MADISON — Trevor Hudecek is like a magician, a guy who can pull pucks out of his sleeves, his glove, even his armpit. And that doesn’t count what this senior star can do with a blocker and his stick.
In other words, put him at Fort Knox, where the country’s gold is stored, and you can rest easy. Almost nothing’s getting past him.
West Salem/Bangor discovered that time after time on Thursday afternoon at the Alliant Energy Center. The gung-ho Panthers, fresh off a big sectional final win over Onalaska, peppered Hudecek early in the game, but came up on the short end of a 6-2 score in a WIAA State Boys Hockey quarterfinal.
Hudecek, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior, put up a seemingly impenetrable wall until West Salem/Bangor standout Jack Gorniak — a University of Wisconsin recruit — beat him head-on with a highlight-film goal in the third period.
By then, however, the Old Abes (24-2-2) had a 4-1 lead and had all but locked up a berth in the state semifinals. West Salem/Bangor, with back-to-back state appearances, finished its season at 20-8.
“That is just how hockey is. Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t. I thought we played just as good as them, we had them pinned down sometimes, and the puck just wasn’t bouncing in,” said Gorniak, who finished his senior season with 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points.
“You can’t keep your head down about that because we played our hearts out. We just didn’t get the bounces. It would have been nice to, that is just the way hockey is and you’ve got to love it and you’ve got to hate it.”
Jake Whitbeck, Gorniak and Joey Oldendorf each had point-blank chances in the first 8 minutes, but Hudecek (20-2-2, 1.66 GAA) denied them each time.
Hudecek said even if the Panthers would have scored on him early, he would have never lost confidence in his team or its high-octane offense.
“In the first period we knew they could come out flying. They got guys like Jack Gorniak and guys like that who can absolutely dominate on the ice, so we came out there and knew this isn’t going to be an easy game,” said Hudecek, who stopped 20 of 21 shots before giving way to Nick Schultz with just over 5 minutes left.
“We handled them pretty well earlier in the year (6-3 ECM win), but I think we came out with a positive attitude knowing that, ‘Hey, it is just another game. Each period is a mile, we said, and one game is three miles. We knew that it was going to be long.’”
While West Salem/Bangor goalie Adam Helgeson was swallowing some tough shots of his own, the momentum shifted midway through the first period when the second-seeded Old Abes — 18-time state tournament participants and two-time champs — cranked up the intensity.
When Ryan Beirne was called for a hooking penalty at the 8-minute, 29-second mark of the opening period, the Old Abes wasted little time capitalizing. Sixty-seven seconds later, Ben Zacho beat Helgeson for a power-play tally and a 1-0 Eau Claire Memorial lead.
Suddenly, the pressure that seemed to be on the Old Abes early in the game was lifted, and West Salem/Bangor had nothing to show for its early-game aggressive, physical style.
“Anytime you can convert on opportunities early in a game like that I think it puts you in an opportunity for some success. If you look at their second goal, how that one went in, we had that same opportunity a few minutes later and it just didn’t go in,” West Salem/Bangor coach Eric Borre said
“Teams like Eau Claire Memorial, you have to capitalize on your opportunities. If we would have put one in, who knows what happens.”
The Panthers, with Gorniak rocketing from one side of the ice to another, didn’t back down. West Salem/Bangor, which outshot the Old Abes 11-9 in the first period, had chances to score throughout the period, but the magician — Hudecek — was up to the task.
So when Brenden Olson took control of a rebound, then slapped it past Helgeson for a 2-0 lead at the 13:20 mark, the Panthers needed more than skates — ice picks would have helped, as the mountain just got far steeper to climb.
MADISON — With consecutive trips to the WIAA state boys hockey tournament under his belt, Eric Borre knows the bar has been raised for the Wes…
“I was very confident coming into this game, because my team, they can score,” Hudecek said. “When you are a goalie you have a whole team in front of you, it is not just you. I may have made a couple of saves that were pretty solid, but I was just happy with where we were at as a team. Hey, I knew even if they went up 1-0, even 2-0, our team was going to be able to battle back and score.”
Eau Claire Memorial, unbeaten in its last 13 games (12-0-1), outshot West Salem/Bangor 13-3 in the second, but scored just once as Max Savaloja skated across the crease, then lifted a backhanded goal past Helgeson.
Helgeson, one of 12 seniors on the Panthers’ roster, kept West Salem/Bangor within striking distance entering the third period. He finished with 22 saves on 27 shots.
“I thought we were playing right there with them, but didn’t get the bounces we wanted,” Helgeson said. “Just couldn’t capitalize on them. After the first 10 minutes we felt pretty good, doing what we wanted, forechecking hard.
“It cost us a little when they were getting chances and capitalized on them. It took away from our momentum, but that is how the game goes.”
Eau Claire Memorial would score three third-period goals, while the Panthers would answer with Gorniak’s tally and one by Matt Bigley. Alex Jackson would assist on both of the Panthers’ goals.
“I definitely think it was a closer game than the scoreboard showed. I think we definitely earned some respect from some teams,” Gorniak said.
“Being a team down here last year, the first year, and then coming from that, we have just grown so much as a team. I thought we battled hard.”