The first trip to the WIAA State Championships for the Somerset hockey team certainly didn’t go as the Spartans had hoped, but the Spartans wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
In their inaugural trip to the state tournament, the Spartans ran up against Northland Pines, the second ranked Division 2 team in the state. From the start, the Spartans struggled to keep up with the Eagles’ speed. The Spartans trailed 2-1 after the first period, but the game got away from Somerset in the second period, resulting in Northland Pines winning 9-2. Northland Pines will face St. Mary’s Springs in the Division 2 state title game at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Somerset finished the season with a 15-12-1 record.
The Spartans received a sendoff at the school on Wednesday. They then traveled to Madison, getting to be the first team to take the ice for a skate-around at the Alliant Energy Center, the long-time home of the state hockey tournament.
Things started to work against the Spartans almost immediately in the state playoff game. Somerset senior Beaudee Smith was called for a penalty 14 seconds into the game. Somerset coach Dan Gilkerson said it was an innocent center ice hit that he didn’t think warranted a penalty. The Spartans killed that penalty, but Northland Pines had momentum early. The Eagles scored 3 minutes, 10 seconds into the game and again at the 4:51 mark.
The rest of the first period was Somerset’s best stretch of the game. The Spartans cut the margin to 2-1 at the 6:25 mark into the game. Smith and Antonio Gomez broke in on a two-on-one break. Smith’s initial shot was stopped, but Gomez snapped the rebound into the net to get Somerset on the scoreboard.
Northland Pines took a five-minute penalty with 7:40 left in the period. The Spartans weren’t able to score on the power play, but they did apply good pressure during stretches.
The Spartans were hoping they could build upon the first period. Instead, their penalties, combined with the team speed of Northland Pines, buried the Spartans under a four-goal avalanche in the second period. Three of the goals were while the Spartans were on the penalty kill.
“Their speed was pretty much overwhelming for us,” Gilkerson said. “They’re fast, definitely. We were just a little overmatched.”
Northland Pines scored early in the third period to make the score 7-1. Somerset got its second goal with five minutes left in the game. Smith stickhandled around an Eagles defenseman and crossed in front of the net, where he was able to snap the puck into an open area of the goal.
The Eagles scored 11 seconds apart in the final minutes as they played their regular lines throughout the entire game.
Northland Pines finished with 35 shots, compared to 18 for Somerset. Somerset took 13 penalties, with Northland Pines called for four.
Gilkerson said the players got frustrated late in the game. He said the team had been playing so well recently that the outcome stung. He said everything else about the state experience was something they’ll treasure.
The Spartans graduate Smith, John Wiehl, Geoffrey Enger, Trevor Young, Jordan Brown and Ryan Kelly. Gilkerson said that group will always have the honor of being the leaders in Somerset’s first team that advanced to the state tournament.
He also said he expects the Spartans to contend for a trip to state again next season. With two juniors, eight sophomores and one freshman on the roster, the Spartans return a solid nucleus of talent for next season.
“This was great for our boys, for our community,” Gilkerson said.