MADISON — Eau Claire Memorial’s first line of Hutson Collins, Brenden Olson and Ben Zacho is as potent a line as there is Wisconsin.
In Thursday’s 6-2 win over West Salem/Bangor in the WIAA state quarterfinals in Madison, sophomore Max Savaloja showed there’s not much breathing room when those guys are off the ice.
Savaloja, all 5-foot-9 of him, played perhaps his best game of the season as the center gave Memorial’s second line a big lift.
His goal came on a sensational display of stick work. He got the puck on the left side and drove it wide, only to dangle the puck between a defenseman’s legs. That left him open in the slot, and as he was drifting to the right-side of the net and bringing the goalie with him, he dumped it backhand toward the left side. That got under the goalie’s leg and provided what felt like a knockout blow at 3-0.
“I knew I could take the D wide and I just saw the chance to get around him, and I saw no one coming to the net, so I thought why not make a move and try and bury it,” Savaloja said.
He had plenty of scoring opportunities on the day and gave Austin Karnitz a perfect centering pass to make it 4-0 early in the third. The line could have shut down after losing Carter Ottum to injury, but Savaloja carried the load and made sure that didn’t happen.
“He led the charge,” Memorial coach Chris Tok said. “He was good F1 on forechecks, he was taking pucks to the net and had a highlight reel goal and threw a puck to the net and got an assist. He did a good job in his own zone creating turnovers and turning the puck up north. He played a real complete game and was probably our most consistent player today.”
Joe Free also was involved on both ends of the ice to complete the line’s effort on Thursday.
In the sectional final, it was Memorial’s third line stepped up and scored a big goal. The production of Memorial’s second and third lines has allowed Tok to keep his three aces together on line one.
On Thursday, that top line accounted for four goals. It can Savaloja and others for giving it a lift and allowing it to happen.