For a team as young as the Somerset Spartans, battling a veteran team like Hayward right to the final buzzer is a big step in a team's growth.
The Spartan boys hockey team lost at Hayward 4-3 on Friday. The Spartans pulled their goalie in the final minutes and it nearly produced a tying goal, with the Spartans just missing a rebound shot in the closing seconds of the game.
For Somerset, the game was a big stride in the right direction. Hayward already has wins over Chippewa Falls and Madison Memorial to its credit. And Chippewa Falls has already beaten Hudson, the top-ranked boys team in the state. So by correlation, Somerset's effort against Hayward says good things about the Spartans' effort.
The Spartans are 0-4 on the season, but this was their first game against a Wisconsin opponent. Somerset coach Dan Gilkerson said that is one of the main reasons why Somerset was so much more competitive on Friday. He said Minnesota hockey is played at a much faster pace. He said the more deliberate pace played by many Wisconsin teams fits a young team like the Spartans far better.
The Spartans scored Friday's first goal. Freshman Noah Bailey stole the puck from a Hayward defenseman and snapped a shot into the upper right corner of the net for his first varsity goal. Hayward scored three minutes later and the opening period ended 1-1.
Hayward appeared to be pulling away, building a 3-1 lead. Then, with three seconds left in the second period, defenseman Jordan Brown scored. The goal revitalized the Spartans. They tied the game with 6:30 left in regulation when Jackson Haukom scored on a power play.
Hayward got the tie-breaking power-play goal with 2:11 left. The Spartans tried their best, but couldn't get the tying score.
Kaleb Bents had 34 saves for the Spartans. Gilkerson said Bents has played well in all four starts. He said his teammates need to do a better job of supporting him when he gives up a rebound.
Several Spartans are starting to settle into new positions. Haukom was a defenseman, but this season he's been moved to first-line center. Brown was a forward, but is now part of the team's defense.
"He worked pretty hard over the summer and he's improved quite a bit," Gilkerson said.
Penalties are an issue for the Spartans. They were whistled nine times at Hayward. In last Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Chisago Lakes, the Spartans were penalized 10 times and Chisago was called 13 times.
The only Spartan goal in that game was scored by freshman Owen McDonough on the power play late in the second period.
The Spartans will aim for their first win this Thursday against the Northwest Icemen. The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Cumberland.