Madison (WQOW) -- Last year, Hudson beat Eau Claire Memorial in the State Boys Hockey Quarterfinals, en route to a WIAA Title. Both teams are back at State, and with this being the first year of seeding the tourney, the #1 Raiders and #2 Old Abes won't meet until the Championship game. But to make that a possibility, they've got to start by winning on Thursday.
All eight boys teams get 45 minutes on the ice at Veterans Memorial Coliseum Wednesday afternoon, and even for a team like Eau Claire Memorial making its ninth straight trip to Madison, it is valuable time to get reacquainted with the venue.
"Yeah, it's definitely a different rink," says junior forward Brenden Olson, "I think the temperature in here is a little warmer, so we've got to make sure we're staying cool, and the ice is a little different, a little softer, so we've just got to make sure we're adjusting in practice, and getting things going."
"It's the quietness, it's the boards, it's the huge seating areas, everything about it," explains senior goaltender Trevor Hudecek, "It's completely different from any other rink that we play in. When you step on that ice for practice, it's not just to have fun and show up, it's to realize these boards are a lot different, and man, this ice is a lot slower. We're not going to be the same fast paced, off the boards, quick and go, like it is back at home. So I feel like if our players sit down and realize it, it's a little bit different rink, but once you all get down to it, we're all just playing hockey."
Since winning the 2013 State Title, the Abes have been knocked out of the quarterfinals in three of the last four years, and nerves have been a topic of conversation.
"We talked a little bit about fear or anxiety because that's usually what guys do on Thursday, that's what they have," says head coach Chris Tok, "We've got to make sure we go back to our roots, the base of what we've been able to do to get success, and stick to that. Simplify it and focus on a couple things, and make sure we do those really well."
Last year, Eau Claire Memorial knew its quarterfinal opponent, Hudson, quite well. It's not quite the same this year, although there is some familiarity between the Old Abes and West Salem/Bangor. The Abes beat the Panthers back in December by a score of 6-3.
"I think the big thing was controlling the puck and maintaining our speed and eliminating their counterattack," Tok says, "They did get a couple of counterattacks and the pucks ended up in the back of the net. If we give them the opportunities, they have the ability to score. We've just got to make sure we limit those abilities and play in the other end."
Both teams possess plenty of speed. Panthers forward Jack Gorniak has committed to the University of Wisconsin. Memorial will look to contain him with team defense, and the slower ice surface at the coliseum doesn't hurt either.
"They have Gorniak, he can make a move on anybody. He's an unreal skater, unreal player," Hudecek says, "But I think that our team, we're able to skate fast and move faster in terms of physical ability. I feel like if we come out there flying, come out there fast, we can shut them down."
Olson agrees, "I think it worked well just getting shots, getting pucks to the net, and really just keeping them toward the perimeter on our D zones, so we've just got to keep doing what we're doing."
The Old Abes take on the Panthers Thursday at 4 p.m.
Defending State Champion Hudson enters this year's tournament as the number one seed, but they know that doesn't guarantee anything, especially against a team like St. Mary's Springs, ranked 10th in the latest State coaches poll.
"We've been the top team all year, and certainly there's added pressure with that. We just know that we're going to get every team's best shot and we've got to be ready for it," head coach Brooks Lockwood says, "Any team with a strong goalie, you know, you gotta get pucks to the net, you gotta get traffic, and so that becomes a big part of the game. They're a good team, they've won a great section, they beat a great team in USM, so we know we're going to get a great test."
The Raiders take on St. Mary's Springs Thursday morning at 10 a.m.