The top line for Verona has been one of the best in the state this season, helping the Wildcats accomplish two major feats as the regular season winds down.
Verona won its fourth consecutive Big Eight Conference championship with a 5-1 road win over Sun Prairie on Tuesday, Feb. 4. The Wildcats then beat SPASH 5-2 at home Saturday, Feb. 8, a day before postseason brackets were announced.
Verona earned the No. 1 seed in the Division 1 Edgewood Sectional and will host the winner of Madison Memorial and Baraboo/Portage in the regional finals Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
The Wildcats are ranked fifth in D1 in the latest Wisconsin Prep Hockey Coaches Association Poll.
Verona 5, SPASH 2
After a scoreless first period, Wildcats (19-4, 13-0 Big Eight) erupted for four straight goals in the second to beat the Panthers.
Ryan Ritter scored 2:02 into the second off assists from Troy Tollefson and Parker Ploc. Keegan Lindell scored a little more than five minutes later off an assist from Nathan Jurrens.
Verona tacked on two power-play goals in the second. Cale Rufenacht collected the assist on Walker Haessig’s tally with 7:56 left, then scored with 1:31 left off assists from Ritter and Leo Renlund.
SPASH scored 37 seconds before the second intermission and 6:40 into the third period to cut it to 4-2, but Rufenacht added an insurance goal with 1:03 left in the game off an assist from Haessig.
The Wildcats outshot the Panthers 34-22, finished 2-for-4 on the power play and killed all four penalties. Kaden Grant made 20 saves in the win.
Verona 5, Sun Prairie 1
Rufenacht recorded a hat trick and also had an assist as the Wildcats clinched their fourth straight Big Eight title.
“It’s kind of an expectation at this point,” Rufenacht said of winning the conference crown. “We came into this season expecting to win conference. When we all buy in, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
The Wildcats put a damper on Sun Prairie’s Senior Night by snapping the Cardinals’ six-game winning streak. The first line of Rufenacht, Haessig, Jurrens, Renlund and Josh Osting recorded all of Verona’s points.
“I’d take our guys any day against anybody,” Verona coach Joel Marshall said. “When they’re on, they’re one of the best units in the state. They were really clicking and challenged themselves after a tough loss (to Arrowhead on Saturday, Feb. 1).”
The Wildcats finished 1-for-4 on the power play, capitalizing on their second opportunity with 5:08 left in the first period. Jurrens ripped a wrister over the right shoulder of Sun Prairie goaltender Alex Liegel, as Rufenacht and Renlund assisted on the goal.
Verona made it 2-0 with 1:21 left before the first intermission. Renlund applied pressure to Liegel, stole the puck away and found Rufenacht in front for his first goal.
Rufenacht was denied by Liegel on a penalty shot 27 seconds into the second period, but he picked up his third point with 3:02 left before the second intermission. The captain muscled his way in front for a short-handed goal off an assist from Haessig.
Renlund beat Liegel five-hole on a breakaway 38 seconds into the third period to make it 4-0.
Sun Prairie took advantage of a Verona turnover to avoid the shutout. Davis Hamilton took a pass from Kaden Bunson and beat Grant blocker side with 4:38 remaining.
Rufenacht completed his hat trick by tipping in a shot from the point by Renlund with 1:59 left. Osting also assisted on the goal.
The Wildcats dominated possession and outshot the Cardinals 50-15. Grant finished with 14 saves.
“We’re on a wider sheet of ice in Verona, so we’ve struggled a little on smaller rinks,” Marshall said. “But we controlled the puck and hit area passes that we were able to track down. Our puck placement was as good as I’ve seen all year.”
Liegel made 45 saves for Sun Prairie, which went 0-for-5 on the power play.