By Scott Williams
January 8, 2019
Stevens Point– Wausau West freshman goalie Adam Prokop got his first taste of the heated hockey rivalry with Stevens Point Area Senior High on Tuesday night.
Ho hum. Unfazed by the high-intensity nature of the matchup between Wisconsin Valley Conference powers, Prokop looked and played like a grizzled veteran between the pipes.
Prokop finished with 21 saves, including 10 in the final period, and second-ranked West moved atop the conference standings with a tough-minded 2-1 win over No. 7 SPASH at K.B. Willett Arena in the “Stick it to Cancer” event.
With the win the Warriors extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games.
“I found out when we’re composed and keep our heads in the hockey game, we’re a really good hockey team,” West coach Brian Brandt, Jr. said. “When we don’t and let the moment become bigger than us, we’re just like any other hockey team, we can be beat. Those are things against good teams we have to start to eliminate.”
Prokop and his counterpart in net for the Panthers, Spencer Wierzba, stood out most of the game.
But the real star of the night was SPASH student Montana Zdroik who was honored in a postgame ceremony.
At the end of last year, Zdroik, who had been diagnosed with a form of cancer known as basal lymphoma, was informed that she was in remission.
She received an ovation from the large crowd on hand and hugs from all the SPASH players.
“I’m really glad (SPASH coach) Brandon (Busse) and the organizers allowed us to be part of this. What a special night for Montana,” Brandt said. “(Cancer) is bigger than the game of hockey. It’s bigger than any sporting event. We were just happy to be part of it.”
On the ice, Prokop came up big when the Warriors needed him most after a relatively quiet first two periods.
SPASH came out swarming the Warriors in the final period, and eventually got the puck past Prokop when Barrett Brooks redirected a point shot by Cole Beilke past him for a power-play goal at 6:24 to close the gap to 2-1.
The Panthers continued to buzz the West net for much of the remainder of the third period. But Prokop, with a lot of assistance from his defensmen in front of him, weathered the attack.
Only when a deflection by SPASH in the closing seconds were the Warriors finally able to breathe easy and celebrate sole possession of first place in the Valley.
Busse would like to have seen the pressure his team generated over the final 17 minutes show up a little sooner.
“I thought the whole third period we kind of took it to them. Unfortunately, it took us two periods to wake up,” the Panthers coach said. “We just didn’t get that last bounce there. Overall, I thought we played a really good third period.”
Cade Lemmer staked the Warriors to a 1-0 lead after one period when he converted a breakaway while 4-on-4 with 5:23 left in the opening frame.
The score remained that way until 17 seconds into the final period when Lemmer found Marc Sippel in the slot and he made no mistake burying the puck for a 2-0 lead.
The margin could have been even bigger if not for the efforts of Wierzba in net for SPASH.
A junior, Wierzba made a handful of top-notch saves, including a couple pad stops on rebounds, that kept the game close until the end.
West was able to hang on to record the win. It marked the seventh consecutive time in the rivalry the visiting team has come away with the victory.
The rematch is set for Feb. 7 at Marathon Park.
“It’s always a huge battle with Wausau West. Obviously, the outcome didn’t end up the way we wanted it, but we played hard and the boys should be proud and hold their heads high” Busse said. “We still have half the season here and we’re only going to get better each and every day.”
Wausau West 1 0 1 – 2
SPASH 0 0 1 – 1
First period: 1. WW, Cade Lemmer, 12:37.
Third period: 2. WW, Marc Sippel (Lemmer, Sam Techel), :17; 3. SPASH, Barrett Brooks (Cole Beilke, Trey Zagrzebski), 6:24 (pp).
Saves: Wausau West (Adam Prokop) 21; SPASH (Spencer Wierzba) 22.
Records: Wausau West ; 11-2-1; SPASH 11-2-1.