MADISON — West Salem/Bangor boys hockey coach Eric Borre was understandably disappointed by Thursday’s WIAA state quarterfinal defeat, as were his players. Who can blame them?
“Moments like this right now obviously aren’t fun,” Borre said shortly after the Panthers’ season-ending 7-0 loss to Wausau West.
But the moments leading up to it were certainly memorable.
West Salem/Bangor was unstoppable at times this season. Its 22 victories set a new single-season program record, while its sectional championship was the Panthers’ first as an independent program.
“I think getting this moment, even though it’s painful for us after a loss, is huge for our program,” said Borre, who has led West Salem/Bangor to improved finishes in each of his three seasons at the helm.
“It’s huge for our community. It’s huge for the mite who was at practice last night. It’s huge for anybody for thinking about becoming a hockey player in our community. It’s massive.”
West Salem/Bangor (22-4-1) finds itself on an upward trajectory.
Two years ago, Borre’s first as coach, the Panthers’ season ended in a regional final. Last year, they reached the sectional semifinal round after a first-round win over Chippewa Falls.
This season, the WIAA state tournament welcomed West Salem/Bangor for the first time.
So what could that mean for the Panthers next year? Another sectional championship? Perhaps a run their first state title?
It’s impossible to say, of course. But the Panthers certainly have a wealth of experience returning, including all but three varsity players and more than 82 percent of its points.
“Given the kids that we have and the locker room that we have, it’s certainly within our reach,” Borre said of another run to the state tournament.
Junior forward Jack Gorniak just capped a 71-point campaign. He’ll be back.
Joey Oldendorf and Cayden Krause, Gorniak’s linemates, will also return as seniors after racking up a combined 80 points this season.
West Salem/Bangor will also welcome back five of its six varsity defensemen, not to mention junior goaltender Mitch Hammes, whose 1.83 goals-against average helped the Panthers limit 14 teams — more than half their opponents — to one goal or less.
The bar has been raised.
“With the group that we had — led by great seniors — from top to bottom, we were certainly capable of being here,” Borre said. “I would never say not making a state tournament would be a complete disappointment, because that’s certainly not the case. But I think the vibe in the locker room this year was, ‘We need to get here,’ and so as a program, we accomplished a lot this season.”
And the future seems bright.
“Once you get to state, just having a taste of this tournament, now it’s the goal every year. There is no doubt. Now it’s the goal every year,” Borre said. “Is it going to happen every year? Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully it does. I think we’re in a good situation.”