BLACK RIVER FALLS—Defense and goaltending have carried the Black River Falls/Tomah girls hockey team a long way this year, and the last two regular-season contests were no exception.
The Tigers gained a 2-1 victory over Viroqua Friday and returned home Saturday to post a 4-0 shutout over Lakeland at Lunda Ice Center in Black River Falls. They wrapped up the regular season with a 15-7-1 record and have won nine of their last 10 games.
Black River Falls/Tomah coach Oak Moser said his team closed strongly against a Lakeland team that was trying to leave Black River Falls with a winning record. Lakeland finished the regular season at 12-12-0.
Oak Moser said his team bounced back nicely from a loss at Eau Claire that snapped the team’s seven-game winning streak.
“It was definitely a positive for the team to finish the season with back-to-back wins on back-to-back days,” Moser said. “The games seemed to carry more of a playoff intensity as all teams prepared for the playoffs next week.”
Before the game, seniors Baileigh Johnson, Khloe Spors, Ashley Overlien, Taylor Gular, Allison Zillmer, Kaytlin Johnson and manager Molly Larsen were honored, and Moser said the pregame energy pushed the Tigers to a 2-0 lead.
Grace Engebretson started the scoring with a hard wrist shot to the left side of the net off a pass from defenseman Kaytlin Johnson.
Less than a minute later, Johnson initiated a two-on-one rush that resulted in a goal by Spors.
The Tigers didn’t score again until midway through the second period, when Overlein delivered a breakout pass to Spors, who split the Thunderbird defenders, broke in alone and finished with a backhanded goal.
The Tigers closed out the scoring late in the third period with all seniors on the ice. Allison Zillmer cleanly won an offensive zone face-off back to Kaitlyn Johnson, who unloaded a slapshot that found its way through a screen and past the Thunderbirds goalie.
“Even though it didn’t look that way on the scoreboard, I thought the third period was our best period because we decided to move the puck,” Moser said. “People started to communicate, and we made some nice plays.”
The Tigers gained the shutout despite the absence of defenseman Jenna Hausman, who was sidelined with a broken finger. Moser hopes to have her back for the playoffs as part of a deep and experienced defensive rotation.
“We’re solid − we have three seniors in our five-man defensive crew,” Moser said.
Sophomore goalie Josie Mathison tallied her fifth shutout of the season stopping all 20 Lakeland shots.
“Josie Mathison is one of the top goaltenders in the state,” Moser said. “We’re always in it when Josie’s in there.”
Mathison stopped 20 of 21 shots in the victory at Viroqua. Black River Falls/Tomah fell behind 1-0 in the first period despite outshooting Viroqua 17-6, but Moser said the Tigers “stuck with the game plan (and) continued to play their style of hockey.”
It paid off in the second period, when Kaytlin Johnson picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, used a defender as a screen and placed a perfect shot along the ice and off the goalpost for a 1-1 tie.
Kaitlyn Johnson struck again in the third period. She initiated a two-on-one rush into the offensive zone, dished off a pass to Spors, who was driving toward the net from the left side. Spors put the shot on goal, and Johnson drove home the rebound.
“The game was hard-fought and intensely competed from start to finish,” Moser said. “It was the type of game where if you weren’t willing to battle in all areas of the ice, you lost the puck to your opponent. All the goals scored were well-earned.”
Viroqua, which has given up just 11 goals in its past six games, finished the regular season with a 10-12-0 mark.
BLACK RIVER FALLS/TOMAH 2 VIROQUA 1
First period: V—Schroeder (Grenier) 14:03.
Second period: B—K. Johnson 11:37.
Third period: B—K. Johnson (Spors) 3:33.
Saves: B—Mathison 20. V—Shonka 37.
Penalties: B—2-4. V 1-2.
BLACK RIVER FALLS/TOMAH 4 LAKELAND 0
First period: B—Engebretson (K. Johnson) 1:47. B—Spors (K. Johnson) 2:06.
Second period: B—Spors (Overlein) 9:52.
Third period: B—K. Johnson (Zillmer) 16:06.
Saves: L—Maulson 10, Lear 12. B—Mathison 20.
Penalties: L 2-4. B 1-2.