MADISON — There’s a text on my phone from WQOW sports director Bob Bradovich from Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the start of the state hockey tournament. The time of it reads 5:57 p.m.
The message: “If they both play to potential, they’ll be there Saturday.”
And both the ECA Stars and Eau Claire Memorial boys made us look good.
The Stars turned it on offensively in the state semifinals on Friday to down defending champ Central Wisconsin before grinding out the program’s first state title in a 3-1 win over the Cap City Cougars on Saturday.
The Old Abes knocked off Mr. Hockey recipient Jack Gorniak and West Salem 6-2 on Thursday before winning a thrilling 2-1 double overtime game against Janesville on Friday night. They ran out of steam and into a buzzsaw on Saturday against top-ranked and defending champion Hudson in the finals.
The state championship from the Stars and runner-up from Memorial capped off a great season of hockey in northwest Wisconsin.
Eau Claire has an awful lot to be proud of.
“We knew that, with Memorial advancing and playing in the state championship game today, we were going to have a good following today from Eau Claire and Fall Creek and Altoona as well,” Stars coach Tom Bernhardt said shortly after accepting the gold trophy from the WIAA. “To see the community, really that whole Chippewa Valley come together, to support you during this run, it’s unique. It’s definitely a unique opportunity, and the kids should be very proud of what they accomplished as a group. And hopefully this is something that we just continue to build on with our area in hockey.”
Both these programs had kids on their rosters who have experienced it all. Abigail Stow and Brooklynn Arbs, the two seniors on the Stars, won just six games as freshmen.
They capped off their careers with a 26-win season and a state title.
“I never thought this would happen,” Arbs said. “There are so many great players and great teams in the state. We just had to work hard. It’s breathtaking, I don’t know.”
Memorial had guys who won 85 games in their careers and made it to state all four years. After being knocked off before Championship Saturday every time until this year, coming home with a trophy was a great achievement.
They were a tight-knit group through and through.
“Honestly, pretty amazing group of guys,” senior goalie Trevor Hudecek said. “I was telling every single one of those guys that if it wasn’t for this amazing sport I’ve been playing for countless years now, I wouldn’t have met any of these guys who I’m going to be brothers with forever. I know it’s just a high school sport and stuff, but when you’re spending every single day with them and staying in hotels with them and basically spending more than 70 percent of your time with them, you grow up with them. Definitely an amazing and goofy group of guys.”
The Stars and Old Abes represented everything that’s great about hockey in the Chippewa Valley and northwest Wisconsin.
It was fun to see them both show that on a state-wide stage.