TOMAHAWK - The Rhinelander hockey team hadn't won four or more games in a season since the 2009-2010 season.
That streak mercifully ended with a wild 7-5 win at Tomahawk Thursday night.
The Hodags moved to 4-4-0 on the season with the victory at the SARA Park Arena – and it's only early January.
"It feels good. It was nice to get a win tonight," Hodags coach M.J. Laggis said of the ceiling-breaking victory.
Rhinelander's Calin Erdmann picked up a hat trick, and the Hodags stormed back with three unanswered third-period goals to best the Hatchets for the second time this year.
"It was very much needed," Laggis said of the hat trick. Erdmann picked up his fifth, sixth, and seventh goals of the year.
Hodags goalie Jake Arno stopped a potential game-tying penalty shot late in regulation and added several more athletic saves to ice the victory.
"I would focus on the third period because I thought that was his best period by a long shot," Laggis said of Arno.
The contest was marred by 15 combined penalties. The Hodags cashed in with three power play goals in the first two periods, but still needed the third-period comeback to ensure the win.
"Ultimately, it falls on [the players'] shoulders, and they got the job done in the third period. I'm happy for them. I'm proud of them," Laggis said.
For a high-scoring game, Thursday's tilt started quietly. Chris Hagen got the first goal after 11:25 of scoreless hockey, putting home a rebound on a two-man Rhinelander advantage.
Jakob Panzer, who also had a hat trick for Tomahawk, answered three minutes later. An Alex Ungerer goal put the Hatchets up 2-1 heading to first intermission.
Lucas Fix opened the scoring in the second period, netting a shot from the right circle off a feed from Evan Erdmann. Fix lit the lamp on the top shelf to tie it at two.
Disappointment halted the Hodag momentum shortly later, after Kurt Zuiker accidentally touched a puck in the Rhinelander crease. It slid it for an own goal, and Tomahawk was up 3-2. The Hatchets extended their advantage to 4-2 on a Kevin Bolder goal six minutes into the second.
Then Calin Erdmann got going. He fired a power play shot from the slot that ricocheted off of both the left and right posts before settling in the net at 9:56. After a Panzer goal at 13:53, Calin Erdmann scored again on a wraparound around the right post to draw the Hodags within 5-4 at second intermission.
The third period belonged solely to Rhinelander. Just more than two minutes in, Evan Erdmann tallied from the slot to tie the score.
"Evan Erdmann scored his first career goal, and that's always exciting for a kid," Laggis said.
Calin Erdmann turned on the speed to enter the Tomahawk zone at 12:04 and put home an unassisted goal, securing the hat trick as Hodag fans sprayed headwear on the ice.
Rhinelander then led 6-5, but it dodged a major bullet thanks to Arno's play. A pileup near the Hodag crease led to an Ungerer penalty shot, which Arno gloved.
Cody Vinger added an open-goal wrister at 16:25 for good measure and the 7-5 margin.
"We're not thrilled with how we played in that locker room tonight, but it was good to get the win and finish in the third period," Laggis said.
The Hodags will face Tomahawk again, on February 13 at Rhinelander Ice Arena.
"It was a back-and-forth game, and I would suspect when they play us in our building at the end of the year, it will be another wild one," Laggis said.
Rhinelander next travels to Antigo on Tuesday, looking to improve to 3-3-0 in Great Northern Conference play. With Thursday's win and a Mosinee loss, the Hodags now stand tied for fifth in the eight-team league with the Indians.
"We have to play better in all three zones, because we have some really big teams coming after us," Laggis said in looking forward.
The puck drops at 7pm at the Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building on Tuesday.