Monday, August 20, 2018

Sports

Inside hockey: Huskies hope tough schedule teaches them how to string good wins together

  • ms-ecm-hky-018a-102617-1

    Eau Claire North's Jeff Pippenger (10) looks to pass during a Big Rivers Conference game against Eau Claire Memorial on Dec. 19 at Hobbs Ice Center in Eau Claire.

    Staff photo by Matthew Seckora
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  • ms-ecm-hky-008a-102617

    Eau Claire North's Brendon Fitch (13) chases after the puck during a Big Rivers Conference game against Eau Claire Memorial on Tuesday Dec. 19, 2017, in Eau Claire, Wis. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com

    Staff photo by Matthew Seckora
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It’s been evident for a long time that Eau Claire North hockey coach Ryan Parker is done being the feel-good, return-to-prominence story that’s still so easy of a narrative to get wrapped up in.

After all, before he took prior to the 2014-15 season, the Huskies had combined for 10 total wins in the four previous campaigns. The fact that the Huskies have found themselves in back-to-back sectionals is no small feat.

But that’s the past. Parker wants to be mentioned in the same breath with Big Rivers standards Memorial and Hudson some day — very soon.

He’s started scheduling elite competition, and this year’s Huskies have fared admirably against it. They won 2 of 3 games at the Roseau (Minn.) tournament over winter break, knocking off a pair of tough out-of-state teams. They then got their best win on Wisconsin soil when they went into Superior on Jan. 13 and beat the then third-ranked Spartans. 

After falling to No. 1 and defending state champion Hudson last Thursday — a game the Raiders won 6-1 and outshot North 46-26 — however, Parker kept his team in the locker room longer than usual. He wanted a better response. 

 “At the end of the day, if you want to be a top end team, you’ve got to play top end competition,” Parker said. “We have to start figuring out how to balance it and how to maintain play with these top 10 teams.”

That’s a really good sign for North going forward that that’s the attitude. Scoring a signature win in the regular season is no longer the pinnacle. Sustaining them is the new standard. 

The Huskies got beat in a wild one on Saturday to sixth-ranked Neenah/​Hortonville/​Menasha. 

Best believe Parker will use this as a learning experience. To get to where they want to be, they’ll have to knock off several top teams in a row if they want to extend their season into late February or even early March. 

North had won six of seven prior to Thursday and Saturday’s setbacks. 

Against Superior, the Huskies proved it to be no fluke. They tied the Spartans with 33 shots on goal and found ways to win as they tied it with little time left in the third period. They also battled back from a two-goal deficit. 

“The biggest thing is is that we took away time and space,” Parker said of that game. “We played on the right side of the puck, and that’s big. You take opportunities away that way.”

North has two very strong lines with some of the top scorers in Wisconsin. They’ve got a solid goaltender and guys who have played in big-time games before.

The last time they had a disappointing loss — a 6-1 defeat to Memorial on Dec. 19 — the Huskies came out and played some of their best hockey of the year. Don’t be surprised to see another strong response. That’s the culture now. 

“I think we are very capable,” Parker said. “But we’ve got to stop the roller coaster. We’ve got to start leveling off and play our game consistently.”


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