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May 31, 2020

The Rhinelander Ice Association’s bantam hockey team poses with its trophy after taking third place in the 2020 WAHA Bantam 3A state hockey tournament in Rhinelander Sunday, March 8. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
The Rhinelander Ice Association’s bantam hockey team poses with its trophy after taking third place in the 2020 WAHA Bantam 3A state hockey tournament in Rhinelander Sunday, March 8. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Joey Belanger beats Lakeland goalie Keegan Boggetto for the game-winning goal in overtime of the third-place game of the WAHA Bantam 3A state tournament in Rhinelander Sunday, March 8.
Rhinelander’s Joey Belanger beats Lakeland goalie Keegan Boggetto for the game-winning goal in overtime of the third-place game of the WAHA Bantam 3A state tournament in Rhinelander Sunday, March 8.
3/10/2020 7:30:00 AM
Hodag bantams finish 3rd at state tournament

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor

Prior to the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association state 3A bantam hockey tournament, Rhinelander coach Randy Ostrom envisioned a scenario where his Hodags would face rival Lakeland on the final day of the event with plenty on the line.

It was not for the state championship, as Ostrom pictured, but Rhinelander-Lakeland matchup was realized and lived up to the billing.

Joey Belanger scored a power play goal 24 seconds into overtime lifting the Hodags past the Lakeland Hawks 4-3 in the third-place game of the WAHA state tournament Sunday at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.

The Hodags rallied from a 3-0 first period deficit, scoring the game-tying goal on a Finn Tulowitzky tip in with 1.6 seconds remaining in regulation, before winning the game on a breakaway moments into the extra session.

"Playing for third, the way the weekend went, I still just love the outcome," Ostrom said afterward. "The competition we have with them. It's just awesome. Overall, it was a good weekend for us."

Rhinelander got to the third-place game with a 10-2 win over Sauk Prairie in the first round on Saturday, followed by an 8-5 loss to eventual state champion Amery Saturday night in the semifinals.

Belanger - who scored eight goals for the Hodags in the tournament, including a hat trick in the third-place game - got free moments into the extra session as Sam Schneider made a pass through the neutral zone. Belanger caught the puck at the Lakeland blue line, made a move past the last defender and beat goalie Keegan Boggetto through the five-hole for the game-winner.

"That is Joey Belanger's absolute No. 1 talent. He has an ability of mopping pucks up in the neutral zone, taking them to the other end and putting them away," Ostrom said. "What a finish, especially for a second-year bantam like Joey to be able to catch a pass like that, that's just kind of drifting out there in neutral ice and then being able to put that thing away."

After 15 minutes of hockey, it seemed like third place and a state tournament trophy were not going to be in the cards for the Hodags. Jack Rubo scored for the Hawks just 16 seconds into the game and Taylor Heleniak added a pair of goals later in the period to put the Hawks ahead 3-0.

Belanger got free on a 2-on-1 and scored to give Rhinelander some life 25 seconds into the second period off an assist from Caleb Dickens. Belanger then found a rebound off a Zach Edyvean shot at the 9:26 mark to pull the Hodags within one.

Rhinelander, despite outshooting Lakeland 56-24, still found itself down 3-2 in the final minutes. The Hodags pulled goalie Johnny Turek with 1:12 remaining and then Boggetto took a slashing penalty with 43 seconds to play, giving Rhinelander a 6-on-4 power play. Lakeland cleared the puck on a couple of occasions, and narrowly missed burying an empty-netter with 6.8 seconds remaining. Since teams at the bantam level are not allowed to ice the puck on the penalty kill, the play was blown dead, and a faceoff took place back down to the Lakeland end.

The draw went to the far boards as Schneider gathered the puck and threw it toward the net. Tulowitzky tipped the puck home in a mass of humanity in front of the Lakeland goal.

"Everything just came together. That's exactly what you're hoping for in a situation like that," Ostrom said. "It's just going to be pressure, pressure, pressure and get it to the net. That's exactly what we were coaching them to do and that exactly what they did."

Heading into overtime, Ostrom said he knew momentum was all in Rhinelander's favor.

"Tying it up was obviously a big emotional moment for everybody with 1.6 seconds left in the game. We got a three-minute break, that helped us," he said. "We've got a lot of second-year kids on this team. That's great to be able to lean on them and use some of their experience and size and strength in situations like that especially."

The Hodags were the cooler of the two teams in an emotionally-charged game that saw a combined 23 penalties issued. Lakeland was assessed 16 penalties in the game, including game misconduct penalties to head coach Charlie Depuydt and assistant coach James Mailette after the Hawks had a breakaway goal in the second period nullified due to a holding penalty. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Lakeland following Rhinelander's game-tying goal gave the Hodags a power play entering the overtime.

Rhinelander finished the game 2 for 10 on the power play. Lakeland was 0 for 5.

"A lot of composure and a lot of coaching the kids to stay out of the penalty box," Ostrom said of how the Hodags worked back from an early 3-0 deficit. "Working from a deficit is always difficult to do, at any level. It doesn't matter what level. Even look at the pros. When you get down, it's so easy just to stay down."

Turek made 21 saves in victory for Rhinelander.

Hodags 10, Sauk Prairie 2

The Hodags jumped on Sauk Prairie in the opening game of the tournament. Dickens scored six goals and Belanger added three as Rhinelander cruised to a 10-2 victory in the opener.

Rhinelander led 3-0 less than six minutes into the game and never looked back.

"That helped a lot, coming out strong off the bat and being able to hang a couple on them right away," Ostrom said. "That's always nice for any team. If you can come out right away and own the ice from the drop of the puck, that makes a big difference."

Tulowitzky had the other goal for Rhinelander in the contest and Schneider added four assists. Rhinelander outshot Sauk Prairie 26-24. Andrew Samundsen made 22 saves in the win as a pair of goals by Samson Begalske in the final six minutes of regulation for Sauk Prairie broke up the shutout bid.

Amery 8, Hodags 5

A five-goal second period proved too much for the Hodags to overcome in a 8-5 loss to Amery in Saturday night's semifinal round.

Amery led 2-1 after one period and then scored five unanswered in the second, including three by William Jensen, to take a 7-1 lead.

Schneider and Belanger each scored twice for Rhinelander, and Dickens added a goal. Rhinelander rallied to make it 7-4 with 8:21 to play, but Fredrick Henningsgard scored on Amery's next shift to push the lead back to four goals.

"We came out flat," Ostrom said. "Had we come out and put a couple of them right away, it would have been different, I think. They're playing in the state championship, so I don't want to say we were the better team, but we put a lot of work in late in the game to make it way more of a game than it was going to be in the first place. That's a testament to the kids."

Still Ostrom said the Hodags' third-period rally was a precursor to what it needed to do Sunday in the third-place game.

"Coming back from down 7-1, coming back to lose but make it 8-5, that rally right there was something we could lean on for today, knowing that we were just flat working hard," Ostrom said. "That's what it takes to be successful in this sport, no matter what level you're playing. If you can outwork the competition, you can beat them no matter what."

Rhinelander outshot Amery 42-28 in the contest.

What's next

The Hodags end the year with a record 33-10-3. The vast majority of this year's squad will move on to the high school ranks next year, for either Rhinelander or Tomahawk, which had five players on this year's squad.

"This is going to be an absolute fantastic group of kids to watch come up through all their programs," Ostrom said. "Some of those Tomahawk kids are going back to Tomahawk. I so look forward to watching them play over there. There's a lot of talent going back over there. Our program stands to really gain a lot of depth in the next couple of years here with the amount of depth that coming up right here. That's going to be great for high school hockey."

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at

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