With 43 minutes gone by, it wasn’t looking great for Eau Claire Memorial.
The Old Abes were down two plus their top scorer in Ben Zacho — who left the game in the first period with concussion-like symptoms and didn’t return.
Undefeated and defending state champion Hudson flexed its defensive muscles, limiting clean shot attempts and putting forth a relentless forecheck on the other end.
About the only chance the Abes had in the final eight minutes was to roll up their sleeves and simplify the game.
Third-ranked Memorial scored twice in the final 7 minutes, 59 seconds of action, including an extra-attacker goal with 1:33 left, to earn a 2-2 tie against the mighty Raiders in Big Rivers action on Tuesday at Hobbs Ice Center.
“It’s tough losing one of our top guys after the first, but we just dug deep and looked in the mirror and said ‘We have to pick it up,’” said Carter Ottum, who had the equalizer. “That’s what we did.”
Memorial didn’t have many good looks before then.
That’s a credit to Hudson, as disciplined a team as there is. The Raiders play well fundamentally, preach getting two guys back at all times and don’t beat themselves.
But with Zacho out, Memorial paired Hutson Collins and Brenden Olson on the same line. Both of them got scoring chances from the slot late in the second, and that at the very least showed it was possible to get looks.
“The last five minutes of the second period were pretty good,” Abes assistant coach Andrew McCabe said. “Our kids started to talk a little bit more on the bench. When they start talking to each other, that kind of filters through the entire lineup.”
The usual fireworks show got a late start. But they were just as loud in those final eight minutes of the third as they’ve been for 51-minute stretches all year.
Some textbook 3-on-2 rushes resulted in Memorial’s first goal. Instead of trying to dangle around the defense, Olson skated right at Hudson up the slot and dipped it back to Josh Berg trailing the play on defense. He tapped to Collins, who sneaked through backdoor as Olson’s rush up the seam created the opening. Bang.
The Old Abes called a timeout with 2:20 left and pulled goalie Trevor Hudecek shortly after. The lunch-pail approach paid off one more time.
With an extra attacker, Joe Free dumped the puck into the corner, where Collins ultimately won possession. He tossed one on net that ricocheted out to Ottum crashing in the net. His back-hand goal sent Hobbs into a frenzy.
“We just tried to get pucks to the net, keep guys driving and hopefully get a good rebound,” Ottum said.
Both teams had looks in overtime, but in a game between two of the best teams in Wisconsin, it was only fitting it ended in a tie.
“It was just two good teams going back and forth,” Hudson coach Brooks Lockwood said. “Traded some blows, and their guy came up with a big play at the end there and sent us to overtime.”
The Raiders took advantage of two Memorial turnovers in the first period to notch goals. Peyton Hanson picked off a pass at center ice and scored, while Bennett Schrank netted one following a turnover behind Memorial’s net.
The rest of the game was a battle for the the neutral zone, and both goalies stepped up. Hudecek had 29 saves, including some big ones late, while Alex Cohen stopped 23 pucks.
The tie wasn’t the worst thing for Hudson. It still has half-a-game lead on Memorial and will win the Big Rivers if it wins out.
But both these teams have bigger things than a conference title in mind.
Maybe, just maybe, the next meeting between these two will be on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon in Madison.