Rhinelander’s Harlan Wojtusik handles the puck during a GNC tournament game against Tomahawk in Eagle River Saturday, Feb. 15. Wojtusik scored twice in the Hodags’ 6-0 victory and was named a second-team all-conference forward later Saturday. (Brett LaBore/Lakeland Times)
2/18/2020 7:32:00 AM Hodag hockey beats Tomahawk 6-0 to end regular season
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team closed the regular season on a positive note Saturday.
Jake Losch and Harlan Wojtusik each scored twice as the Hodags cruised to a 6-0 victory over Tomahawk in the seventh-place game of the Great Northern Conference hockey tournament in Eagle River.
For Rhinelander, it was its second straight victory, as it finished the regular season with back-to-back wins and an 11-13-0 record.
"It was nice to get a couple wins in a row and now we've got to take a day off and really put a focus on for what we need to do against Lakeland on Thursday," coach M.J. Laggis said alluding to the Hodags' upcoming contest to open the WIAA tournament.
Rhinelander scored three times in each of the first two periods as it outshot Tomahawk 51-11 in the contest.
Conor Pequet got things started with a short-handed goal 2:13 into the contest. Jake Losch scored at the 6:10 mark and Wojtusik scored at 11:48 to make it 3-0 Rhinelander after a period.
Cal Laggis scored unassisted 4:04 into the second and the Hodags tacked on two more goals from Wojtusik and Losch late in the second to put the game out of reach.
"Harlan Wojtusik and Conor, they played really well and had some nice opportunities," coach Laggis said. "Max Spaulding was with them today and that's a really good line. They did a really nice job. In particular today Jake Losch and Leo and Cal really burned. They played really hard. Jake Losch had two goals, Cal had one and Leo was in the middle of all of it. I thought that line gave us some really good jump today. I'm really happy with how they played."
Seth Stafford started in goal and stopped all four shots he faced over the first two periods. Caleb Shefveland entered the net to begin the third period and made seven saves.
With the win and Medford's 1-0 loss to Antigo in the fifth-place game of the conference tournament, Rhinelander finished tied with the Raiders for sixth place in the final conference standings.
Saturday's win was the 50th victory for the program over the last four years, one of the most successful stretches for the Hodags in Laggis' two-plus decades at the helm.
"Sometimes you lose sight of it when you're in a rough stretch, you've got injuries, you've got stuff going on and you feel like you're not quite the team you were the last couple years, but I think we rebounded well this week after Tuesday," Laggis said. "You forget, from where we were 8-9 years ago, we're a lot further. Those seniors, to get 50 wins, that's really, really cool and I'm proud of them."
The GNC announced its 2019-20 all-conference boys' hockey team on the ice in Eagle River Saturday before the conference tournament championship game.
Rhinelander had two players earn all-conference honors. Wojtusik was a second-team forward and Danny Zuiker received honorable mention as a defenseman.
With two more goals Saturday, Wojtusik finished the regular season with 33 tallies, second in the conference behind only GNC player of the year Max Toijala of Lakeland.
"I'm really happy for Harlan. I thought he could have very easily been first team, but he got second team and I was pleased with that," Laggis said. "He's been the guy all year long that does whatever you ask him to do and has been extremely coachable. I'm just so proud of Harlan."
Zuiker, a senior, has only one goal this year, but has 12 assists and has been a staple for the squad on the blue line.
"I'm really happy about that for Danny," Laggis said. "Danny's got eyes in the back of his head. He's got very good hands and he's just done a lot of nice things, holding our thin defensive core together all year long."
The Hodags open the WIAA tournament Thursday night as the No. 7-seed in an eight-team sectional that will essentially be a reprise of the GNC tournament.
The Hodags travel to second-seeded Lakeland for a first-round game. The teams split their two meetings during the regular season. Rhinelander took the season opener from the T-Birds 6-3 Nov. 26 at the Rhinelander Ice Arena, but Lakeland won the rematch 7-2 in a GNC game Jan. 14 in Minocqua.
Laggis said job No. 1 will be attempting to slow down Toijala and Lakeland's top line.
"He's just a very good player and you've got to keep him in control. If you have a chance to beat Lakeland, you have to keep that kid under control," Laggis said. "We've got to play physical with them. We've got to have a guy on (Toijala) and we've always got to keep a guy between him and our net. He gets separation quickly. When I've seen teams be successful against him, they've not given him that separation and they've stayed between him and their own net. It's easier said than done thought."
The Hodags will also have to capitalize on as many scoring chances as possible, especially against junior goaltender Collin Guelcher, who is tops among qualifying goalies in the GNC with a .936 save percentage.
"The thing about Collin Guelcher is that's a kid that if you let him get hot early in the game, boy he's double trouble," Laggis said. "If you can get one by him earlier in the game and get a little bit of momentum your way, you're more likely to be successful. But he's a very good goalie."
Face-off is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lakeland Ice Arena.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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