Holmes blog: DCE hockey team makes statement they will be worth watching in playoffs but don’t panic about West

Updated: February 1, 2013
West hockey

By Chad Holmes chadh@sunriseamfm.com @ChadHolmesWI

It was a long time coming but the Wausau West hockey team’s four year unbeaten streak in the Wisconsin Valley Conference came to an end Thursday night in a 3-0 loss to D. C. Everest at the Marathon Park Ice Arena. It seems fitting it was DCE that put the stop to the streak at Marathon Park, as the Evergreens always seem to play better on the Warriors’ home ice than their own at Greenheck Fieldhouse. The smaller ice sheet seems to fit the DCE players and styles and they always seem to cause some outstanding West teams all sorts of trouble…including a 1-1 tie last season and a 3-0 win in a playoff game in 2007 that had some similarities to last night. Both back then and last night the Warriors held the edge in shots but tight defense, outstanding goaltending, and timely scoring lifted the Evergreens to the win.

So what does last night’s result mean? For starters, it puts SPASH into first place in the conference as West’s five year reign as conference champs is in jeopardy. It also adds some volume to what has been an outstanding stretch of hockey for Everest. Everest now has won 8 of their last 9 games and before last night’s game I told DCE coach Dan Van Slyke that their good play has been kind of quiet with the Evergreens chasing West and SPASH. With last night’s result, I don’t think Everest’s play will continue to be under the radar. This is a team that won’t be easy to play in the postseason. It’s expected that SPASH, West, and Northland Pines will be the top seeds in the sectional but I doubt anyone of those team will be jumping for joy seeing a team that has become incredibly stingy in allowing goals. After starting the season as the back-up, Andy Mahler seems to have established himself as the top goalie for Everest. Mahler has an 8-1 record with a GAA of under 1.5 and made 38 saves last night look pretty easy. However, just as importantly for Everest in making a long playoff run, the signs of life on offense. Everest got two goals by Cole Halligan and one from Brandon Dively….which put both in double figures in goals on the season, the first of the Evergreens to do so. Everest has averaged just over 2 1/2 goals per game and have been saved by the great defense and goaltending. However, more and consistent offense will be needed against strong teams down the line.

What about the Warriors? West has been to the state title game the last three years and won in 2011 but now have lost four of their last five games so is there reason to panic? No. West plays as tough a non-conference schedule as anyone possibly could. They lost three games last weekend against ranked teams and all were tight. Coach Pete Susens said his team played “ok” in those three tight losses but he was glad to see three different styles and that will help down the line. Also recall a year ago the Warriors had a similar season, losing nearly double digit games and not getting into a real hot streak until the playoffs began. This season West did have a hot streak, an 8 game win streak that showed alot of what this team can be. The goaltending by Sam Wiegert again has been as good as anyone in the state with 7 shutouts and a GAA well under 2 against that great competition. Wiegert showed last season as a sophomore he can carry a team to state and he is even better this season. West also has a strong defense corps that will make scoring goals tough for any playoff opponent. Like with DCE, the big questions are on offense. West has not been able to establish consistent offense this season. Kevin Conley continues to be very dangerous but the depth of goal scorers hasn’t developed like in past seasons. That will need to happen soon if West is to make it four straight trips to Madison.

West gets a chance to get the bad taste out of their mouths from last night tonight but it will be anything but easy. Top-ranked, unbeaten, and defending state champion Notre Dame Academy comes to Marathon Park. The Tritons beat West 7-1 in Eau Claire Thanksgiving weekend and in a double OT classic at state last year. I think West will again show why they are one of the premiere programs in Wisconsin tonight, whether that is good enough against a team that is thought of as well above anyone else this season is to be seen.

Tonight’s NDA-West game can be heard on 1230 The Voice and www.1230wxco.com starting at 6:45 p.m.