ONALASKA — Midway through the second period of Thursday’s WIAA regional hockey game, Cameron Kertis was worried. A senior defenseman, his Aquinas co-op-boys hockey team was on its heels, suddenly trailing its first-round playoff game by a goal, facing the classic lose-or-go-home scenario with momentum pitted squarely against it.
The Avalanche needed a spark.
“We all kind of knew that we had to bear down, and if we didn’t, it would have been my last game. I didn’t want that,” Kertis said. “I was trying to play my heart out for the rest of the guys.”
And it showed. Kertis buried an equalizer at 13:33 of the second period, which sparked a string of six unanswered goals — including four in the final 3:27 of the second period — for the Avalanche in a convincing 8-3 victory at the OmniCenter.
Kertis submitted his best performance of the season, as did sophomore forward Hunter Schultz. Both Aquinas skaters registered five-point efforts, as the Avalanche (15-7) booked a sectional semifinal date with top-seeded West Salem/Bangor on Tuesday night in West Salem.
“We capitalized on a couple opportunities that we had. I give them credit, because for a period and a half I thought they just kept coming at us,” Aquinas coach Tim Franzini said of Central/Logan.
“They were hard working in our lanes. We just played them last week, so that’s tough. They did some good things to take some of our strengths away. It just took a little longer than normal to adjust.
“Once we got it tied up, that was big. And then we had the six unanswered there. The biggest thing was just playing with confidence and playing to our strengths.”
The fifth-seeded Red Rangers (13-10) gave the Avalanche fits at first.
An evenly contested first period resulted in a 1-1 score at first intermission, though Central/Logan held an 18-8 advantage in shots. Kertis opened the scoring streak with a power-play goal at 5:39, followed by an equalizer from Drew Kjos four minutes later.
Aquinas then seized its second lead at 1:27 of the second period through Ryan Wink, one of four Avalanche skaters with at least three points on the night. But the Red Rangers responded again — this time with two, as quick goals from Jake Ziegelbein and Cole Losen gave Central/Logan its first lead of the night inside the first seven minutes of the middle frame.
“I thought their compete level was really good,” Franzini said. “I thought they were physical where they had to be, and they were just in our passing lanes. We’ve really been playing well down the stretch here. We’ve been moving the puck well, and they took some of that away from us, where we had to be maybe a little bit more individual than we’d like to be. That kind of hampered us.”
It didn’t hamper them for long.
Kertis’ equalizer made it 3-3 with 3:27 remaining in the second period. The Avalanche proceeded to tack on three more goals — from three different scorers — before second intermission, effectively tarnishing the Red Rangers’ comeback ambition.
“We’re a team of highs and lows,” Central/Logan coach Alex North said. “We’ve been trying to preach the even-keeled philosophy, but it’s still something we have to work on a little bit. We were good on that sense for the first period and a half, but once they tied it up and went ahead again, I think some guys were emotionally not ready for it. I think it kind of showed.
“Guys were gripping sticks a little tight, not doing the things that were getting them success in the beginning, and they took advantage of it.”
NOTES: Senior forward Connor Duncan added three points for the Avalanche, taking him over 50 on the season. Wink added four points with two goals and two assists. … Aquinas goaltender Ben King made 29 saves, while Central/Logan starter Gunnar Snyder was chased after giving up six goals in a 19-save performance. … After outshooting Aquinas 18-8 in the first period, Central/Logan was outshot 30-13 over the final two frames.