ONALASKA — Onalaska High School’s boys hockey team brings an objectives board to every game: a list of what to do and what to avoid. There were 10 objectives on that list prior to Tuesday’s WIAA Wisconsin Dells Sectional semifinal at the OmniCenter.
The Hilltoppers left too many objectives on the board, falling to Reedsburg co-op 2-1.
“We came in just trying to focus on what we do well, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t do the things that we work on and that we preach,” Onalaska coach Tim Ebner said. “When you go through that list of things, I think we only accomplished two of the 10 things that we set out in the game. When you do that, you’re not going to win.”
And Onalaska didn’t. The second-seeded Hilltoppers made it interesting in the waning moments, but third-seeded Reedsburg co-op held on for the win.
The Hilltoppers’ mistakes piled up too high, Ebner said.
“You can’t give up the first goal. You can’t give up a goal late in a period; the first and last minute of a period, really. You can’t give up more than three odd-man rushes, and we gave up a bunch of those tonight. You can’t take a retaliation penalty, which we took tonight.
“So there were a variety of things on that chart that we just didn’t get to tonight. We just needed to figure that out, and we didn’t.”
The first period was relatively uneventful, with both sides trading the occasional shot in the first seven minutes. But after long-range shot from Jacob Dirks rung the post after 7:25 — marking the Hilltoppers’ best chance of the opening frame — the Cheavers took control.
That momentum yielded a breakthrough goal.
With just 46.4 seconds remaining before first intermission, Dylan Brown lit the lamp with his second playoff goal in as many games, taking a feed from Chris Jones up the far side before beating Onalaska goaltender Hayes Weiner blocker side with a right-handed wrister. That made it 1-0, and gave Reedsburg co-op a 9-4 shots advantage after 17 minutes.
“We could have come out a little better than we did,” Weiner said, who finished with 27 saves, including an incredible effort to deny a 2-on-1 rush late in the third period.
The Hilltoppers needed a response to start the second period, but they did nothing to prevent the Cheavers from seizing a decisive 2-0 lead.
Reedsburg co-op needed just 65 seconds to do it, with Jones initiating the move again.
Less than a minute into the period, Jones picked the pocket of an Onalaska defender in neutral ice before feeding Brown along the far-side boards. Brown then skated the puck into the corner before lacing an inch-perfect pass back to Jones, who stretched just enough to finish his 37th goal of the season — and third of the playoffs — with a first-time shot.
“I basically put the onus on our first line to do the scoring,” Reedsburg co-op coach Neil Mattson said.
Onalaska made it interesting with a late goal, scored by Jacob Dirks — his 50th of the season — with 1:24 remaining to make it 2-1. But it proved to be consolation, as the Cheavers locked down defensively to preserve their place in Friday’s sectional final.
“I think we just finally had a sense of urgency about our play at the end, and they just played; instead of the first two periods, you know, we were just watching,” Ebner said. “We just watched the play and didn’t react to things, and we hesitated, and if you’re going to hesitate in this game this late in the year versus a team like that, you’re not going to be successful. We did a lot of that tonight.”