Hilltoppers survive late push by Avalanche – The Courier Life News
ONALASKA — The momentum had shifted.
Senior forward Dominic Antony buried a shot with less than two minutes to play to keep the Aquinas co-op boys hockey team’s hopes alive.
The Avalanche pulled their goalie in an effort to generate one last push, but this time Onalaska stood its ground.
The Hilltoppers held on to defeat the Avalanche 6-4 in Thursday’s WIAA regional final before an estimated crowd of 400 at the OmniCenter.
“It’s playoffs and anything can happen,” Hilltoppers senior defenseman Caleb Blank said. “Nobody wants their season to end, so you’ve got to give all you have every shift.”
Blank scored twice and assisted on three other goals to lift Onalaska into the sectional semifinals where it will be on the road against second-seeded Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells, which defeated Central/Logan 6-2 Thursday.
“I thought Aquinas played extremely well tonight,” Hilltoppers coach Tim Ebner said. “They worked hard, they did some good things, they were able to finish and that’s what kept the game close.”
The Hilltoppers (20-3-1) were one of the top defensive teams in state throughout the regular season, but against the Avalanche (17-9), it was their offense that kept the season alive.
Onalaska scored three goals in the second and three more in the third to open up a 6-2 lead before the Aquinas co-op scored two goals in a three-minute span to cut the deficit in half with less than two minutes remaining.
“As a team, I think we kind of broke down a little bit, got a little too confident in ourselves,” said Onalaska goalie Joe Witz, who finished with 23 saves.
Witz entered the game with a 0.91 goals-against average and a save percentage of .952, but in the final 5:15, the Aquinas co-op had the senior goalie’s number.
“I didn’t play the way I wanted to,” Witz said. “I didn’t personally play the best game, but that’s the way things work out sometimes. A win’s a win in the playoffs.”
Fortunately for Witz and the Hilltoppers, the offense came around in the second and third periods to offset the Avalanche’s late barrage.
Onalaska scored two power-play goals and one short-handed goal to push its lead to 5-1 in the third period.
Sam Dabrowski was able to score while the Hilltoppers were a man down after he broke loose on a breakaway after receiving a perfectly-placed outlet pass by Blank midway through the third period. It was Blank’s season-high fifth point of the game.
“Getting the momentum back really helped. It got the bench excited,” said Blank, who also had his first multiple-goal game of the season. “Momentum’s a big thing, especially in hockey.”
The Avalanche found that out.
Despite facing deficits of 5-1 and 6-2, the Avalanche battled back to cut the lead to two. Justin Kendall and Antony scored 2 minutes, 26 seconds apart late in the third period to give Aquinas co-op new life, but the clock ran out before the Avalanche could be fully revived.
Junior Aquinas co-op goalie Joe Cambio was impressive through the first two periods before surrendering three scores in the final period. Cambio finished with 30 saves.
“Getting the momentum back really helped. It got the bench excited. Momentum’s a big thing, especially in hockey.” — Caleb Blank, Onalaska defenseman