Rhinelander’s Jake Losch skates with the puck during the third period of a Great Northern Conference boys’ hockey game against Northland Pines at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Dec. 5. Losch scored a goal, his third of the season, but the Hodags fell to the Eagles, 12-2. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
12/7/2019 7:34:00 AM Hockey: No. 2 Northland Pines scores 7 in third, routs Hodags 12-2
For 34 minutes Thursday night, the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team put in a respectable outing against preseason Great Northern Conference favorite Northland Pines but, just like it did on a few occasions late last season, the bottom dropped out for the Hodags in the third period.
The Eagles scored seven times in the final frame - including four by senior Harmon Marien - and routed the Hodags 12-2 at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
Coming off a 12-2 victory Tuesday night at Chequamegon, the Hodags had the tables turned on them against a team ranked second in the preseason Wisconsin Prep Hockey Division 2 coaches' poll and considered by many as the odds-on favorite to be the team that represents the northeast sectional in the inaugural WIAA Division 2 state tournament.
"I'm not going to browbeat our kids, but we really did not play a good third period and I was very disappointed in the backcheck in the third period - just the defensive zone not playing with any grit or fire in that third period - especially late," coach M.J. Laggis said. "You have got to play through that. You've got to be resilient. It's a long season and, like I told our kids, we don't have a whole other line of kids sitting on that bench - a fourth or a fifth line or someone just waiting in the wings to take your job - so you have to look in the mirror and realize that you have to go out there every shift, bring it and be the best that you can be."
The Eagles (1-0-0, 1-0-0-0 Great Northern) dominated the first period, leading 3-0 after 17 minutes, but the Hodags played even with last year's GNC champs in the second and were still within striking distance, down 5-2, heading to the third. Marien extinguished any thoughts of a rally and an upset on a spurt early in the third period, scoring a pair of goals 18 seconds apart to balloon the lead to five.
"When you come out of that 5-2 you have an opportunity where if you get the next goal, it's a hockey game," Laggis said. "That's what we talked about in there, what to do to come out, get a goal and make it a two-goal game, but we didn't and they took control."
Marien tacked on a power play goal at the 6:10 mark and Northland Pines scored four more times after that - including three times in the final two minutes - with the outcome long since decided.
"I can't worry about what my neighbor does," Laggis said when asked about Pines scoring the three late goals with its top two lines. "I can't worry about someone scoring goal No. 12 with a minute left and their seniors (on the ice). That's their deal. My deal is we'll leave no stone unturned to try to get these guys to improve all year long."
Zach Mailette recorded a hat trick for the Eagles and added four assists. His third goal, a power play tally 19 seconds into the second period, gave Northland Pines a 4-0 lead.
Rhinelander answered with its best stretch of hockey of the night. Jake Losch recorded his third goal of the season at the 2:15 mark as he received the puck behind the net from Conor Pequet and made a wraparound move past goalie Brett Wilkins. Harlan Wojtusik pulled the Hodags within two on his eighth goal in three games - and fourth goal on the power play - at the 7:47 mark as he banged home a Pequet pass in the slot.
"Jake's goal happened because he forechecked hard, made a play and then he walked right out and there was a little vulnerable spot in he slid it home," Laggis said. "That was really a nice, effort goal. Then, on the power play, Harlan, we worked the puck and he just worked to the soft spot and beat them. That was really nice."
Any momentum the Hodags had was wiped away later in the period, however, when Wojtusik was called for a hooking penalty. Pines capitalized roughly 40 seconds later, on a goal by Riley McGee, to take a 5-2 lead. Northland Pines finished the night 4 of 6 on the power play.
"Against a team like that, if you penalties, you're going to have a long night. When you take penalties, they score goals," Laggis said.
The first period belonged to the Eagles as they outshot the Hodags 27-3 en route to a 3-0 lead. Mailette scored 4:52 into the contest and again on a 5-on-3 power play at 13:17. Third-line forward Jacob Wielhouwer scored at the 10:43 mark.
"I'm going to be honest in the first period once we found our legs after we gave up three, I think we battled pretty hard and I thought we play a pretty good second period minus the penalties," Laggis said.
Alex Sternhagen, Brady Snedden and Hunter Bill added goals for the Eagles in their late barrage.
Northland Pines outshot Rhinelander 62-22 in the contest. Seth Stafford made 43 saves in 51 chances for the Hodags, before skating off the ice immediately after conceding his eighth goal 6:10 into the third. Sophomore Garrett Kulhanek finished out the game for Rhinelander, making five saves on nine chances. Rhinelander (2-1-0, 0-1-0-0 Great Northern) travels to Ashwaubenon tonight for a 6:30 faceoff against the Jaguars.
"We've got to regroup for Saturday. That's all you can do," Laggis said.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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