A quick flip through the WIAA state boys hockey program reveals Verona's Brockton Baker as the eight-team tournament field’s top point-earner.
The junior forward has amassed 61 points with 30 goals and 31 assists — one more point than Jack Gorniak of West Salem/Bangor.
Thursday afternoon, in front of a raucous Wildcats student section, Baker scored Points No. 62 and 63 with a pair of goals. And each came at a key time, propelling Verona to a 4-1 victory over Green Bay Notre Dame in a state quarterfinal at the Dane County Coliseum.
But don’t ask Baker to take any credit.
“He’d be the first one to push off his success onto his teammates,” Verona coach Joel Marshall said. “I told him today he’s the leading scorer coming into the tournament and he’s like, ‘No way.’ He doesn’t believe it, he doesn’t see it, but he wins games for us.”
His coach wasn’t wrong. When asked how special this season had been for him, Baker quickly deflected any glory over to his teammates.
“Everybody continues to play their game and it helps me get the puck in good areas because we have so much skill,” Baker said. “It’s not just me.”
Nonetheless, on the offensive end, Baker was Verona’s MVP in its biggest game yet.
The Wildcats were on the ropes early, as they spent most of the first period in the penalty box. They were forced to kill off six minutes of infractions.
Verona looked stout on the first two kills, but began to wear down on the third, surrendering several good scoring chances.
But just 34 seconds after killing the Tritons’ third power play, junior defenseman Drew Dingle sent a pass to sophomore forward Mack Keryluk, who dashed up the wing and threaded the needle cross-ice to Baker, who buried the point-blank opportunity.
It was a drastic shift in momentum.
“It was great. We went from being on a (penalty kill), which was kind of tough for that long, to putting it in the net and taking a lead, which was huge at the moment,” Keryluk said.
Verona added a second goal six minutes into the second period, when Keryluk received a pass in the slot from freshman forward Leo Renlund and then hammered home a one-timer.
But the Tritons kept pushing.
The Wildcats had a Grade A opportunity to take a decisive three-goal lead early in the third, but Notre Dame goalie Bo Buckley poked away Renlund’s breakaway attempt.
That quickly turned into a one-on-one on the other end, where Bryce Poshak capitalized on an assist from his brother Brendan Poshak to cut the deficit in half.
The Tritons continued the furious comeback effort, firing shot after shot on Garhett Kaegi, who made 29 saves.
But again, it was Baker who rose to the occasion and deflated Notre Dame.
Clinging to a one-goal lead with less than seven minutes to go, Baker took the puck into the slot and fired a deadly wrist shot through traffic and into the back of the net.
Immediately after delivering the fatal blow on the ice, Baker mimicked it in his celebration, crouching onto one knee before sending an imaginary arrow right into the Notre Dame student section.
“(It was) huge. Everyone jumps,” Keryluk said. “It goes from a one-goal game, which is really tight, to us up by two, which makes us breathe again.”
Keryluk increased Verona’s lead to three with a late empty-net goal, his second goal of the game.
Marshall rained heavy praise onto his senior goaltender, who faced a barrage of shots all afternoon.
“He was unbelievable in net for us. He saved it for us,” Marshall said.
Verona will now look to keep its momentum going against the No. 1-seeded Hudson Raiders at 4:15 p.m. Friday. Hudson walloped Fond du Lac St. Mary's Springs, 7-1, on Thursday morning.
Despite the daunting challenge, Baker feels good about his team’s chances.
“We have the most confidence we’ve had all year,” Baker said. “You have trust in every single teammate you have right now.”
Green Bay Notre Dame;0;0;1;—;1
First period — V, Baker (Keryluk, Dingle), 13:47.
Second period — V, Keryluk (Schmitt, Renlund), 6:51.
Third period — GBND, Bryce Poshak (Brendan Poshak), 2:23; V, Baker (Osiecki), 10:35; Keryluk (Rufenacht) (en), 15:56.
Shots — GBND 12-9-9-30 (Bre. Poshak 6, Scholl 3, Conrad 3, Fry 2, Peterman 2, Poytik 2, DeLange 2, Bry. Poshak 2, Gregoire 2); V 6-10-8-24 (Baker 4, Renlund 4, Binger 3, Jurrens 2, McCornick 2, Osiecki 2, Keryluk 2, Sticha 2, Rufenacht 1, Dingle 1, Schmitt 1). Saves — GBND (Buckley) 20; V (Kaegi) 29. Penalties — GBND 5-18; SMS 7-17.