- Jake Arno stopped 26 of 27 shots between the pipes, but Lakeland used a big first period to down the Hodags boys hockey team 4-1 at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday night.
Arno stepped in after the first intermission. Alex Littleton had allowed three first-period goals to the Thunderbirds in the opening 17 minutes. Despite the loss, the Rhinelander coaching staff was pleased with Arno's effort.
"That's a bright spot for us tonight, to face 27 shots and turn back 26 of them," assistant coach Wil Losch said. "It's good for his confidence. He's had some frustrations, and he has high expectations of himself."
This was a matchup of winless Great Northern Conference teams. Lakeland left RIA at 4-3-0 overall and 1-2-0 in the GNC. The Hodags dropped to 0-7-0, 0-3-0.
Bobby Estabrook put home the lone Rhinelander goal near the start of the third period from the slot, picking up assists from Lucas Fix and Bryce Luebke. That made it 3-1.
But Lakeland's explosive opening session proved the difference. Thunderbird leading scorer Nik Boyer, as well as junior Jack Dern, netted unassisted goals. Jason Anderson also chipped in a score.
Rhinelander could have made up ground in the middle period, but wasn't with it.
"It was a really poor period, maybe one of the worst periods we've had this year," Losch said. "We did a poor job anticipating. When we had guys that didnâ€™t have the puck, they're just not thinking a step ahead."
The Hodags were in a particularly tough situation when Estabrook and Chris Hagen committed simultaneous minor penalties for tripping and interference, respectively, with 28 seconds left in the second. But the Hodags killed Lakeland's two-man advantage that spanned between the second and third. That sparked an encouraging final 17 minutes for Rhinelander.
The Hodags now hit the road for a non-conference test at Merrill on Saturday. It should be the best chance for a win yet this year.
"They're kind of in the same boat as us. They're a young team, a small roster. I think we're going to match up real well with them," Losch said. "It certainly is a winnable game, but we have to go in there and play real strong. If we play like we did tonight, it's not winnable."
Merrill enters the game at 0-5-0 on the season.
Written By: Ben Meyer