Notre Dame captures first state title since 2012
By Greg Bates
MIDDLETON – A state championship trophy is coming back to Notre Dame Academy.
The Tritons boys’ hockey team capped off an undefeated season by thumping Verona 8-2 on Saturday in the WIAA Division 1 state title game at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena.
It is Notre Dame’s second state title in program history — its first since the 2011-12 season.
“This means the absolute world to me,” Tritons senior forward Hunter Bill said. “I just won this with my brothers, and this is everything that I’ve dreamed of since I was younger.”
In his first year in the program, sophomore Drew Schock loved capping it off with a state title.
“It’s awesome,” Schock said. “The team worked so hard for this the whole year, every practice just preparing for this moment. I feel like our team played really well. In the third period, we finished it off and everybody did their part. It was awesome.”
In his 10th trip to the state tournament in 17 seasons, Cory McCracken picked up the second championship trophy of his coaching career.
“It’s special,” McCracken said. “It’s a super special day for our program. I’m super happy for the guys. They’ve invested a ton of time in this from the offseason starting in June through now. It’s just been a super long process for us to get to this point and I’m just thrilled for our guys. They invest so much into the process to get to where they want to be and it’s special to see them accomplish it in a pretty convincing manner today.”
Notre Dame’s victory was convincing indeed.
After the Tritons’ sectional final victory over Bay Port, Bill was confident his teammates would get the job done.
“We’ve prepared all summer and all year just for this moment,” Bill said. “Blood, sweat and tears with my best friends, my brothers, my coaches and I just knew we were going to come away with this one.”
The Tritons led 3-1 heading into the third period before erupting for three goals in a span of 3 minutes, 53 seconds, and five in the final 15 1/2 minutes of the game.
“The momentum changed quickly as soon as we scored to make it 4-1, and that was definitely a blow to Verona,” McCracken said. “You could see how they played after that, they got a little cheap and a little physical on that side of it. We responded really well. We came back with a power-play goal twice just to get the game out of reach, and then from there it was to have some fun with the guys and enjoy it.”
Notre Dame and Verona played a tight game on Dec. 28 with the Tritons eking out a 4-3 victory on a late goal by Bill. This game was different in a number of aspects.
“The ice conditions aren’t great, so we managed the game well under the ice conditions,” McCracken said. “Our guys bought in to understanding that there’s going to be some parts of the game that we can’t do the way we normally do. We tried to take away a little bit more of what Reece Cordray and Conrad Moline wanted to do for Verona, they’re expectation hockey players, and they still go loose a few times on us. But, overall, I think we just stuck to our game plan for 51 minutes and that was the end result that we were looking for today.”
In the state title game, the third period belonged to top-ranked Notre Dame.
Bryce Dahl scored 1:22 into the third with helpers from Sam Kappell and Brenden Gruber. Kade McCarron took a feed from Michael McIntee and buried a shot in the back of the net at 4:42 to make it 5-1. It took just 33 seconds for Kappell to light the lamp — capping off a hat trick for the talented sophomore. An assist was credited to McIntee.
At that point, it started to seep into Kappell’s mind that his team was going to win the state title.
“About the 10-minute mark when it was 5-1, 6-1,” Kappell said. “Everyone’s just so happy and all together and they were down for sure. We kind of knew it in our heads.”
Mason Peapenburg, with an assist from Joseph Coghlin, scored Notre Dame’s seventh goal. McIntee, the team’s captain, scored with an assist from Drew Schock.
“As soon as these boys smell blood in the water, they’re like a bunch of sharks — they’re just stormin’ it and stormin’ it until it’s over,” Bill said.
Notre Dame wouldn’t have been in a great position in the third period if it wasn’t for the team’s fast start in the first.
Kappell got the first goal on the doorstep at 5:45 as Schock and Bill got assists. Just 20 seconds later, Schock took a wrist shot that found the back of the net.
Kappell, just a sophomore, picked up his second goal of the game on a Ice Bears win state title on a poke in with 59.6 seconds left in the period to make it 3-0.
“Last night at the hotel we talked about starting fast and getting to our game plan early and we certainly did that,” McCracken said. “We were fortunate on one bounce, but we got to our game plan immediately. We put pucks behind the back of the net, we worked our offensive zone sequence off of that and it opened up some space for us later on in the game for the offensive blueline play, which has been a part of our game all year long.”
Verona made it a 3-1 game in the second period when Lars Brotzman put a puck past Notre Dame goalie Lleyton Jaschke. Jaschke was pulled in the semifinal game after allowing three goals in the first 23 minutes of the game. However, McCracken went back to his everyday starter, and Jaschke answered the call with 13 saves. Verona scored a goal with three seconds left in the game as Notre Dame’s players prematurely celebrated their championship.
A pair of sophomores had big games for Notre Dame. Kappell came through with five points (three goals, two assists) and Schock added three points (one goal, two assists).
“I expect a lot out of myself and it’s great that it got done here,” Kappell said. “It’s a big game. We had our best players play great tonight. I’m very happy about that.”
According to Wisconsin Prep Hockey, Notre Dame became the first hockey program to go undefeated during a WIAA season since 2008.
Along with this title game, McCracken coached Notre Dame’s 2011-12 team that won state. That begs the question, is this team the best ever in program history?
“I think you could probably argue that for sure,” McCracken said. “It’s hard to compare teams, but it’s special. It’s a special, special group with a lot of talented players that have a bright future in the game.”
Winning state and going undefeated in the process is something that’s very important for Bill and his teammates.
“That puts the cherry on top,” Bill said. “28-0 is a very, very, very big deal, and it was awesome.”