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Boys' hockey: Raiders returning to state

Hudson junior Cole Danielson (21) skates in on a breakaway in the third period of the Raider boys hockey team's 5-1 victory over Baldwin-Woodville in a WIAA Section 1 semifinal game Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Gornick Arena. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
Raider players celebrate in front of the Hudson student section after Ben Lundeen's third period goal extended Hudson's lead to 4-1 in a WIAA Section 1 semifinal game against Baldwin-Woodville Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Gornick Arena. The Raiders went on to defeat Superior, 4-1, in the sectional championship game in Amery four days later to qualify for the WIAA State Tournament for the third straight year. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Hudson sophomore Peyton Hanson (11) skates in on Baldwin-Woodville goalie Easton Lindus (32) in the Raider boys hockey team's 5-1 victory over the Blackhawks in a WIAA Section 1 semifinal game Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Gornick Arena. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

The Hudson boys hockey team earned the right to defend its state title with a 4-1 victory over Superior in the Section 1 championship game Saturday, Feb. 24, in Amery.

The game was closer than the score indicated. Hudson took a 2-0 lead into the third period before the Spartans got a power play goal with seven minutes remaining to cut the gap in half. But Peyton Hanson scored a pair of empty-netters in the final minute to seal Hudson's third straight victory over Superior in the Section 1 title game.

"We set expectations to get to state," head coach Brooks Lockwood said. "We think that should be the goal every year and work hard to get there."

The Raiders have appeared in two straight state championship games, winning it all in 2017. They take a record of 25-1-1 into this year's tournament and will begin their title defense against St. Mary's Springs (21-4-2) Thursday, March 1, at 10 a.m. at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.

After a scoreless first period last Saturday in Amery that saw a Spartan goal disallowed by a hand pass, Jordon Halverson scored 2 minutes, 21 seconds into the second period with assists from Hanson and Dylan Carr to give Hudson a 1-0 lead.

Cole Danielson scored an unassisted goal on a great individual effort with just under three minutes remaining in the period to make it a 2-0 game.

Hudson was clinging to a 2-0 lead midway through the third period when the Superior bench questioned the legality of Raider goalie AJ Cohen's face mask. Despite playing with the same mask all season, the referees ruled it was illegal and assessed Cohen a two-minute dangerous equipment penalty. The Spartans took advantage and scored a power play goal 1:15 later to make it a 2-1 game.

"We've asked refs about it during the season and they all said it was alright," Lockwood said about Cohen's mask. "But this time they said it was illegal."

That was all the Spartans could muster however as Cohen made 10 of his 27 saves in the third period before Hanson iced it with two empty-netters in the closing seconds.

"I thought we played a really good first two periods but we came out in the third and stopped moving our feet and it cost us," Lockwood said. "But I thought we did a really good job after we got scored on of settling down and managing the game."

The Raiders reached the sectional final with a 5-1 victory over Baldwin-Woodville in a semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Gornick Arena.

Hanson's unassisted power play goal 3:32 into the second period proved to be the game-winner. Hunter Danielson scored at the 10:57 mark to extend the lead to 3-1 before Ben Lundeen and Cole Danielson added third period goals.

Grady Gornick opened the scoring 2:08 into the game but the Blackhawks tied the score 27 seconds later. Cohen finished with 21 saves as Hudson outshot Baldwin-Woodville, 42-22.

"They played really hard, kind of with the same game plan as New Richmond," Lockwood said about the Blackhawks. "They played with a lot of pride. They won 16 games this year and wanted to prove it wasn't a fluke and they played us tough."

Lockwood said every team is different, but this year's Raiders share some of the same qualities as last year's state championship team.

"We put a big emphasis on defense," he said. "We've got a good goaltender who has played well all year and really good defenseman, and three or four lines that really take a lot of pride in keeping the puck out of our end."

Offensively, Lockwood said this year's team is more balanced than last year.

"We have some pretty good players who will get some looks, but Chase (Blackmun) and Aaron (Grounds) bailed us out a lot last year," he said about the two NCAA Division I-bound former players. "This year we have a lot of good, balanced scoring and that's a good character to have on a team."

For the first time the WIAA seeded the top four teams in the eight-team state tournament field and determined quarterfinal matchups based on a random draw with the remaining four. Hudson earned the No. 1 seed and drew St. Mary's Springs for the tourney opener this Thursday at 10 a.m.

"I think we have a tough draw and I'm not real happy about playing so early, but it is what it is," Lockwood said. "Hopefully you'll get the best two teams in the finals, and if we play our game we'll be there."

No. 4 seed Green Bay Notre Dame (18-7-2), who handed Hudson its only loss of the season, will play Verona Area (20-3-3) with the winner of that game facing the winner of the Hudson-St. Mary's Springs game in the semifinals. The other side of the bracket will be played Thursday afternoon and features No. 2 Eau Claire Memorial (23-2-2) against West Salem/Bangor (20-7) and No. 3 Waukesha North (20-4-3) against D.C. Everest (19-6-2).

The tournament semifinals are scheduled for Friday, March 2 at 4 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. with the state title game set for Saturday, March 3, at 2:15 p.m.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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