Exhilarating ending

Wildcats battle their way through the State tournament


Evan Vaslow

Although the outcome wasn’t what the Wildcats hoped, they still fought all game and tried their hardest. They had some issues to work out, but the team mostly did all the right things. “The team did an excellent job looking for the weak guy,” sophomore Bryce Kriha said. “This would allow us to break out the puck, and cause a turnover. We also had great communication and stayed hyped up all game.”

Garrett Wilcoxen, Staff Reporter

Throughout their season, the Millard West hockey team was one of the top contenders in their league. Going into the state tournament, Millard West had a record of 17-5 and was ranked fourth in Nebraska.

The Wildcats first traveled to Baxter Arena to face off against Creighton Prep, the third ranked team. The game started with both teams coming out fast and strong, but failing to finish on fast breaks. There were many opportunities each team could have pushed the goal and attempted shots, but after a while, the players started letting the defense take the puck. Although both teams could have improved on the energy in the first period, Creighton Prep was the dominant team, holding possession throughout.

“Going into the game we felt confident,” senior Clayton Kriha said. “We had one win and one loss against them in the season, but we believed we could beat them in the playoffs.”

The next two periods in this game were similar to the first one. They both lacked full effort, and although no one could make solid passes, Wildcat sophomore Karden Siebel was able to score a goal late in the second period. This changed the tempo at which Creighton Prep was playing and forced them to pick up the pace. Nearing the end of the game, a Bluejay took a shot and scored. Due to a penalty from his teammate, the goal didn’t count and was taken back. This left the Wildcats on top and kept them in the running.

The next game Millard West played was against Fremont. The game took place on Saturday, Feb. 26, and had the ability to either give the Wildcats the state title or send them to game two. The game began with the Wildcats starting quick and moving the puck well. This was changed abruptly when the Tigers were able to get a fast break shot off, putting them up one. It then slowed the Wildcat offense until a couple minutes remained in the first period. With just a few minutes left, Millard West tied up the score and gained back some momentum.

“The main goal was to use the momentum to carry us to more goals,” Clayton Kriha said. “Another main goal was maintaining a strong forecheck in our offensive zone.”

The second period started with Fremont scoring yet another goal, but Millard West was able to answer back quickly, netting the puck. Following these goals, there was a small lull with no scoring before the Tigers put away another shot. This brought the game into the third period with Fremont having an advantage and the momentum. Although Millard West didn’t have trouble before, they struggled throughout this period with getting back on defense. Fremont soon scored three more times before the clock hit zero, pushing the state title to a game two.

“We could have prepared better by zoning in and focusing on what we need to do, instead of messing around in the locker room,” sophomore Bryce Kriha said. “On the other hand, our team did excellent on keeping our composure.”

The final game of the season, the fate of the title, was fought for on Sunday, Feb. 27, at Moylan Iceplex. The two teams already knew each other’s play styles and had become familiar with what defenses and attacks to use. Right off the bat, not even five minutes into the game, Fremont scored two goals and took the lead. This was a mental block for the Wildcats as they were already down, but they pushed through and scored one of their own.

Following this, about midway through the game, the Tigers were able to take a 3-1 lead and crush Millard West’s momentum. This score was kept for about one full period of play, before there was five minutes left in the game. Around this time, the Wildcats got a good look and capitalized on a shot attempt. This was a huge relief for Millard West seeing as they only needed one more to stay in the game.

Once again, the Wildcats came out fast, had communication, and made safe passes throughout their team. This led them to finding an open lane after a defender slipped up, and finishing on another shot. This gave Millard West new life and brought the game within reach. Although they scored two goals within that short amount of time, the Wildcats weren’t able to put any more up, sending the game to overtime. Even through overtime, Millard West held their dominance and showed they were the better team.

“They were chipping at us with about three minutes left in the third,” Clayton Kriha said. “We knew we couldn’t let them win so easily, which gave us the energy to come back and tie it up.”

This was evident within all three overtimes, although neither team could score in the first two overtime periods. Nearing the end of the game, foul trouble hit Millard West pretty hard as they were playing down one man. Still, they were able to keep up with the Tigers and adjust to the unwanted changes. This took the game to the third overtime, where unfortunately for the Wildcats, Fremont was able to score and take the title.

Millard West had a great season and ended it out with their best performance of the year. Although the Wildcats will be losing five seniors this year, they have many underclassmen looking to step up.