Season’s Greetings from Wolfpack past
Pregame prognosticators had the Wolfpack Alumni hockey team at a sizeable advantage heading into the annual Wolfpack Alumni Game at Big Mine Ice Arena on Saturday night.
Actually, pregame prognosticators doubted the game would even make it three full periods but the work of refs John Mortell and Jay Prentiss kept the game going. They had the unenviable role of donning the stripes for the Alumni Game and despite harassment from the parents and alumni players alike, they called a solid game making sure the players and fans were treated to three full periods of good puck.
The setting could not have been more perfect for an outdoor game.
The snow banks on the south side were lined with parents and fans, the temperature hung around zero and the skies were clear. It was a great night for hockey.
The Alumni team was a who’s who of local high school hockey greats spanning the last 10 years. There were Rask Dietrich, Jackson Cooper, Jeff Snyder and Willy Coburn from the teams of the early aughts.
Ben Gillie, Pearce Roemer, Nathan Lacy and Todd Kunes from the mid-aughts were on the ice as well. Then there were the late-aught all-stars who were a part of the team that made a run at the state title. The list includes John Tharp and Robbie Holleran, two players who combined for more goals than any other starting line; Mo Gillie and Max Lamb who held the defensive end of the ice during the state run; and Zach Van Dyke, perhaps the most prolific goalie ever to wear a Wolfpack uniform, who is now in net for the Colorado Junior Eagles.
Even Daniel Hargrove, who traded in his goalie gear for basketball shoes years ago, suited up.
Regardless of the predictions, the Wolfpack played some of their best hockey to date, hanging tight with the stacked Alumni team through the first two periods.
While, player for player, the Alumni may have been the stronger squad, teamwork carried the Wolfpack through the first two periods.
Coburn put the Alumni on the scoreboard first, picking the upper triangle from in close in the fourth minute of the game and looked to net his second goal with a wrister through traffic, but Wolfpack goalie Nicholas Mikeska pushed the puck wide.
Tharp sliced through the Wolfpack defense to set himself up in close, but Mikeska came up with the save again and a breakout found Sam Evans charging up the boards with the puck. Evans pushed the puck past the last Alumni defender and when Van Dyke came out to cut off the angle, Evans poked it by to tie the game 1-1.
The Alumni connected a minute later with a shorthanded goal. After winning the face-off in the Wolfpack zone, Tharp skated to net for the shot. Mikeska made the first stop but Holleran followed on the rebound to score putting the Alumni back on top 2-1.
The Wolfpack responded two minutes later as Ben Reaman settled a puck wide and pushed it back to Evans for a shot. Evans uncorked a blistering slapshot that pinged off the far post and in, sending the two teams into the second period deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.
The two teams traded off odd-man rushes as the rink opened up for some high-speed end-to-end action with Mikeska and Van Dyke coming up with big saves and Wolfpack defenders Ben Frame and Jake Grogg tying up the Alumni forwards.
Evans broke the tie six minutes into the second period, threading through the Alumni defense for a backhand goal to give the Wolfpack their first lead of the game.
But Tharp returned the favor with his own one-man show, skating through the outstretched sticks of three Wolfpack players to finally find the back of the net, tying the game 3-3 heading into the third period.
The Alumni then took the game over in the third as Tharp scored two more in the first six minutes of the third period to build a 5-3 Alumni lead.
The Alumni added one more in the final minute of the game as Gillie fed Cooper in front of the net for the point blank shot. Mikeska made the initial save but Cooper chased down his own rebound to stuff the puck top shelf to ice the 6-3 Alumni win.