Five of the state's 12 boys and girls hockey sectional finals were played on Friday night, and in the Madison area, the Metro Lynx (Middleton co-op) and Rock County Fury (Beloit Memorial co-op) won to advance to the state semifinals in Madison March 5-7.
For the Metro Lynx, it was a bitter battle against their rival, the Cap City Cougars. The game had a dozen penalties, but the Lynx were able to win the game 3-0 with goals in every period. It's the first trip to state for the Lynx, who were the #1 seed in Sectional 3.
The Rock County Fury won 4-2 over the Fond du Lac Warbirds, which you can read about below.
Other winners included the Fox Cities Stars defeating the Central Wisconsin Storm, the lone upset by seeding on the night, setting three of the four teams in the girls hockey state field. Eau Claire Area plays Hudson on Saturday.
In boys hockey, with both games played at Fond du Lac, St. Mary's Springs dominated Waupun 6-0 while Notre Dame held off Cinderella #7 seed Beaver Dam 2-0 to advance, notching the insurance goal late in the third period.
Fury punch their ticket back to state
For the first time in four years, the Rock County Fury are going to state in girls hockey.
As the #1 seed in Sectional 4, the Fury had to go on the road to take on the Fond du Lac Warbirds in the Warbirds' home building, although the game was played on Rink B with a boys hockey doubleheader taking place on Rink A.
A scoreless, penalty-free first period was marked by much of the frame being played in the neutral zone and along the boards, as neither team could get their offense into a flow.
In the second period, the Warbirds' lone senior, Hattie Verstegen, was shifted from center to defense, and it paid off as Verstegen was able to find the back of the net on an assist from Tori Schmidt to give the Warbirds the first goal of the contest just past the halfway point of the period.
Rock County got a pair of power plays late in the second period, and after the Warbirds killed off the first one, the Fury got a redirected goal as Anika Einbeck's shot from between the circles deflected in off of Sara Nerad to give the Fury the equalizer with only 2:32 left in the period.
The Fury went ahead with 21.9 seconds left in the second period as Alyssa Knauf buried a blast on her own rebound cutting across in front of the crease, giving Rock County their first lead of the night.
In the third period, the Warbirds found themselves on the penalty kill again, and Rock County was able to score their second power play goal of the night in three chances, as Haley Knauf got assists from Nerad and her sister, Alyssa, on the score just under three minutes into the third.
The "Mighty 11" of the Warbirds, in reference to the number of girls suited up for the team this season, weren't done yet. Verstegen glided down the left side of the offense and put the puck top-shelf unassisted just 39 seconds later to answer and to cut the lead down to 3-2 for the Fury, giving Fond du Lac new life in the game.
However, as has often been the case for the Fury, the top line came through with a huge even-strength goal with 6:21 left in the game. The line that combined for 70 goals in the regular season got another in the playoffs, as Alyssa Knauf was assisted by Einbeck and her sister, Haley, on the crucial fourth goal of the night for Rock County to move the margin to 4-2.
With 1:52 left in the contest, the Warbirds went on the power play in a last attempt to rally, Playing 6-on-4 with the pulled goalie, the Warbirds battled to the finish, but couldn't make the furious comeback. Rock County netminder Olivia Cronin held on and added nearly a half-dozen saves to her 28 total on the night to help the Fury reach state for the first time in the careers of every Rock County player on the ice.
For the Warbirds, freshman Hailee Scheier made 31 saves against the impressive attack of the Fury, in one stretch before fourth goal by the Fury denying three straight point-blank attempts at goal before the fourth one was slammed home.
After the game, Rock County Fury coach Luke Steurer took a deep breath as he talked about how he felt after the win. "What a heck of a team they have," Steurer said, crediting the effort of the Warbirds. "What a hockey game."
As for the Fury, Steurer noted that the team relies on their sophomore goaltender, Olivia Cronin, and that the sectional final win was a total team effort.
"These girls have put in a lot of time to get to this point," Steurer said. "It's great that they'll get to experience this."
Steurer added, "We've got the weekend off, but we get back to work on Monday."
The seeding meetings are set for Sunday, where the Fury will be seeded along with the Metro Lynx, who they split with in the regular season; the Fox Cities Stars, who they lost to twice early in the season; and the winner of the ECA Stars-Hudson Raiders match-up Saturday, in which the Fury saw the Stars only a couple of weeks ago in a close loss.
The state finals are set for March 5-7 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.