Altoona — RAM hockey certainly had reason to be demoralized going into the second intermission.
Medford’s Blane Seidl scored on a buzzer beater with less than a second left in the middle frame, putting RAM down 3-0 after 34 minutes of play. But they kept their heads up.
“We talked to the boys in the locker room and we just told them, ‘This isn’t going to be the last one,’” RAM goalie Keaton Camero said.
He was right. Nolan Hellegers capitalized on prime position with 1:46 seconds remaining in regulation to give RAM a 4-3 victory and cap off a remarkable third-period comeback at Altoona Hobbs on Wednesday.
The final goal, RAM’s fourth in a 10-minute span, came with Hellegers right on the crease after a pass from Nick Madson. His first swipe at the net was unsuccessful, but a second attempt slid between Medford’s AJ Adleman’s legs and ignited a celebration.
“After we got those first three goals to tie it up everyone’s adrenaline was pumping,” Hellegers said. “Quick tic-tac-toe pass and I just brought it over and it ended up sliding 5-hole. It felt pretty good.”
With that goal he earned RAM a spot in the regional final, where the team will meet top-seeded North Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Hobbs Ice Arena.
Madson kicked off the comeback with 11:21 left in the game, when his low shot beat Adleman on the power play. Six minutes later, Bennett Seelen got RAM within one. While RAM outshot Medford nearly the entire game, it was clear the legs were pumping with a bit more force with each tally.
“I knew once we got one, we’ll keep going,” Comero said. “Just the adrenaline.”
Brooks Wahl scored the equalizer with 3:06 remaining on a one-timer from the right circle, set up by a pass from behind the crease by Drew Goettl. The arena was buzzing, and a fourth goal was starting to seem inevitable.
“At that point it definitely starts to feel that way,” RAM coach Nick Stirmel said. “At the same time, we’ve had games this year that have gone the other way. So, we just tried to remind them to keep the foot on the gas.”
Hellegers, the team’s leader in all three major statistical categories, made sure RAM didn’t waste its moment.
“Coming back from 3-0 and slowly working your way back up, after those first two goals everybody’s ready to get the next one,” Hellegers said. “Luckily we all played as a team those last five minutes.”
The RAM/North matchup, the first meeting between the teams this season, is one of four Section 2 playoff games slated for Thursday. Marshfield travels to Chippewa Falls at 4:30 p.m., Rice Lake plays Memorial at 5 p.m. and Ashland meets Hayward at 7 p.m.
RAM’s game with Medford was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was pushed back due to the snow storm, setting up a difficult turnaround.
“This last two weeks have been crazy,” Stirmel said. “I think we’ve only had one or two actual practices because of all the cancellations.”
North, which earned a bye with its seeding, is coming off a disappointing 6-2 loss to Chippewa Falls that cost the Huskies a share of the Big Rivers Conference title. That setback aside, the Huskies boast three of the top four point-producers from the Big Rivers in Sam Stange, Zach Urdahl and Joey Koller and are ranked No. 9 in the latest WIPH/Coaches Boys Top 10.
“Intimidating, for sure,” Stirmel said of meeting North. “Our schedule throughout the year, we really don’t see too many high-caliber teams like that. I’m sure it will be a little bit of an adjustment period those first couple shifts. We had the same situation last year with Memorial, so hopefully we’ve got quite a few guys down there with experience with that now.”