RHINELANDER - Rapid-fire Waupaca goals doomed the Rhinelander High School boys hockey team in a 6-1 loss to the Comets Saturday night at Rhinelander Ice Arena.
Waupaca coupled goals within 15 seconds of each other early in the second period. Midway through the third, they scored twice within a minute.
Despite the lopsided loss, Hodags coach M.J. Laggis was pleased with many aspects of how Rhinelander played.
"We had a lot of energy, and a lot of good shifts. But we gave up some goals in clumps," he said.
Waupaca only outshot the Hodags 28-23.
Even though the score wouldn't indicate it, the time in possession of the puck was fairly even throughout the game.
"There were a few times we just made really bad plays with the puck, things that we can definitely improve on. But I liked our energy. I liked the fact that we held the zone for sustained periods of time," Laggis said.
Rhinelander's only goal came on a Brett Estabrook powerful slap shot from just above the left circle at the 8:50 mark in the second period. Estabrook slammed the one-timer to the back post, past returning first-team all conference goalie Walker Smith for the unassisted tally.
Waupaca had lit the lamp early. Austin Erickson scored just a minute and a half into the game.
The rest of the first period was evenly played, but the Comets picked up goals 51 seconds and 66 seconds into the second. Aaron Dahle got his fourth goal of the season, and Erickson scored his second of the game.
After Estabrook's goal, Waupaca standout Jared Erickson picked a loose puck and scored on the breakaway to make it 4-1 at the second intermission.
Jared Erickson and Elliot Crisman scored in the final period for Waupaca.
Smith and Rhinelander goalie Jacob Arno each finished with 22 saves.
"I don't fault Jake Arno. Jake Arno made the save, but it was a lot of rebound stuff," Laggis said.
Play on the ice was incredibly clean. The first penalty of the game wasn't until the final minute of the second period, a too many men on the ice infraction on Waupaca. The first contact penalty wasn't until the last four minutes of the game.
However, a whistle with just 1.4 seconds left in regulation will have lasting impact for the Hodags.
Henry Kipper was assessed a game misconduct for a check from behind. That call will sideline him for Rhinelander's next game.
"He didn't mean to do that. But we still, as a group, didn't keep our composure the last three minutes. We played about 45 minutes of penalty-free hockey. We have to finish that way, too," Laggis said.
Kipper apologized for the play, and both the Hodags and Comets seemed to agree there was nothing malicious. Nonetheless, Kipper will be suspended per WIAA rules.
Rhinelander dropped to 2-3-0 and 0-2-0 in Great Northern Conference play. Waupaca improved to 3-2-1, 2-1-0.
"We're learning fast. Two and three (record)? Whatever. We'll see where we're at in January," Laggis said.
The Hodags next travel to Minocqua on Tuesday to face Lakeland.
"They've really just taken us over their knee over the last couple of years. We're looking at going into their building and playing a strong game," Laggis said.
The puck drops at 7pm.