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University School of Milwaukee rides big second period to beat Verona in boys state hockey semifinals

March 3, 2019

As it took the ice to begin the second period Friday, the Verona boys hockey team was looking to seize the momentum. Instead, the Wildcats had that momentum flipped on them.

Verona went into the period with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining on the power play from a penalty by University School of Milwaukee in the final seconds of a scoreless first period.

But top-seeded and second-ranked USM took advantage of a Verona line change and junior Casey Roepke broke free and finished off a short-handed goal that turned the tide as the other Wildcats cruised to a 5-0 victory in their WIAA state semifinal at the Dane County Coliseum.

USM (24-2) advanced to today’s championship game against Neenah co-op, which ousted Waukesha North co-op 7-3 in the other semifinal.

Fourth-seeded Verona (18-6-2) saw its season ended in the semifinals for the second consecutive season. And the turning point came in the first minute of that second period.

“We went in maybe expecting maybe a little momentum starting the period on a power play,” Verona coach Joel Marshall said. “It kind of reversed on us, them getting a short-handed goal. It took a turn. We kind of deflated a little bit and they inflated and didn’t look back from that point.”

With Verona reeling, USM pounced, pounding in three more goals in the period to take command of the game.

Coincidentally, that scenario was just the opposite of Verona’s quarterfinal game when it scored two short-handed goals to overcome an early 1-0 deficit and roll to a 5-1 victory over Eau Claire North.

“The last game we got the advantage, the game kind of shifted when we got a short-handed goal,” Marshall said. “I think the game really shifted tonight when they got that short-hander to start off the second period.

“They scored on their chances; we didn’t. And it was an uphill battle from there. Against a good team like that you can’t spot them any goals.”

It wasn’t like Verona didn’t have its chances, as the Wildcats outshot USM 25-18 for the game and 22-12 over the last two periods. But they were stymied repeatedly by USM junior goaltender Patrick Kelly.

“He was on today,” said Verona sophomore forward Walker Haessig, who had seven of his shots rejected by Kelly. “My thought process was just to get as many shots as possible and hope that a couple or one would go in and that would change the momentum of the game.”

While they lamented some missed opportunities, nobody in the Verona camp could dispute the notion that it was outplayed by USM.

“It wasn’t really a bad game on our part,” Marshall said. “I think the score is maybe a little lopsided from what the pace of the play was. But if we’re going to lose to somebody it’s an easier pill to swallow when it’s to a team that’s been No. 1 all year in my mind.

“University School is the strongest team that we’ve seen all year. Their top line took advantage of us time and time again.”

Defenseman Jake Osiecki said it was disappointing to have their season ended at the same point for the second straight year, but that feeling was balanced out by the pride of having gotten that far each year.

“Being back here two times in a row is super exciting,” said Osiecki, one of 10 Verona seniors. “Right now there’s a lot of upset faces. We love each other, played for each other the whole year. We gave it our all and that’s all you can ask for.

“We had a lot of confidence and trust in ourselves. They played the same way, capitalized on a couple uncharacteristic plays that we made and kept the momentum the whole game. They had a lot of depth, they are a really skilled team and played really hard. They were the better team.”

Haessig likewise was focusing on the Wildcats’ accomplishments and already was looking toward the future.

“It was a great run,” Haessig said. “We had a lot to prove. People didn’t really have expectations for us but as a team we had expectations to come back to the (Coliseum) and that’s what we did.

“It’s hard to take in because you get so close. But at the end of the day we’re pretty happy with our season. We left it all out on the ice and we’ll be back next year.”

Neenah co-op 7,

Waukesha West co-op 2

Five players scored as the Rockets (24-3-2) took down the Wings (17-9-3) to advance to the championship game. Senior Dillon Fox and junior Ethan Long scored two goals apiece for the Rockets. Waukesha North co-op senior Thomas Knoke had a hat trick.

Verona 0 0 0 — 0

Univ. School of Milw. 0 4 1 — 5

Second period: Roepke, :56 (sh); Woods (Cooke), 8:30; Newton (Herzberg), 12:50; Herzberg (Mann, Newton), 16:23.

Third period: Ford (Cooke), 16:26 (pp).

Saves: V — (Grant) 14; USM (Kelly) 25.

Penalties-minutes: V 4-11; USM 4-19.