Sam Stange and Zach Urdahl have been the generators fueling North hockey optimism this season.
For the first time in recent memory, the Huskies, historically on the losing end of their intracity rivalry against Memorial, have the two best players currently playing in Eau Claire and a pair of future Wisconsin Badgers.
Combined with Memorial’s graduation-fueled youth movement, 2018-19 seemed on paper to be the year North could make its mark. But no one thought it would be this one-sided.
Stange and Urdahl connected three times for goals and combined for seven points in North’s dominant 5-1 victory against Memorial on Thursday night in front of an energetic crowd at Hobbs Municipal ice Center.
“I think we knew the talent we had coming in,” Urdahl said. “We wanted to make a statement that we mean business this year. … Being able to dominate these guys, it’s huge for the program.”
The win is North’s first against their arch nemesis in two years. The previous victory, sealed with a goal from Stange’s brother Zac, was the Huskies’ first win against the Old Abes in 11 years.
“As soon as Coach (Ryan) Parker got here we’ve been building this program up to this,” Stange said. “This is a win for everyone that’s been involved in a program since then.”
Urdahl, who entered Thursday night as the Big Rivers’ top goal scorer by a seven-goal margin, got the white-shirt clad North student section jumping when he capped off a chippy first few minutes with his 24th of the year. A pass from the right boards from Stange got through Memorial sticks and found Urdahl skating toward the net in the middle of the zone. He beat Old Abes goalie Kyler Strenke with a quick shot with 13:37 remaining in the first.
The duo was in sync for a second time just under three and a half minutes later on the power play. Urdahl cycled the puck up to Stange at the point, who skated a few strides into the zone from the blue line and fired a wicked wrist shot.
“That was a ton of fun,” Stange said of his chemistry with Urdahl Thursday. “Neither of us felt like we really had our legs under us, but we were able to use our vision.”
North put the game realistically out of reach with three goals in the second period, with Stange and Urdahl again combining their talents to kick the run off. Stange, skating across the center-ice logo, sprung Urdahl on a breakaway when he found him streaking across the blue line from the left side. Urdahl worked the angle to get behind the Memorial defender and, after skating toward the net, pulled the puck across the crease to fire in a backhand shot two minutes into the frame.
“It takes a special type of crew to be able to keep up with those guys,” Parker said.
They picked a good time to look at their best, too, since representatives from the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Vegas Golden Knights and Central Scouting were in attendance.
The rout was on once Johan Akervik scored on his own rebound with 3:36 left and Stange tapped in his second during a scrum with 48 seconds left before the second break.
Defenseman Kaden Kohlhepp scored Memorial’s lone goal on the powerplay with 11:27 left in the game.
“They’ve got two guys that made us look bad a lot of times and a lot of it was because of selfish plays by our own guys,” Memorial coach Chris Tok said. “They left quite a few times from their own end with a lot of speed. That was the whole thing that we were trying to stop. If we’re helping them do that, they don’t need any help.”
North 5, Memorial 1
Memorial 0 0 1 1
North 2 3 0 5
First period: 1, North, Zach Urdahl (Sam Stange, Jaxon Vance), 3:23; 2, North, Stange (Urdahl, Jack Echternach), 6:48 (PP). Second period: 3, North, Urdahl (Stange), 1:47; 4, North, Johan Akervik (Sam Thorp, Vance), 13:24; 5, North, Stange (Koller, Akervik), 16:12. Third period: 6, Memorial, Kaden Kohlhepp (Travin Kison), 5:33.
Shots: Memorial 28, North 41. Penalties: Memorial, 5 for 16 minutes. North, 7 for 14 minutes. Goalies: Memorial: Kyler Strenke: 36 saves on 41 shots. North: Tyler Schreiter 27 saves on 28 shots.