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Prep boys hockey: Mack Keryluk, Verona make short-handed work of Sun Prairie in sectional final

February 24, 2019

Verona junior Mack Keryluk entered into a bit of thievery on Saturday.

It was all perfectly legal, of course, since it took place at the Hartmeyer Ice Arena during the WIAA boys hockey sectional final between top-seeded Verona and second-seeded Sun Prairie.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Keryluk scored the Wildcats’ first two goals off steals in the Cardinals’ defensive zone, and had two assists while leading sixth-ranked Verona to a 5-3 victory over the 10th-ranked Cardinals.

His short-handed score in the second period broke a 1-1 tie and opened the floodgates as the Wildcats erupted for four goals and grabbed a 5-1 lead entering the final period.

“It’s really just to change momentum,” he said. “The fact we scored that first one was huge.”

The victory sent Big Eight Conference champ Verona (20-5-2) to the WIAA state tournament for the second consecutive year. Pairings for the state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Dane County Coliseum, will be determined by a seeding meeting.

After Keryluk opened the scoring 9 minutes, 54 seconds into the game, senior forward Kyle Hagerman answered for Sun Prairie (21-5-0) with the equalizer at 14:52 of the first period.

With Sun Prairie on the power play in the second period, Keryluk came up with a steal behind the Cardinals’ net. He circled in front and beat Cardinals senior goaltender Owen Leatherberry for the short-handed goal with 5:18 elapsed in the period, giving Verona a 2-1 lead.

“I come at them with a little bit of speed and then I kind of slow down to read what they are about to do,” Keryluk said about his knack for steals and short-handed goals. “Usually when they expose the puck … I’ll go for it. When I go in and pressure them and they cough it up to me, I’ll take all my chances I can get.”

Said Verona coach Joel Marshall: “Sun Prairie is a tremendously talented team and we have all the respect for their coaching staff, their team and the way they play. But we knew potentially with the matchup, if our forwards got deep in their zone and if our forwards back-checked the way we think they can, that we could create some offense off of it. That’s obviously what happened on a couple of the goals.“

Keryluk, who had 34 goals and 32 assists during the regular season, has six goals and seven assists in three postseason games.

“Playoff hockey is a whole different game,” Keryluk said. “Everyone knows that it is do or die. If you don’t play good and you don’t play as hard as you can, you might not be able be there the next day. We all know there might not be a tomorrow.”

After Keryluk’s second goal, Verona struck in rapid succession on goals by sophomore forward Walker Haessig and junior forward Ryan Ritter. Junior forward Cale Rufenacht closed out a dominant second period, taking a pass from Keryluk and scoring the Wildcats’ second short-handed goal.

“The two short-handed goals were really a big difference,” Sun Prairie coach Chris Finkler said. “When you are up a man, you expect to have more scoring opportunities. When you are giving up goals, that hurts. That hurts pretty bad.”

Rufenacht’s goal extended Verona’s lead to 5-1 with 48.2 seconds in the second period.

“Our goals coming off odd-man rushes and short-handed goals is going to deflate any team,” Marshall said. “Getting two `shorties’ for us and giving up two short-handed goals is tough. The momentum definitely swung in our favor.”

Big Eight runner-up Sun Prairie rallied behind third-period goals from junior forward Carter Watters and sophomore defenseman Nick Johnson, but lost for the third time this season to Verona.

“Overall, it was great,” Sun Prairie coach Chris Finkler said about the team’s season. “Our nine seniors are special guys. They have changed the culture of the program the last four years they have been around. They deserve a lot of credit for getting us where we are today.”

Sun Prairie 1 0 2 — 3

Verona 1 4 0 — 5

First period: V — Keryluk (unassisted), 9:54. SP — Hagerman (Johnson, Gross), 14:52.

Second period: V — Keryluk (unassisted), 5:18, sh; Haessig (Rufenacht, Binger), 7:20; Ritter (Keryluk), 10:45; Rufenacht (Keryluk), 16:12, sh.

Third period: SP — Watters (Schoenike), 10:21; Johnson (Halbleib, Kernen), 15:42.

Penalties: SP 3-6, V 3-6. Saves: SP (Leatherberry) 32; V (Grant) 22.