Rhinelander High School boys’ hockey players, from left to right, Leo Losch, JC Adams, Harlan Wojtusik and Layne Roeser celebrate a power play goal by Wojtusik during the first period of a non-conference game against Lakeland at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Tuesday, Nov. 26. The Hodags scored four power play goals in a 6-3 win over the Thunderbirds. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
11/30/2019 7:30:00 AM The power of four Hodags score four power play goals in season-opening win against Lakeland
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team excelled on the power play a season ago. If Tuesday night's opener is any indication, the Hodags will be dangerous once again this year with the man advantage.
Rhinelander scored four times on the power play, which proved to be enough as the Hodags outlasted Lakeland 6-3 in a non-conference contest at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
The T-Birds (1-1-0, 0-0-0-0 Great Northern) outshot the Hodags (1-0-0, 0-0-0-0 Great Northern) 32-26, but could not stay out of the penalty box. Lakeland committed nine penalties for 29 minutes on the night and the Hodags took full advantage.
Rhinelander converted nearly 30% of its power play chances last year and was better than that on Tuesday, going 4 for 7 with the man advantage. The only time Rhinelander did not score up a man was when it took itself off the power play due to a penalty.
"It's early. We have a long way to go, but that was a good start to our power play for sure," coach M.J. Laggis said. "Give credit to those guys. They moved the puck pretty darn well for late November."
Rhinelander's top power play unit of Conor Pequet, Jake Losch, Max Spaulding, Harlan Wojtusik and Joe Schneider accounted for all four power play goals as the Hodags took a 4-2 lead after two periods.
"We're starting to move the puck and do some good things," Laggis said. "We did well on the power play. We've been working pretty hard on it as of late but, the bottom line is we've got to get a lot better. We've got to get two units together so we can really come at the with both units."
The power play bailed out the Hodags when Lakeland appeared to be gathering momentum. Unanswered goals early in the second period by Dylan Wayland and Victor Masayesva trimmed Rhinelander's lead to one, but the Hodags caught a break when River Nicklaus took Jake Losch to the boards and drew a hooking penalty late in the second period. Rhinelander capitalized 31 seconds later as Wojtusik took a shot from the slot that hit off the right post but sat right at the edge of the crease for Spaulding to deposit into the net on a put back.
Freshman Leo Losch scored his first varsity goal 2:48 into the third to give Rhinelander some breathing room and the Hodags put the game on ice with a Pequet goal with 1:35 remaining.
The Hodags are looking to replace roughly 35 goals worth of production from last season after graduating its entire second line of Freddy Wisner, Bridger Flory and Hunter Hicks, as well as losing Abe Laggis to junior hockey in Helena, Montana. Both Leo Losch and Schneider scored their first varsity goals in the contest. Schneider's came on a rebound 11:16 into the first period that gave Rhinelander a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
"Joe Schneider really crashed the net hard on that power play goal that he scored. It was a big one," coach Laggis said. "He just crashed hard and buried. On the other one, Leo Losch out there, really nice shift. Joe Schneider gave a pass to Cal (Laggis) and then Cal went behind the net and dished it to Leo, and Leo buried it. Those guys were hugging in the locker room there, pretty excited about it."
Junior Harlan Wojtusik scored twice for Rhinelander. He got things started with a power play goal 9:29 into the opening period and scored again just 38 seconds into the second to put Rhinelander ahead 3-0.
"Harlan Wojtusik, I can't say enough about him. He had a big night and he's got a big set of skates he's got to skate in all year long. He's got to be a big man for us and tonight he answered big," Laggis said.
Rhinelander dominated the opening 12 minutes of the game, outshooting Lakeland 13-1, but momentum changed after Wojtusik was called for interference on an open ice check. Lakeland had a flurry of activity late in the first period, but was unable to beat goalie Seth Stafford. The senior, a four-year starter, recorded 29 saves in the win for Rhinelander, which was playing without its top defenseman Danny Zuiker due to injury.
"We're awfully young on the defensive side of the puck," Laggis said. "Seth Stafford held us in there, made some big saves or they could have scored more."
Max Toijala tacked on a 5-on-3 power play goal for Lakeland with less than a minute to play to round out the scoring.
Tuesday's game, thought it did not count in the GNC standings, epitomized the hard-fought, physical nature of the rivalry between Rhinelander and Lakeland. The game featured 16 penalties for 43 minute, including a major boarding penalty on Wayland for Lakeland, and a 10-minute misconduct penalty on Lakeland's Tyler Gillich.
"It's such an overly-emotional situation when we play them," Laggis said. "My goal is to calm it down, play hockey and not get caught up in anything else - keep your mouth closed between faceoffs and keep your elbow and sticks downs. We're far from perfect, but we're getting better at it, I believe."
The teams will meet again Jan. 14 in Minocqua.
The Hodags are back in action this coming Tuesday as they travel to Park Falls to take on the Chequamegon co-op. Laggis said, the start to the season was positive and the team has to prepare of the highs and lows that with inevitably occur throughout the season.
"We're just kind of built that way as a team so we've just got to keep getting better," he said. "The goal is to keep getting better week in and week out. That's what we strive for."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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