Bobcats surprise with national runner-up
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – When it was announced Green Bay would be hosting the 2021 USA Hockey-Chipotle Tier II 18U National Championships, that was good news for the local youth team, the Green Bay Bobcats.
That meant the hosts would get an automatic bid into the 16-team tournament.
The Bobcats came into the event with a not-so-eye-popping 14-11-1 record, the lowest winning percentage of all the teams in the 3A field (which consists of the bigger schools).
When the Bobcats knocked off the No. 2-ranked 3A team in the nation, Team Ohio, 2-1, in the opening round April 29, and followed that up with a 5-2 victory over No. 6 Cheektowaga (New York) the next day, it opened some eyes.
“Before the tournament, we knew we were going to be good,” said forward Kole Altergott, who lives in Green Bay. “We knew we were going to win games. I don’t think any of us had the mindset we were going to come in and lose to a top team. We felt we were the number one team in the nation at the time.”
In the end, the Bobcats advanced to the national championship game against the Janesville Jets before falling, 3-2.
“We were overlooked,” Altergott said. “We were the underdogs coming into every game in this tournament. We fought and won games.”
Bobcats head coach Nick Glander said he was proud of his team.
“We surprised teams, but in the locker room and with the guys around our program, it’s not a secret we’re a good hockey program,” he said. “If you look at some of the teams we play, we play lots of AAA teams. We play Upper Peninsula Michigan teams that are the gritty, hard-working, blue-collar kids, and our kids can play with them. They get better that way, but our record doesn’t show it. We were battling every weekend preparing for this (tournament).”
The Bobcats went 3-0 in pool play by finishing it out with a 5-3 victory over Littleton (Colorado).
In the national semifinals, the Bobcats again scored a big upset, downing the No. 4-ranked MN Moose 3-2 in overtime.
Forward Ty Froelich scored 2:36 into the extra session to give the Bobcats the win.
“All the boys were going crazy, so that’s when we thought we had a good chance at taking (the championship) home,” said forward Alexander Freund, who is from Neenah.
The Bobcats eked out a 1-0 victory in the semifinals over Orland Park (Illinois).
Tanner Newton scored the game’s lone goal midway through the second period, and goalie Lincoln Simons earned the shutout.
That set up an in-state showdown against No. 3-ranked Janesville in the May 3 championship.
The Bobcats and Jets played four times during the regular season, with the Jets winning three of those matchups.
The Bobcats got down 3-0 after two periods.
Altergott scored 5:44 into the third to reenergize his team.
With 2:30 on the clock, Glander pulled Simons for a sixth skater, and Freund lit the lamp with 51.2 seconds remaining to get within one goal.
“We put that first one in, and it was a big momentum-builder,” Freund said. “And then, with 50 seconds left, I got the puck on the sidewall and walked it in. The goalie didn’t know where it was, and I saw his wickets open down low, so I put it down there. Lucky enough, it went in.”
Green Bay, which had 13 shots on goal in the final period, had some opportunities in front of the net late, but the Jets hung on for a 3-2 victory.
“This team has unbelievable grit and determination,” Glander said. “They work hard. It’s a great group of guys, and they kept battling. A few minutes more on the clock and it could have been a different story.”
Simons stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced.
“The shots were even – we didn’t get that bounce,” Glander said. “In the end, I think everyone – the kids and families – will love and cherish the moment they got to this point because not a lot of teams will get here.”
It capped a great tournament run by the Bobcats, who are comprised of 20 players from Green Bay (seven), De Pere (three), Suamico (two), Seymour (two), Sobieski (one), Appleton (one), Combined Locks (one), Neenah (one), Kohler (one) and Fond du Lac (one).
Glander is expecting almost half the team to be back next season.
The Bobcats had balanced scoring throughout the tournament, as Grady Coppo was the third-leading scorer in 3A with eight points (three goals, five assists).
Dayne Deanovich added six points and a team-high four goals.
The national runner-up finish is the best in program history.
Glander said it’s a special group of players who made the postseason run possible.
“We’ve all played together so long – it’s been like 10 years in the making,” Altergott said. “We’ve all been playing since we were squirts, and it’s heartbreaking to end it on a loss, but it’s nice to go into the championship game and have a good run for it.”
Freund echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
“It feels nice,” he said. “The boys put together a good effort throughout the tournament. Coming in, I wasn’t sure how things were going to go, but we put together a good run and ended up taking second, which isn’t bad at all.”