It didn’t take long for frustration to turn into heartbreak for the Verona boys hockey team.
And all the Hudson Raiders needed was a tiny opening here and there to pry the lid off the Wildcats in a WIAA state semifinal Friday at the Dane County Coliseum.
The defending state champion Raiders turned those little opportunities into a 4-1 victory over Verona.
The Wildcats (21-4-3) gave up only one power-play goal, but one team or the other seemed to be on the penalty kill for most of the late-afternoon contest — each team finished with seven penalties.
Still, Verona was able to play the Raiders to a 1-1 tie after the first period, riding a sticky defense and the first-rate goaltending of Garhett Kaegi.
But as the game unfolded, Hudson (27-1-1) used its ability to roll with the punches to frustrate the Wildcats, who had only five seniors on their roster.
“We weren’t used to having people keep up with us, to be able to stay with our speed,” Verona coach Joel Marshall said. “We got caught up in a couple of penalties (because we were) thinking about the wrong thing, and we paid for it. It was more frustration than retaliation.”
But all it took was a penalty here, a turnover there or a rebound on the other side of the net to make the difference for the top-ranked Raiders.
Hudson took a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first period.
Hudson junior Cole Danielson drew the attention of Kaegi as he charged from the left side. But Hudson senior Ben Lundeen was waiting on the right side, took a pass and poked in a short-hander over a splayed-out Kaegi.
Rather than panic, Verona got the equalizer a minute later, as senior Graham Sticha took a well-placed feed from freshman Leo Renlund and banged a shot off the glove of Hudson junior goaltender Alex Cohen.
“Renlund passed me a great puck on the outside,” Sticha said. “I just wanted to throw it on the net. I didn’t even see it go in — I shot it and then I heard the crowd cheering, and I saw it went in.”
But as the horn sounded to end the first period, Verona junior Mason McCormick was called for a cross-checking penalty.
And Hudson made the Wildcats pay when 1:14 into the second period, senior Aaron Squires fired a shot from the right that Kaegi deflected to junior defenseman Bennett Schrank, who fired in the rebound for 2-1.
Then, with 11:54 left in the period, Lundeen fed Squires for a score that made it 3-1 — and took the air out of the Wildcats’ sails.
“Them getting that third goal, that got to us,” Marshall said.
“They’re a very structured team. We took it to them that first period, but after that, the puck just didn’t bounce our way.”
Verona sophomore Mack Keryluk was just wide on a point-blank shot from the unguarded weak side late in the first period, and a couple of other first-rate opportunities fizzled out at the hands of Cohen, who finished with 23 saves — 19 over the last two periods.
Kaegi finished with 22 saves, many of them coming in multiples during Hudson offensive flurries — and received a lot of gratitude from his coaches and teammates.
“He was huge,” Sticha said. “He made some amazing saves.”
Verona, which languished in the honorable mention category of the state rankings, could stand tall after winning the Big Eight Conference. Friday’s loss ended a 15-game unbeaten run (14-0-1).
“A lot of coaches said we looked better than they had expected,” Marshall said. “But all along, we expected to be here.”
Verona 1 0 0 — 1
Hudson 1 2 1 — 4
First period: H — Lundeen (Danielson), 14:15; V — Sticha (Renlund), 15:16.
Second period: H — Schrank (Squires, Gornick) (pp), 1:14; Squires (Lundeen), 5:06.
Third period: H — Schrank (Squires), 1:34.
Shots — V 5-10-9-24 (Baker 4, Sticha 4), H 9-13-4-26 (Halverson 9). Saves — V (Kaegi) 22; H (Cohen) 23. Penalties — V 7-17, H 7-14.