The guy who has the most game-winning goals for the Verona boys hockey team is not one of the team’s top scorers. It’s not Brockton Baker, who compiled 60 points this season, and it’s not a forward on either of the first two lines.
No, it’s third-line senior forward Aidan Schmitt, who admitted after Saturday’s sectional championship game that he “isn’t the most accurate shooter.”
Nonetheless, Schmitt put a rebound into the back of the net at 8:13 of the second overtime to give Verona a 4-3 victory over Madison Edgewood at Madison Ice Arena and send Wildcats to the WIAA state tournament for the first time since 2014, when they won the championship.
“It was amazing, I can’t even explain. When it happened, I didn’t even feel anything,” Schmitt said. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to be excited or what after how long that game was.”
Schmitt’s game-winner, his team-leading fifth of the season, was his second goal of the contest — he also snapped a wrister past Crusaders goalie Ben Cegelski just three minutes into the first period.
It’s been quite the run for Schmitt, an alternate captain who isn’t used to scoring much. His coach, Joel Marshall, said he scored eight or nine goals this season.
Schmitt has scored four in his past two games.
“That’s why he’s a captain for us. He’s clutch,” Marshall said. “He’s not a guy who’s going to tell you he’s going to score. He’s just gonna work hard and see what happens.”
Schmitt is a laid-back guy, according to both Baker and Marshall. Baker called him the most positive guy on the team, who is the first to quell any brewing negativity.
For Baker, seeing the third-liner find twine in double overtime is as rewarding as it gets.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. The amount of joy that everybody has for him is just insane,” Baker said. “This playoffs, he’s come up so big for our team. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a senior.”
Marshall said Schmitt’s relaxed demeanor is a big part of his knack for scoring crunch-time goals.
“We’ve got some intense characters on the team. Aidan is probably the exact opposite. He’s a laid-back guy and it’s what our team needs at times,” Marshall said. “He doesn’t have a serious bone in his body. It shows in these clutch situations because it’s almost like he doesn’t get nervous.”
Jubilation ensued from the Wildcats after Schmitt’s winner. With his arms in the air, the senior half jumped, half ran to the front of the Verona student section, where was mauled by his teammates.
“It’s one of the most exciting feelings in the world,” Baker said. “As a hockey player you watch the state hockey tournament every single year and once you get to high school that’s the dream.”
The Wildcats opened the game with two quick goals. Thirty-one seconds after Schmitt’s first goal, Jack Keryluk’s shot from the slot beat Cegelski.
Edgewood responded five minutes later as sophomore forward Payton Smith scored into an open net after a nifty cross-ice pass from senior forward Jake Sevenz.
The second period went the same way, with Verona junior forward Mason McCormick scoring a goal just 13 seconds in.
Crusaders captain Carter Hottmann retaliated with a top-shelf goal less than a minute later to cut the deficit to 3-2.
With 37 seconds remaining in the second, junior forward Jake Schmaltz scored after a beautiful give-and-go with junior defenseman Hunter Straka, setting up a frenzied third period when Edgewood’s Cegelski and Verona’s Garhett Kaegi made one spectacular save after another to send the game to overtime.
It was a nail-biting time for Verona though, as Baker, the team’s best player, was sent to the penalty box for 10 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, a penalty that spanned the end of the third period and most of the first overtime.
“I was the most jumpy I’ve ever been, the most butterflies in my stomach I’ve ever had,” Baker said. “I had trust in our team, but of course you get nervous, because if we get scored on, I would feel like it’d be all on me. They pulled through, they worked their butts off.”
There were chances aplenty in the first overtime, but the goalies again stood tall. The same continued for eight minutes of the second overtime until Schmitt sent everybody home.
A seeding meeting will determine the Wildcats’ opponent in the quarterfinals on Thursday at the Dane County Coliseum.
“Now we move on,” Marshall said. “We celebrate today and have a little fun and then we take the next step.”
Madison Edgewood 1 2 0 0 0 — 3
Verona 2 1 0 0 1 — 4
First period: V — Schmitt (Renlund), 3:33; Keryluk (Baker), 4:04. ME — Smith (Sevenz), 9:21.
Second period: V — McCormick (Baker, Keryluk), :13. ME — Hottmann (Schmaltz, Lenz), 1:06; Schmaltz (Stracka), 10:23.
Second overtime: Schmitt (Frieburg, Renlund), 8:13.
Saves: ME (Cegelski) 36; V (Raegi) 30.
Sun Prairie co-op 3, Beloit Memorial co-op 2
The Cap City Cougars (20-6-1) earned a return trip to the state semifinals, taking a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals by Amanda Bauer and Colleen Milligan, and then held on to beat the Badger Conference champion Rock County Fury (19-4-3).
The Cougars will take on the Fond du Lac/Beaver Dam Warbirds (16-8-0) in a state semifinal at 12:15 p.m. Friday at the Alliant Energy Center.