By Greg Bates
DE PERE – As the seconds whittled off the clock, it looked as if an undefeated season would be a pipe dream.
But for the Notre Dame Academy boys’ hockey team, a loss isn’t realistic until the game clock is at all zeros.
Down 1-0 to rival Bay Port, the Tritons scored the tying goal with 8.3 seconds remaining in overtime and then netted the game-winner 2:35 into the extra session to escape with a 2-1 victory in a Fox River Classic Conference showdown on Friday at the Cornerstone Community Center.
Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in Division 1 in the state by Wisconsin Prep Hockey, is now 13-0 this season.
“It was a hard game,” said Notre Dame coach Cory McCracken, who said the game had the feel of a sectional final. “We just didn’t have our A -game tonight. We found a way to sneak one out at the end. I’m not sure the better team won tonight, but we found a way to get it done when it mattered.”
Notre Dame certainly did get it done, but it wasn’t easy.
“The team was helping all night, we were grinding and grinding, but could just not find goals,” said Notre Dame sophomore center Sam Kappell, who scored the game-winning goal. “But then came through, and it felt awesome.”
Bay Port, now 12-2 and ranked fifth in the state, dominated the second period after a scoreless first 17 minutes. Sam Lyons fed his younger brother Will for a goal at the 15:15 mark of the second on the power play.
With Notre Dame pressing late in the third period, goalie Lleyton Jaschke was pulled for an extra skater with about 1 minute remaining.
McCracken called a timeout with 20 seconds on the clock to set up his offense. Tritons forward Hunter Bill passed to Mason Peapenburg, who put a shot on net from the point that found its way past Bay Port goalie Devin Rustile with just 8.3 seconds left.
The Notre Dame skaters on the ice mobbed Peapenburg.
“It was getting scary there when we were down one with about a minute left, we were kind of getting worried,” Kappell said. “I think we sent the right guys out, we all played together well and just (dialed) in at the end.”
Heading into overtime, the momentum clearly favored the Tritons.
“After that goal happened, everyone was up, everyone was happy,” Kappell said. “We had so much energy going on the bench. We had so much momentum into overtime, we were all going hard. We all knew what we had to do to win.”
In the eight-minute extra session, Notre Dame had three or four good scoring chances in the first couple minutes.
“We finally got back to our game in overtime,” McCracken said. “We played on our toes, we dictated the pace, the tempo. We had four scoring chances before the one that we popped in. It was just a matter of our better players carried the mail a little bit in overtime for us which is good to see. But we should have played that way for the first 51 minutes.”
On the Tritons’ second shift, it made magic happen.
Kappell ended up with the puck on his stick along the boards, carried it past the point to the other side and put a wrist shot on net.
“I was not expecting that to go in at all, but I was lucky enough it did,” Kappell said.
Kappell — with his teammates chasing him — skated to the other end of the ice to congratulate his goalie Jaschke down by the Bay Port student section.
“The resiliency of our group, though, was good,” McCracken said. “I think we did a lot of really good things in the third period — we had some good looks, we just didn’t finish.”
Keeping that zero in the loss column is important for the Notre Dame players.
“We absolutely don’t want to lose any games this year, and got to keep scoring and putting games away to win,” Kappell said.
By Greg Bates