SOMERSET, Wis. -- Somerset hockey coach Dan Gilkerson said a key to the Spartans’ success this season will be how they handle adversity. They handled it pretty well in their season opener against the Northwest Iceman Friday, Nov. 27.
The Spartans fell behind in the first period, killed off a five-minute major penalty in the second, and scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of the third to post a 2-1 victory over the Barron Co-op.
“We were just kind of grinding it out trying to get our legs under us,” Gilkerson said. “We had a lot of kids in quarantine so it's been tough to practice; that’s probably the same story for everybody. But we grinded it out and just just kept battling.”
Somerset controlled play early but the Iceman capitalized on a Spartan hooking penalty for a power-play goal midway through the first period to take a 1-0 lead.
The Spartans were on the attack again early in the second before a five-minute major penalty for head contact tilted the momentum back in the Iceman’s favor. But the Somerset penalty kill allowed just two shots on goal that were handled by goalie Kaleb Bents and the score remained 1-0 after two.
The Spartans broke through when Antonio Gomez took a pass from Wyatt Connors just outside his own blue line and beat a Northwest defender down the ice before firing the puck over the left shoulder of Icemen goalie Connor Morrison to tie the score 6 minutes, 26 seconds into the third. Owen McDonough also earned an assist on the play.
AJ Simpkins then sprung Abe Sirek for a breakaway goal with 1:18 remaining to give the Spartans the 2-1 victory.
After coming up empty on a power-play late in the second period, Gilkerson said the Spartans came out with a renewed fire in the third.
“I think we got kind of a second wind,” Gilkerson noted. “We're not in great game shape yet by any means. So I think we got a little bit of an adrenaline rush there in the third and picked up the intensity.”
Bents finished with 16 saves as the Spartans outshot the Icemen 35-17, including 14-4 in the third period.
The Spartans finished 15-11-1 last season on their way to the first state tournament appearance in program history. Gilkerson said he’s looking for the returners to provide the leadership to make a repeat run.
“They were really helpful today,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys; we had six young guys in the lineup and those nine returners did a great job of just being leaders and trying to teach the young guys what we're trying to do out there. So it helps a lot having that experience.”
He said that experience also helped the Spartans handle the adversity they faced in their first game.
“The biggest thing is just handling adversity in the right way,” Gilkerson said. “We focus a lot on that. And I thought we did a pretty good job of that today.”
After visiting Hayward Tuesday, Dec. 1, the Spartans will open Middle Border Conference play at home against Baldwin-Woodville Thursday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m.