. Pequet, who scored a team-leading 17 goals last year, and Wojtusik each finished with two goals and two assists in the scrimmage.
The two got the party started on a 2-on-1 breakaway midway through the first session as Wojtusik found Pequet at the right circle for a one-timer that went top shelf for a goal. Wojtusik scored seconds into the third 25-minute segment, taking the opening face-off down the ice for a score. Pequet went coast-to-coast for another score roughly a minute later.
The two juniors also made an impact in the special teams session. Wojtusik intercepted a pass at the Hodag blue line and went three-quarters of the length of the ice on a breakaway to score a short-handed goal halfway through East/Merrill's power play session. Both had assists in a crisp series of passes to Max Spaulding just seconds into Rhinelander's time on the power play.
"That line of Harlan Wojtusik and Conor Pequet, they're very skilled and they work well together," coach Laggis said.
The question entering the season is who will replace Abe Laggis on the front line with Pequet and Wojtusik? At least on Thursday night, the answer was senior Harrison Shinners, who had two goals and an assist last season. Shinners got into the scoring act late in the first segment poking home a shot at the top of the crease off a pass by Pequet. Rhinelander's second line, consisting of Spaulding, junior Brett Benes and freshman Leo Losch, scored the lone Rhinelander goal of the second session. Benes chipped a puck along the far boards for Spaulding, creating a 2-on-1 opportunity. Spaulding found Losch in front for the finish.
Junior Jake Losch skated with sophomores Joe Schneider and Cal Laggis on the third line.
"What I'm looking for is us to try to find a blend of three lines that can play together and we're really not quite there yet, that's for sure," coach Laggis said. "We have some guys that look good and some combinations we like, and then some things we don't like. We're just going to try to get the right mix together.
"I thought that some guys that were mostly JV-type guys (last year) really stepped up and played. One guy I thought really played both ways tonight was Brett Benes. He showed he can help us at the varsity level. And Joe Schneider played his guts out for us tonight."
Freshman Layne Roeser scored the other goal for Rhinelander, skating from the left point to the top of the circle before sniping a wrist shot to the top shelf. East-Merrill's lone goal came on a shot by a defenseman from the left point late in the second session.
Rhinelander controlled the scrimmage, unofficially outshooting the Blue Jacks 50-14. East/Merrill did not record a single shot on goal in the final special teams session. Rhinelander played all three of its goaltenders. Senior Seth Stafford stopped both shots he faced, sophomore Caleb Shefveland made four saves in five chances and sophomore Garrett Kulhanek stopped all seven shots he faced.
Roeser played with senior Danny Zuiker to form Rhinelander's top defensive tandem. Juniors JC Adams and Jared Arno were the second pair. Senior Konnor Kennedy and freshman Ben Brooks were Rhinelander's third defensive tandem.
"Defensively, we're very young, but I thought some of those guys stepped up and played very well considering," coach Laggis said.
If there was one rough patch for Rhinelander, it came during the second segment which featured a rash of penalties on both teams as the physicality of the scrimmage intensified.
"I thought the first part of that scrimmage we started to get real chippy, along with Merrill, and didn't keep our composure," coach Laggis said. "I thought the second part of it we did a much, much, much better job of it after we had a good talk about it."
Rhinelander opens the season Tuesday with a non-conference game against Great Northern Conference-rival Lakeland. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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