The Aquinas co-operative boys hockey team, nicknamed the Avalanche, hasn’t really buried opponents this season but it has done something more important.
The Avalanche have beaten 11 of 12 teams they have taken the ice against.
With a deep, talented but not necessarily flashy team, the three-school co-op — Aquinas, Holmen, Onalaska Luther are involved — uses a physical, aggressive approach to wear its opponents down, then makes them pay.
That was the formula the Avalanche used Tuesday night to turn back a stubborn Central/Logan team 6-4 in a game played before about 500 fans at Green Island Ice Arena.
It wasn’t a highlight film game, but it was a solid, sometimes impressive performance that pushed the Avalanche’s record to 11-1. And it came on the heels of one of the Avalanche’s a biggest wins, a 3-2 win over perennial Coulee Region power Onalaska on Saturday.
Connor Duncan, a senior captain for the Avalanche, came up big with two first-period goals to send Aquinas/Holmen/Luther on its way.
It was a game that had plenty of peaks and valleys as it appeared the Avalanche was in control with a 4-1 third-period lead. That, however, wasn’t entirely true as there were five goals scored in a wild third period.
“Coming off a big win on Saturday, I thought we would come out a little faster,” said Duncan, who also added an assist to his two-goal night. We were just kind of slow.
“We got it done at the end of the third (period) and I am just proud of everyone. Absolutely kudos to them (La Crosse) as we knew it was going to be a tough game.
“They are a fast team and they are relentless.”
The Avalanche, who finished last season by winning 9 of their last 11 games, have carried that momentum over to the first half of this season. It appeared win No. 11 of this season was pretty much guaranteed when Connor Hefti made it 3-1 at the 4:24 mark of the second period
After the Avalanche killed off a power play by the Red Rangers, then took a 4-1 lead on a penalty shot by Ryan Wink with just 1:48 elapsed in the third period, it appeared that coach Tim Franzini’s team was in control.
The Red Rangers, however, felt otherwise.
“We just did not — it is really hard to explain — we looked we were kind of skating in mud tonight,” Franzini said. “We are coming off a big, emotional win on Saturday. We explained to the guys that this is a quality team, they beat West Salem, a very good team, and we had to be ready. We played OK and played well in spurts.”
The Red Rangers’ Drew Kjos beat Avalanche goalie Ben King at the 3:09 mark of the third to make it 4-2. Gavin Voves answered for Aquinas at the 7:39 mark to make it 5-2, but pesky Central/Logan didn't go away quietly
Jake Ziegelbein beat King on a pretty goal at the 12:32 mark to make it 5-3, but that still didn’t take the fight out of the Red Rangers.
Charlie LaPlount gave the Avalanche a boost with a goal at the 13:58 mark to make it 6-3. Central/Logan’s Cole Losen scored with just 21.7 seconds left, and Red Rangers’ coach Bryan Morris pulled goalie Gunnar Snyder, but it would end 6-4.
With a 2-1 lead entering the second period, Aquinas was using its strong checking, right amount of aggressiveness and rock-solid goaltending of King to keep the Red Rangers off the board.
With 4:24 remaining in the second period, the Avalanche put themselves in firm control, thanks to Connor Hefti’s goal that made it 3-1. The goal, which was assisted on by Grant Lambert and Max Bieterveld, came just over two minutes after the Red Rangers had killed off a power play.
While Central/Logan ended the period on a power play, the Avalanche clearly had the momentum.
After Central/Logan took a 1-0 lead on a pretty 2-on-1 break that Will Bryant finished off, the Avalanche took over. Rather Duncan did.
The Avalanche had put plenty of pressure on Red Rangers’ goalie Gunnar Snyder, but couldn’t crack the crease. Duncan changed that, thanks in part to a power play, when he beat Snyder with a point-blank shot to knot the game at 1 with 13:50 left in the opening period.
Gavin Voves and Cristian Dehning assisted on the goal, which drew a roar from what had become a rather silent crowd.
Just when it appeared the MVC battle would end in a 1-1 deadlock after the first 17 minutes, Duncan had other ideas. After taking a pass from Charlie LaPlount, Duncan used some nifty stick handling to create a sliver of an opening, then beat Snyder with just 11.1 seconds left in the opening period for a 2-1 Avalanche lead.
Ryan Wink also assisted on the goal in a period in which Aquinas outshot the Red Rangers 14-8.