Special teams bit the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team Tuesday night in the Great Northern Conference tournament opener.
The Hodags allowed three power play goals, and gave up a short-handed goal, as they lost 7-5 at Mosinee.
The Indians, the third seed in the GNC bracket after going 5-2-0 in conference round robin play, got a hat trick from Tobias Holka and scored four unanswered goals between the second and third periods to break open what was a 3-3 game.
"They put the dagger into us one, two, three times on the power play and then picked up a short-hander. What a difference maker that was for them tonight," Rhinelander coach M.J. Laggis said on a night that saw both teams take seven penalties for 14 minutes. "Penalties are just our Achilles (heel). If we have one of those games where we take three penalties throughout the game, we give ourselves a chance. When we get up in that four, five, six penalties, we're too thin to kill them and have anything left. They made us pay tonight. We took some foolish penalties and they made us pay."
Mosinee's deciding push started on special teams following a Harlan Wojtusik interference penalty 40 seconds into the second period. Jake Losch scored a short-handed goal to tie the game at 3 for Rhinelander, but Trey Fitzgerald scored on the power play 38 seconds later and Mosinee kicked it into high gear from there.
Holka and Fitzgerald did all the damage during the decisive stretch. Holka gave the Indians a 5-3 lead at the 6:43 mark. Fitzgerald scored on the power play exactly six minutes later and Holka score again 18 seconds into the third to put Mosinee up 7-3.
"We didn't take care of the puck very well," Laggis said. "We had and extraordinary amount of turnovers at the top of our circles out of the zone and didn't take care of the puck very well. Mosinee's fast. They're aggressive and, when you turn the puck over to them, they make you pay."
Wojtusik scored twice for the Hodags, giving him 28 goals on the season. He got the scoring started at the 2:38 mark of the opening period, but Mosinee answered with a Ben Lardinois goal on the power play at 4:39 to tie the game. Joe Schneider scored his 10th goal of the season moments later to put Rhinelander ahead 2-1, but Holka scored short-handed at 9:35 and Ethan Denesha added a goal at the 13:33 mark to give Mosinee a 3-2 lead after one period.
Rhinelander tried to mount a comeback in the third. Wojtusik scored at the 1:56 mark and Conor Pequet added a goal with 2:54 remaining to cut the lead to two. Holka took a tripping penalty for Mosinee with 2:02 remaining, but Rhinelander was unable to score on the power play.
The Hodags outshot Mosinee 34-26 but came out on the short end of the scoreboard. Seth Stafford started, but made only nine saves in 14 chances before being relieved by Garrett Kulhanek midway through the second period. Kulhanek, a sophomore, stopped 10 of the 12 shots he faced.
Rhinelander can finish no better than fifth in the GNC tournament and will host Medford in a consolation game next Tuesday at the RIA. The seventh-seeded Raiders lost at Lakeland 4-1 Tuesday night.
First, the Hodags will take on Kingsford, Mich. tonight in a non-conference contest. Originally scheduled to be played at Kingsford, the venue was switched this week to the RIA. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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