Jonny Pace
Photoby Hoden Law

The Yellowjacket men’s hockey team entered play on Thursday, Feb. 6 reeling, having dropped four straight games and going winless in six. With the pressure building, the ‘Jackets came out and provided the hometown crowd with one of their gutsiest efforts of the 2019-20 season.

After scoring twice in the third period, the Yellowjackets employed an effective offensive attack, complimented by sound play in the defensive zone to earn a 3-2 win at Wessman Arena.

The Yellowjackets opened the scoring at 6:52 of the first period when Dylan Johnson (Cloquet, Minn./Cloquet) broke out of the right wing corner and worked his way to the front of the net where he slid a backhand past River Falls goaltender Zach Quinn to make it 1-0. It was the 11th goal of the year for Johnson, who last weekend became just the second Yellowjacket freshman since 2008 to put up at least 20 points in his rookie season.

Later in the period the bad puck luck that has plagued the ‘Jackets of late came to roost once again. Trey Bagwell took a shot from the left wing that went off Artur Terchiyev (Kiev, Ukraine/Everst Academy), caromed to the slot where it hit Troy York (Plano, Texas/West) in the leg and went into the net to tie the game at 1-1.

It stayed that way until the final minute when the Yellowjackets went ahead for good. Jonny Pace (Hamilton, Ontario/Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School) hit the crossbar earlier in the period, but this time luck was on his side. Pace got the puck at the top of the right circle and his perfectly-placed shot beat Quinn stick side to give the ‘Jackets a 2-1 lead with just 8.4 seconds to play in the frame.

The score remained 2-1 until late in the third period. Coming off of a timeout River Falls pulled Quinn for an extra attacker and the Yellowjackets made them pay. Lawson McDonald (Rosetown, Manitoba/Northlands Parkway Collegiate) got control of the puck behind the net and cleared to neutral ice where York got it, and he buried it into the empty net for his 11th of the year, making it a 3-1 game with 2:14 to go.

River Falls didn’t go away quietly, however, pulling back to within one with under 40 seconds to go. with Quinn on the bench for an extra attacker, Myles Hektor (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forest) got the puck behind the net and tried to clear the zone, only to hit Ryan Cusin and have the puck go in the net, to make the final score 3-2.

Coming off an invigorating win at home, the Yellowjackets hit the road Saturday, Feb. 8 to complete its weekend home-and-home series against UW-River Falls.

The trip started on a low note, with injury and illness sweeping through the Yellowjacket dressing room. As a result, York, Johnson, Pavel Mikhasenok (Yekaterinburg, Russia/Everest Academy), and Colton Nelson (Grand Rapids, Mich./Edmond North), all key components in Thursday’s win, stayed home. The depleted lineup took the ice looking for the sweep, but the ‘Jackets were never able to find their collective footing.

River Falls jumped on the Yellowjackets early and was in control throughout, on the way to a 5-1 win Saturday night at Hunt Arena.

River Falls opening the scoring just 1:40 into the contest when Chase Davidson got his shot from the right point through traffic to make it 1-0.

The Yellowjackets tied the game 1-1 when Ty Proffitt (Fairbanks, Alaska/Fairbanks BEST) scored his third goal of the year at 7:39 of the opening period. In the right corner, Proffitt threw the puck toward the goal from a sharp angle and it got through River Falls goaltender Zach Quinn. Will Blake (Champlin, Minn./Breck) had the only assist.

River Falls scored the eventual game-winning goal from Charlie Singerhouse at 16:51 of the first period. Jackson Nauss scored a power play goal at 17:47 of the second period to make it 3-1. The Falcons then added a pair of goals late to put it out of reach. Gabe Wahl scored from the left circle at 13:23, before Jacob Skolnik closed out the scoring at 16:32 to make the final 5-1.

Hektor made the start in goal for both games for the Yellowjackets, with his record changing to 5-3-3 on the year.

The win allowed River Falls to pull into a tie with the Yellowjackets (13-7-3, 6-7-0 WIAC) for third place in the WIAC, but the Yellowjackets own the tiebreaker based on winning the season series.

With Saturday’s results, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stevens Point assured themselves of byes in the first round of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) playoffs. With Northland College locked in as the No. 6 seed, the Yellowjackets, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout are still jockeying for position, making next weekend’s regular season final games of utmost importance. The Yellowjackets play Stout twice, while River Falls has a pair of games with Eau Claire.

The ‘Jackets next play at UW-Stout on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7:05 p.m.