Sparta can claim what is likely the final chapter of the Tomah-Sparta boys hockey rivalry.

Sparta’s Nathan Thompson stopped a mind-boggling 54 of 55 Tomah shots to lead the Spartans to a 3-1 victory over the Timberwolves in a Mississippi Valley Conference contest before a Parents Night audience at Tomah Ice Arena.

It’s very probable that Tuesday’s contest was the final regular season Tomah-Sparta contest before the two programs merge into a co-op for the 2018-19 season. The two school boards are expected to finalize the co-op agreement in March. Sparta has just 13 skaters on its roster eight of whom are seniors and wouldn’t be able to field a team on its own next year.

Tomah coach Todd Kirschbaum didn’t mention the impending merger to the players and said it had no impact on the outcome.

What did impact the outcome, he said, was the goaltending, especially the save-a-minute goaltending machine that was Thompson, who engineered a .982 save percentage.

“We produced a lot of shots, but both goaltenders played well,” Kirschbaum said.

Sparta got its first goal of the game when Jackson Bickford pounced on a Tomah turnover and got an unassisted score just 89 seconds into the contest.

It would be a long time before either team scored again. Thompson swatted away a Tomah breakaway attempt with eight seconds left in the first period, and the Timberwolves outshot the Spartans 19-6 during a scoreless second period.

Tomah finally broke through midway through the third period, when Dylen Alden scored a power play goal off assists from Matthew Holtz and Dawson Ollendick.

The lead lasted just five minutes until Sparta’s Alden Sprackling scored an unassisted goal to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.

Tomah pulled goaltender Sam Peterson with two minutes left, and Sparta’s Jack Steinhoff scored an empty net goal with 1:18 remaining to clinch the contest.

Kirschbaum said it was frustrating for the Timberwolves to launch 54 shots and score just one goal but said “only a few were high quality shots for us.”

Peterson made 13 saves for the Timberwolves.

Tomah’s record fell to 4-14-1, while the Spartans improved to 5-9-1. Sparta snapped a five-game losing streak.

It’s possible that Tomah and Sparta will play one more game this season if they’re paired against each other in a WIAA Regional semifinal. Both teams are in the 11-team Onalaska Sectional. The seeding meeting is Feb. 4.

Tomah hosts Chippewa Falls in a nonconference matchup Saturday at Tomah Ice Arena beginning at 5 p.m. and travels to Black River Falls Friday, Feb. 2.

SPARTA 3 TOMAH 1

Sparta 1 0 2−3

Tomah 0 0 1−1

First period: S—Bickford 1:19.

Third period: T—Aldern (Holtz, Ollendick) 7:15 (pp). S—Sprackling 12:21. S—Steinhoff 15:42 (en).

Saves: S—Thompson 54. T—Peterson 13.

Penalties: S 2-4. T 3-6.

MVC BOYS HOCKEY

Aquinas/Holmen 6-0-0

Onalaska 5-1-0

Central/Logan 2-3-1

Sparta 2-5-0

Tomah 0-6-1

Results of Jan. 23

Sparta 3 Tomah 1

Onalaska 7 Central/Logan 6

Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells 6 Aquinas/Holmen 2 (nc)

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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