It wasn’t pretty by any means, and Eau Claire Memorial will be the first to tell you so.
The Old Abes had trouble securing passes and turned it over in the neutral zone. A few miscues sent the puck out of their zone.
But by now, coach Mike Schwengler knows that an ugly win looks just the same when it means moving on in the postseason. That was the case in a 6-0 victory as top-seeded Memorial took care of pesky ninth-seeded Regis/Altoona/McDonell in a WIAA boys hockey regional final Thursday at Hobbs Ice Center.
“We didn’t have our best game tonight. It was a little sloppy,” junior forward Ben Zacho said. “Once we got up by a few goals, we started to get momentum and kind of controlled the play eventually.”
Zacho was a big reason why the Abes played with a lead. He netted the game’s first three goals — all on assists from Sam Hanson — as Memorial pulled away from RAM, which was a 7-2 winner over Medford in Tuesday’s regional semifinals.
Hanson did most of the dirty work on Zacho’s first goal midway through the first as he lowered his shoulder to fend off a defenseman and bullied his way to the net. His shot on goal bounced off Keaton Comero’s pad and right to Zacho, who had an empty net to shoot at.
Zacho’s second goal came on a Hanson pass from behind the net. He one-timed the feed past Comero’s left shoulder as the Abes led 2-0 at intermission.
His third goal came less than a minute into the second when he got a pass from Hanson and took it right up the slot for the goal.
“I’ve played with him at least part of every year, so it’s been nice having him there,” Zacho said of Hanson.
Andrew Roberts scored off a two-line pass from Grant Thielbar to make it 4-0. And to begin the third, Memorial took advantage of a five-minute major as Joe Free and Mr. Hockey finalist Dawson Schwengler buried shots to solidify the win.
RAM, which has just four seniors, battled throughout and made things tough.
“We’re definitely pleased with the effort,“ coach Kent Hamre said. “We knew we were up against a very talented opponent. I thought we did skate well with them. Obviously we needed a few bounces to go our way and probably needed to create a little more luck for ourselves than we managed to.”
Memorial outshot RAM 42-17, and Trevor Hudecek pitched a shutout in net. The Old Abes also got nice contributions from some younger players as Schwengler is still playing around with who will play with who on the lines.
Up next is a date with Rice Lake on Tuesday in the sectional semifinals. The Old Abes are two wins away from an eighth straight trip to the state tournament. But they have a lot of work to do to get there.
“It doesn’t get easier,“ Schwengler said. “And these guys know that. This is their team. They are going to write their destiny. And if they don’t play better in practice or on Tuesday, it’s going to be a short season.”
Comero had 36 saves and had some big stops for RAM.