Tonight is perhaps the biggest regular-season prep hockey game of the year as top-ranked and undefeated Hudson comes to Hobbs Ice Center to face red-hot and third-ranked Eau Claire Memorial.
The Raiders (20-0) haven’t lost in almost exactly 13 months. But the last time the defending state champs were on the wrong side of the scoreboard came at the hands of the Old Abes in the same venue as tonight’s contest. Sam Hanson scored a pair of third-period goals as Memorial knocked off the Raiders 4-3 on Jan. 5, 2017.
Hudson beat Memorial 4-1 to close out the regular season and then ousted the Abes 4-0 in the WIAA state quarterfinals last March.
These are two different teams now. Gone for Hudson is defending state defenseman of the year Chase Blackmun as well as state goalie of the year Anthony Howard. High-scoring forward Aaron Grounds left a year early to play in the USHL.
Memorial graduated several big-time players in Dawson Schwengler and Hanson and also has a change at the helm as Chris Tok replaced longtime coach Mike Schwengler at the end of the school year.
Both schools are doing just fine.
Hudson is balanced across the board with five guys between 27 and 31 points. The Raiders still win with defense, allowing just 1.1 goal per contest thanks to a .946 save percentage from Alex Cohen and guys who know their role in the defensive zone.
“We don’t quite have the firepower we had last year, but we’ve had some guys who have stepped up,” coach Brooks Lockwood said. “We’ve got three solid lines.”
Memorial has scored nearly five goals per contest and is scoring against good teams. The Abes put up six on third-ranked Wausau West a few weeks ago before torching North for seven on Thursday and six on Rochester Lourdes on Saturday.
The Old Abes have hit a groove since losing 7-4 to the Raiders back on Jan. 4. They come in at 18-2-1. Their recent wins have been against good teams.
“I think the big thing is it gives us confidence,” Tok said after beating the Huskies on Thursday. “North is a good hockey club, we played (Wausau) West a couple of weeks ago and they are a good hockey club. We are capable of playing with the best teams. We just have to come play our game.”
In the first matchup, Hudson jumped out to a 5-0 lead. It was quite admirable the Old Abes made it a three-goal game and scored four times on the Raiders. With how they control the puck and play in the neutral and defensive zones, they are nearly impossible to come back on.
They also are sound fundamentally and can take skill guys out of the equation. Therefore, Memorial knows it might have to get gritty tonight in order to pull even in the conference title race and avenge January’s loss.
“Hudson jumped on us early that game,” Brenden Olson said. “Their D is really strong. I think we have to get pucks to the net, stay in their zone most of the time and really just get shots.”
Hudson hasn’t lost in 396 days. The Raiders also haven’t won at Memorial since Dec. 13, 2012. Something’s got to give tonight. Buckle up, hockey fans. It should be a fun one.