Ice Bears win state title
By William Soquet
MIDDLETON – Early goals were the name of the game for the Bay Area Ice Bears girls’ hockey team on Saturday.
The Ice Bears defeated the Superior/Northwestern Spartans 3-0 in the state championship game.
With the win, the Ice Bears earned their first state championship since 2014.
“It means a lot for them and for me,” Ice Bears coach Joe Gerarden said. “The countless times we’re just doing all the hard work. I don’t even have the words yet, but I’m so excited for this group. For what they did and where they’re going to continue to go, they did a good job.”
Bay Area scored goals in the first four minutes of each period en route to the win.
Senior defenseman Claire Bradford said that the difference was the team culture.
“We get really pumped in between periods in the locker room, and we come out with a lot of energy,” she said. “I think that’s hard for other teams to control and that definitely plays to our strengths so that we can control the rest of the period and be able to play our game.”
Kristina Kruse got the action started early, scoring on a shorthanded goal on a breakaway only 2:06 into the game.
“Throughout the whole finals, we were pumping in that first goal quick and it’s just
a relief for all the kids,” Gerarden said. “You spot one like that, and then everybody settles in and everybody works hard. Just a great moment, great way to start.”
The Ice Bears followed that up with an Addison Dahl slapshot 3:03 into the second period and a Bradford goal 39 seconds into the third.
“We always say ‘race to three,’ there it was,” Gerarden said. “And then to kill penalties, kill penalties, all a team effort.”
While Bradford’s goal accomplished the three in “race to three,” it also was a special moment for the Bradford family.
Claire’s sister, Julianne, provided the assist, something that Claire doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s special. You can’t explain it to someone who’s never felt it,” she said. “We’ve been practicing all year, we do that in so many games. It’s just a special feeling to be able to do that in the state championship game.”
Goalie Anna Byczek was stellar in the net for the Ice Bears, saving all 32 shots she faced.
“Every single playoff game, I’ve let in at least one goal, so I was definitely not expecting to come out
with a shutout,” she said. “But I’m very glad that that’s the outcome.”
In her first season with the Ice Bears, Byczek credits the team atmosphere for her success.
“I think that since the beginning of the year and now, I have grown a lot,” Byczek said. “These girls, these coaches are amazing and they’ve helped me.”
The job of goaltender got harder as the game went along.
Byczek amassed eight saves in the first period, 10 in the second period and 14 in the third period.
“There were certain times when we were on a penalty kill, I was nervous,” she said. “But I just stayed focused stayed with it and hoped for a shutout towards the end there.”
Bay Area didn’t make it easy for their goalie and faced a 5-on-3 for a minute and a half in the third.
It also faced a 6-on-4 for two minutes at the end of the game, with Faye Brunke in the penalty box for checking and the Spartans having pulled their goalie.
Team trust carried the Ice Bears through and kept the shutout until the end of the game.
“Honestly, I got a shutout just as much as [my teammates] helped me get a shutout,” Byczek said. “They killed those penalties, they’re the reason why I got a shutout. We just kicked it in. We had some penalty kills, we had to step up in that five-on-three and I think that as a whole, our entire team did amazing.”
Bradford said that the trust goes both ways.
“We trust our goalie,” she said. “Obviously, she did an amazing job with the shutout. Just clearing pucks and getting them to the corner is something that we try and do. Everyone knows ‘go back to the house, go back to the house.’”
Underclassmen accounted for two of the three Bay Area goals and make up 13 of 19 players on the roster.
Their success is something that Gerarden hesitates to take credit for.
“(The underclassmen in their) 10U season, five years ago today, won the state tournament at 10U and then they do it again,” Gerarden said. “A few of them, it’s their first year of high school. We’ve got a great girls program all the way through. It’s going to start a good tradition for that group.”
The Ice Bears last appeared in a state championship game in 2017, when this year’s seniors were in sixth grade.
“It feels amazing, and there’s no better feeling,” Byczek said. “I’m so happy for all of us, for the team, for the coaches, It’s so exciting and the adrenaline rush is still kicking.”
Bradford said that the title represents something the team had its eye on for a long time.
“It’s the goal the whole season,” Bradford said. “It’s really special, it’s really exciting to be able to share with some of my best friends and my sister. I was pumped.”
Before looking to the future, Gerarden is fine celebrating the championship.
“Just enjoying this moment,” he said.