Rhinelander’s Jake Losch tips a shot past East/Merrill goalie Jake Furrer for a goal during the first period of a high school boys’ hockey game at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Feb. 13. Losch scored twice in the Hodags’ 5-1 victory over the Bluejacks. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Max Spaulding battles East/Merrill’s Blake Raddatz for the puck in the corner during the second period of a high school boys’ hockey game at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Feb. 13.
2/15/2020 7:30:00 AM Hodag hockey picks up win in home finale
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team had a bright spot and hit a milestone Thursday night in what has been an up-and-down regular season.
Jake Losch scored twice for the Hodags, and Rhinelander outshot East/Merrill 44-11, in a 5-1 victory at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
It was senior night for the Hodags in their final home game of the 2019-20 season and the team picked up its 10th victory of the season. All four seniors who were able to start did so - Harrison Shinners missed his third straight game in concussion protocol for the Hodags - as the class picked up its 49th victory over the last four seasons.
"It was really nice to get those seniors as much ice as we possibly could," coach M.J. Laggis said. "I've been in those games where it's your last home game and you're in a one-goal game and you're putting your absolute best out there trying to score and it might be a senior sitting the last three minutes. That's no fun. I was really relieved to have the seniors in there and playing. I'm proud that they won it, played with class and had a good finish in their own building.
"I can't say enough about the seniors hanging in there. We've battled injury and sickness and I'm proud of them."
Rhinelander took control with three goals in the first period and never looked back. Jake Losch got the scoring started 3:59 into the contest off an assist from Cal Laggis. Harlan Wojtusik picked up his 31st goal of the season, scoring on the power play at 11:06 and Max Spaulding scored his 10th of the season 90 seconds later to give Rhinelander a 3-0 advantage.
Spaulding, a senior, made a big play that indirectly led to Rhinelander's second goal. He blocked a shot by Jack Piskula while on the penalty kill which created a one-on-one breakaway chance going the other way. Piskula took down Spaulding to deny the breakaway and was sent to the penalty box for interference. Wojtusik scored with eight seconds remaining on the ensuing power play off a series of passes from Conor Pequet and Joe Schneider.
"We talk non-stop about every time you block a shot, it typically leads to something good on the other end and that was a case and point," coach Laggis said.
Rhinelander dominated the second period, holding the Bluejacks without a shot until the last couple of minutes of the frame, but had only one goal to show for their efforts as Jake Losch deposited a loose puck on a scrum in front of the East/Merrill net at the 6:55 mark to record his 10th goal of the season.
Cal Laggis made it 5-0 in favor of the Hodags with a goal 9:11 into the third period.
The Hodags' second line of Jake Losch, Leo Losch and Cal Laggis combined for five points on the night while freshman defenseman Layne Roeser tacked on a couple of assists with the second line on the ice.
"We've got a good, young core right there and I would love to see Jake, Leo and Cal as a line next year, all year," coach Laggis said. "Those guys are really developing a chemistry. Leo and Cal both have got to get stronger, particularly Cal. Their speed has improved unbelievably and Jake is the anchor of that line and makes a lot fo stuff happen. He had a really good night."
East/Merrill broke up the shutout bid as Jared Heller finished a 3-on-2 breakaway with 5:39 to play. Senior Seth Stafford made 10 saves in the win for Rhinelander.
"For Seth Stafford to come out and get a win in his home building to end the year, you can't end it any better than that. I'm happy for that and now he has a great opportunity to lead us into the playoffs," M.J. Laggis said.
Rhinelander closes the regular season today against Tomahawk in the seventh-place game of the Great Northern Conference tournament at the Eagle River Sports Arena. For the Hodags, who have already beaten the Hatchets twice this season, it's an opportunity to enter next Thursday's WIAA regional final game at Lakeland with some momentum and a two-game winning streak.
"We've played them twice, we've beaten them twice. We'll see if we come back tomorrow focused, have a good practice like we need to and come in Saturday and take care of business," coach Laggis said. "Tonight was our 10th win. We have a chance to get another one and go into the playoffs. Someone's going to be hot in the playoffs and what I've been telling our guys is why not us."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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