Senior Wildcat defenseman Eddie Patchen observes as the puck prepares to drop on a faceoff. Although without a point in this game, Patchen and the Cats held strong defensively en route to a 2-1 win over Papio. “It’s mainly to just keep doing what I’m doing because clearly in those situations it was working,” Patchen said. “So long as I’m not overthinking the plays I make then I should be able to keep up the defensive work. I think as long as we focus on playing as a team and not worrying about who our opponent is then I believe we can keep this trend going.”
Photo courtesy of Whittaker Media
Senior Wildcat defenseman Eddie Patchen observes as the puck prepares to drop on a faceoff. Although without a point in this game, Patchen and the Cats held strong defensively en route to a 2-1 win over Papio. “It’s mainly to just keep doing what I’m doing because clearly in those situations it was working,” Patchen said. “So long as I’m not overthinking the plays I make then I should be able to keep up the defensive work. I think as long as we focus on playing as a team and not worrying about who our opponent is then I believe we can keep this trend going.” Photo courtesy of Whittaker Media
Sam Whittaker

Cats keep climbing

Hockey team moves record to an astonishing 13-0-4

On Wednesday, Jan. 10, the Millard West hockey team faced off against the Papio Hockey Club in the final game of the season series.

Both sides met back in mid-November that ultimately ended in a 1-1 tie in large part due to the goaltending excellence. Still, the more significant storyline for this game was Wildcat’s senior netminder Seamus Bygrave playing his first game back since Jan. 3 due to illness. Without Bygrave this past weekend, the Wildcats swept the three-game weekend set against Westside, Millard South and Millard North by a combined score of 13-0.

The first period would display as a feeling-out process for both offenses as both goaltenders would be tested but not to any large extent. This would continue as both sides held strong defensively until Millard West broke through.

After excellent pressure by senior forward Kerek Heithier on a Papio defender near the left circle, the puck would find Heithier’s stick seconds later for a one-timer attempt that bounced the rebound right onto the tape of other senior forward Bryce Kriha who poked the puck home for his second goal of the season, and the first goal of the game putting Millard West up 1-0 with 4:40 left in the opening frame.

The final minutes of the first would wind down with a penalty from captain and junior forward Reece Wilson while senior defenseman Easton Akins and a Papio defenseman received offsetting minor penalties for roughing to end the period.

“Kerek did a great job getting a shot off and crashing the net,” Kriha said. “Whenever the team scores first, it changes the momentum of the game to where if your team scored you actually ease up a little bit compared to getting scored against, it will make you work harder so you can win.

Unlike the first period, the second would fly by with semi-rare stoppages and minimal action as Papio tried to catch up with the Cats, but were unsuccessful due to strong defense and goaltending.

This offensively lackluster momentum continued early into the final period of play until Millard West would tire the Papio defense with a great stretch in the offensive zone. 

With strained defenders, Papio was faced with the task of Millard West’s top line that would cash in with a Wilson rebound being just above the blue paint. In a shovel-shot attempt to the net, sophomore Wildcat forward Nolan Siebken would lift the puck on his backhand above the Papio goaltender’s left shoulder without looking toward the net. Siebken’s highlight-reel second goal of the season doubled the Millard West lead to two.

“I had crashed the net and hit it [the puck] off my backhand,” Siebken said. “The other team tends to panic with pressure and we usually will get shots and sometimes score.”

Only three minutes later, Papio responded as a stray pass in the Wildcat’s defensive zone found a Papio forward’s stick where the ensuing shot would squeak past the five-hole of Bygrave cutting the Wildcat lead in half making the score 2-1. 

In response, the Wildcats started to play aggressively around their own end to hold off a late Papio press leading to a 2-on-0. The pass across to junior forward Sam Sharp was denied with a massive post-to-post spread eagle save by the Papio netminder.

Seconds later, Papio found themselves in the Wildcat defensive zone with Bygrave making clutch save after another. Papio continued to force zone entries but with the West defense on high alert, passes inside were nearly impossible as the Wildcats forced Papio to the edges and boards if they wanted any shots. This ultimately came to an end as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the horn sounded sealing a nail-biting Wildcat win.

“It was nice to get back out there for a game,” Bygrave said. “It felt right for the most part, it had only been a week or so, and I had practice the day before. The way to stay perfect is to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s playing our game, and giving 100% effort each and every game.”

With their 13th win on the 2023-24 campaign, Millard West for the first time this season moves to first place in the standings with a 13-0-4 record following the Tri-City Junior Storm tying Creighton Prep this past Sunday. The Wildcats now await the West Lincoln Capitals in a matchup at Baxter on Jan. 17 with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.

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About the Contributor
Sam Whittaker, Staff Reporter
Also known as the voice of Millard West Hockey, Sam is a junior at Millard West beginning his first full year on the Catalyst Staff. He spent the summer working alongside Logan Moseley for the Corn Belt League gaining valuable broadcasting experience. In his free time, Sam cheers on the Tennessee Volunteers and Nashville Predators whenever he isn’t broadcasting or photographing Millard West sports.

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