ALTOONA — A city hockey game played outside the city? Strange, but perhaps par for the course given what this last year has brought Eau Claire Memorial and North's athletic departments.
And after their win Friday night, the Huskies likely didn't care if the game was played in Altoona, Menomonie, Superior or on Mars. For now, they are the kings of Eau Claire.
North went ahead early with a pair of first period goals, then rode a stellar performance in net from sophomore Tristan Bock in a 3-0 victory against the Old Abes Friday at Altoona Hobbs. In addition to the rivalry stakes, it was a major victory for the Huskies in terms of sectional seeding. Memorial is currently ranked No. 5 in the state in the WIPH/Coaches Division 1 Top Six.
"They're obviously a top program in the state," North coach Ryan Parker said. "Anytime you can go out and play hard and compete with teams like that, that's always a big game."
Much of North's success came from work in the gritty areas, with the Huskies' first and third tallies coming while crashing the net. An attempt to score from behind the goal three minutes into the contest led to a host of Huskies whacking away near the crease, with Caden Sutter finally getting a good look to beat Memorial goalie Kyler Strenke.
North was able to get Strenke out of position on its final goal, scored with 1:40 remaining in the third. Jack Kein was right on top of the crease to tap the puck in once it was sent back out in front from behind the net.
"Those garbage goals, those help getting in the goalie's head," Sutter said. "(You) just kind of grind them out in there."
"Nobody's giving an inch, so you've got to go take it," Parker said.
The middle goal, on the other hand, was a stellar display of skill. Sam Feck collected the puck along the left boards and sent off a laser shot that loudly pinged off the pipe and into the net with 5:22 remaining in the first period.
Memorial outshot its crosstown rival 30-21 and likely out-chanced the Huskies too, but Bock and the North defense was consistently up to the challenge.
"We didn't play hard enough in the dirty areas," Memorial coach Mike Collins said. "We skate nice and fly around, but if you don't put pucks in the net it doesn't mean anything."
Despite their high ranking, the Old Abes have put themselves in a tough spot when it comes to sectional seeding. Memorial has dropped games against three of its main competitors, Hudson, Chippewa Falls and now North.
"We've got to do things differently because what we're doing isn't working," Collins said.
This series has been more balanced than in years past since Zac Stange scored in overtime to lift the Huskies to their first intracity victory in 11 years in 2017. North has won twice and tied once in the last five meetings, but had never shut out the Old Abes in this recent era until Friday.
This game was originally scheduled to be played at Hobbs Ice Center on Saturday following an announcement from the Eau Claire Area School District that the facility is once again open for games. However, strict rules were put into place that would have made it difficult to stage a game in a normal fashion. That included limiting how many players could be on the bench at a time, with the remaining reserves having to sit in the hallway behind the benches.
Parker said he found out about the move to Altoona at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday.
"In order to play a game like this, there are so many moving parts," Parker said. "We need to have a bench. There are so many things going on. Guys get hurt, they get injured, they're coming off, there's penalties. There's so many nuances that go into the game."
Parker said the status of a second city game this season is currently up in the air. For at least one evening, the city rivalry had to be moved to an adjacent community. It's yet another odd occurrence at a time where the unusual has become commonplace.
"This whole year has been hit or miss," Parker said. "We don't know if we're coming or going sometimes. Just get us to a rink and let's play."
Eau Claire North 3, Eau Claire Memorial 0
First period: 1, North, Caden Sutter, 2:41; 2, North, Sam Feck, 11:38. Third period: 3, North, Jack Kein, 15:20.
Shots on goal: North 7-5-9—21; Memorial 13-7-10—30; Penalties: North 7 for 14 mins; Memorial 6 for 12 mins. Goalies: North: Tristan Bock (30 shots, 30 saves); Memorial: Kyler Strenke (21 shots, 18 saves).