Rhinelander High School boys' hockey coach M.J. Laggis knew Lakeland was a different hockey team than the one the Hodags played in the season opener. The T-Birds proved it Tuesday night.
Lakeland scored four times in the first period and cruised to a 7-2 victory over the Hodags in a Great Northern Conference contest at the Lakeland Ice Arena.
Rhinelander posted a 6-3 win over the T-Birds in the season opener, a non-conference game, back on Nov. 26. Lakeland has won 11 of 12 games since then as it tries to lock up the second seed for the upcoming Great Northern Conference tournament.
Laggis said the Hodags (5-9-0, 2-4-0-0 Great Northern) played right into Lakeland's hands as a lack of puck security led to numerous scoring chances for the T-Birds.
"We threw the puck around like crazy," he said. "The best way to describe it is we made a lot of blind, backhand passes early in the game. We mishandled a lot of pucks and left pucks in really bad areas where they just picked it up and had great scoring chances, and we didn't win races. Those three things really got us."
Tyler Gillich got things going with a goal 4:26 into the first period for Lakeland. Max Toijala scored on the power play at the 9:45 mark and Victor Masayesva scored his first of two goals at the 11:56 mark. Joe Beda made it 4-0 over the T-Birds on a short-handed goal at the 13:12 mark.
"In that first period we just gave up quality odd-man rushes against (goalie) Seth (Stafford)," Laggis said. "We did nothing to really help him out and, again just blind passes, soft plays on our backhand and not taking care of the puck. We left the puck in dangerous areas and they took full advantage of it - nice shots, back doors and some upper corners."
Rhinelander finally stopped the bleeding as Harlan Wojtusik scored his team-leading 17th goal on the power play at the 13:52 mark of the period, but Lakeland tacked on goals by Beda and Masayesva in the second period and sent the game into running time with a Kyle Schaub goal 34 seconds into the third period.
Conor Pequet scored short-handed for Rhinelander at the 12:46 mark of the third. With Lakeland extending its bench, Rhinelander outshot the T-Birds 13-4 in the third period to finish the night with a slight 29-27 advantage in shots.
Stafford left the game after surrendering Lakeland's fifth goal just 1:22 into the second period. He made only five saves in 10 chances. Garrett Kulhanek and Caleb Shefveland split time in goal the remainder of the game, making 15 saves between them.
"We got Garrett Kulhanek in the game and Garrett performed pretty well in the second period and into the third," Laggis said. "He gave up a couple and then Shefveland finished the game for about eight minutes and did a nice job."
Collin Guelcher recorded 27 stops for Lakeland in the win.
Rhinelander was penalized eight times in the contest and surrendered a pair of power play goals.
"We need to take some strong and serious measures in eliminating penalties and especially penalties that are of the nature of obstruction - hook, hold, not moving your feet, high hits. Stuff like that we've got to eliminate," Laggis said. "We've got to take some strong measures to curtail that and we're going to try to do that. I have a plan, and I guess that's between the team and me, but we've got to take some strong actions to limit penalties."
Though the Hodags currently sit fifth in the conference standings with six points, they must beat Antigo next Tuesday, and then get help from both Waupaca and Antigo to avoid traveling for the first round of the GNC tournament.
"We still have 10 games before the playoffs. We've just got to try to get better and overcome the things that are shooting us in the foot," Laggis said.
The Hodags are in Merrill this Friday and Saturday for the annual East/Merrill tournament, which Rhinelander has won each of the last two years. Rhinelander takes on Jeffers, Mich. in Friday night's semifinal game.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce