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Notre Dame is off to state title game

By Greg Bates
The Notre Dame Academy boys’ hockey team’s dream season will have one more game: for a state title.
Notre Dame was tied 3-3 with University School of Milwaukee in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Friday before the Tritons scored three unanswered goals to pull off a 7-4 victory at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton.
This will be the third trip for Notre Dame to a state title game in program history.
University School didn’t make it easy for the first half of the contest.
“They put up a fight, as to be expected,” Notre Dame coach Cory McCracken said. “You get down here and teams are going to have their A-game in the first period and try to push as much as they can, and University School certainly did that.”
Top-ranked and top-seeded Notre Dame sits at a perfect 27-0 heading into Saturday’s state championship game. It will play the winner of No. 2-seeded Verona vs. No. 3-seeded Hudson.
After Notre Dame goalie Lleyton Jaschke allowed University School to score to make it 3-3 early in the second period, McCracken went to his backup goalie Anton Widas. Jaschke allowed three goals on just seven shots.
“I think we just needed to calm the group down and make sure momentum didn’t swing one direction too fast,” McCracken said. “We just wanted to make sure our guys refocused on the pieces that we needed to focus on to be good in the game. Really it wasn’t as much on Lleyton in that situation as it was we just wanted to change momentum and get our guys to refocus on some things. We have all the trust and confidence in Anton to go and do a great job, and he did just that for us.”
From that point on, Notre Dame mostly dominated play.
Keegan McCarron scored at 7:53 of the second period with assists going to Quinn Koszarek and Kade McCarron. Just over four minutes later, Joseph Gerbitz gave Notre Dame a two-goal cushion, with helpers coming from James Flanigan and Wyatt Herres.
“We just needed to push and get back into our game plan,” McCracken said.
The Tritons made it 6-3 early in the third period as Keegan McCarron netted his second goal of the game on another Koszarek assist.
University School (19-9) cut its deficit to 6-4, but Joseph Coghlin tallied his second goal of the game for Notre Dame to ice the victory.
Widas came in relief to stop eight of nine shots he faced.
What is McCracken’s plan in goal for the state title game?
“Good question. I don’t know,” McCracken said. “We’ll probably come back with Lleyton is my guess. He’s our starter and he’s been our starter for the back half of the season. He just needs to get regrouped and refocused, and he showed the ability to do that when we did it earlier in the year — not an issue.”
McCracken said he’ll talk to his staff and they will make a determination on Friday night or Saturday morning.
Notre Dame got off to a great start in the semifinal as assistant captains Hunter Bill and Brenden Gruber both scored to make it 2-0.
University School’s Jack McGregor tallied back-to-back goals within 18 seconds to tie it, 2-2.
Coghlin scored early in the second period and McGregor answered again to log a hat trick to tie the game.
The win for McCracken is his 300th in his 17-year coaching career at Notre Dame.
“It’s special,” McCracken said. “It’s a special accomplishment for our program and any time you can have that happen on the stage it happened today, it’s an even more enjoyable experience. It’s just a testament to the amount of time and resources we put behind our hockey program to make it successful. Obviously, I’ve got a great staff with me and our players are largely responsible for most of that. The players drive the success, and I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of that the last 17 years.”
The focus now turns to Saturday’s championship game. It’s a game the Notre Dame seniors have been waiting for since Verona knocked them off as freshman in the state title game in 2020.
“I think regardless of the opponent, they want to give themselves a chance to do something special as a program, as an organization, as a team,” McCracken said. “They’ve put a lot of time into their younger players, they’ve done a great job leading this year. The senior group is a driver of it, but I think as a collective team, they’re excited about their opportunity tomorrow. They’ve got three periods to go do something special.”

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