Chippewa Falls boys hockey has to settle for serving as the spoilers.
The Cardinals, which entered Monday night’s game at Hobbs with a path to a Big Rivers title, used a pair of early breakaways to down Eau Claire North 6-2 and earn a season sweep of the Huskies.
The victory took North out of title contention, but unfortunately for Scott Parker’s crew, Chi-Hi needed both a win and for Memorial to lose to River Falls Monday to force a three-way tie between the schools for the BRC title. The Old Abes handled the Wildcats, 4-2, to win the Big Rivers by two points.
"It's on us. We had our opportunities to win the conference," Parker said. "Tonight we've got to take care of our business."
Memorial’s title is its first since the 2014-15 season. The Abes, who rolled out a younger roster than the program is used to, rattled off six straight wins in conference play to end the season after falling three times in their first six non-conference games at the start of the year.
North and Chippewa Falls finish tied for second place in the league standings with 18 points.
"Just pulling off the year that we did, I can't ask for much more," Chi-High goalie Jaden Hoople said. "The Big Rivers Conference is the hardest conference I think in high school hockey. To finish second playing the teams that we do, I'm very happy with our season."
It’s tougher to swallow for North based on expectations. The Huskies, which last won the Big Rivers in 2009, entered the season as the favorites thanks to a pair of future Wisconsin Badgers manning their top line in Sam Stange and Zach Urdahl. North’s prognosis looked good after a dominant 5-1 win against Memorial on Jan. 3 but losing twice to Chippewa Falls and in the rematch against North last week proved to be too much to overcome.
"This time of year, it comes down to desire," North coach Ryan Parker said. "You've got to win those battles, and if you're not willing to win those battles you're not going to win many hockey games."
Hudson, last year’s BRC and state champions, rounded out the serious title contenders with 14 points.
Nick Carlson opened the scoring for Chi-Hi seven and a half minutes into the game, capitalizing on a pass at the Cardinals’ blue line hopping over the stick of North’s Cal Fadness. He skated in alone and beat North’s Tyler Schreiter glove side with a wrister.
Isaac Lindstrom scored the Cardinals’ second goal seven minutes later after corralling a AJ Schemenauer saucer pass from the Chi-Hi zone that bounced off the boards and right to the junior crossing the North blueline. He followed Carlson’s lead with a wicked shot to the right side after a deke.
"We were driving the net. We were going at them," Scott Parker said.
Chi-Hi doubled the deficit in the second, with Isaac Frenette scoring a fluky goal on a shot from the neutral zone and Sawyer Bowe beating Schreiter with a flip shot from the left circle.
"Right out of the gate we were irresponsible in the neutral zone," Ryan Parker said. "They're too good of a team to spot them three goals, and that's exactly what we did. ... From there, we got caught. We had to take some chances."
Jack Schimmel scored on a tap-in to push the Chi-Hi lead to five four and a half minutes into the third before North finally got on the board with 10:37 left in the game. Hoople stopped a drive from Urdahl, but the puck remained sitting atop the crease for Stange to skate in and tap it in the net.
An empty netter from Schemenauer and a goal from North's Jaxon Vance with 1:19 remaining closed out the scoring.
Chippewa Falls kicks off its playoff run on Thursday against Marshfield, while top-seeded North received a bye. Memorial, the second seed, also has a bye.