Jacob friede/lakeland times

Lakeland goalie Collin Guelcher was an all-conference honorable mention this year. The sophomore saved 751 shots and had a save percentage of .908.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Lakeland goalie Collin Guelcher was an all-conference honorable mention this year. The sophomore saved 751 shots and had a save percentage of .908.
It was a steady season of progress for the Lakeland boys hockey team in 2018-19.

First year head coach Jake Suter led a young Thunderbirds team through the Great Northern Conference this season where they finished 4-5-1. Overall they finished 8-16-1.

But the year got off to a rough start. 

The Thunderbirds dropped five in a row before getting the taste of victory by defeating Merrill and Negaunee, Mich., early in the year.  

Then they dropped another six in a row before turning things around.

Beginning with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win against Rhinelander on Jan. 8, Lakeland would go 5-5 in the final 10 games of the season.  

In addition to beating the Hodags, Lakeland crushed Chequamegon 9-0, beat Medford 6-1, took down Mosinee 5-3 and beat Tomahawk 3-2, all in the final 10-game stretch of the season. 

“They grew a lot as a group, as young men, as hockey players and as students,” Suter said. “Watching them progress throughout the year, all the guys, it was a lot of fun to see.”

That progress was highlighted in the Great Northern Conference tournament when Lakeland took Waupaca, the second best team in the conference, into overtime and tied them 4-4. 

Though they would lose that game in an ensuing shootout, it proved the Thunderbirds could skate right with a Great Northern Conference power.

Lakeland carried their late season momentum into the playoffs and demolished Pacelli 9-2 in the first round of the WIAA state tournament to give coach Suter his first playoff win in his first season.

The year would end though, in Eagle River where Lakeland would fall to Northland Pines 5-2 in the second round of the state tournament.

For Suter, it was the progress over the year that made the season a success.

“Every guy on the team improved at something, whether it was in the classroom or within the community or at the rink on the ice,” he said. “I’m really proud of that group. They were a really good group.”

Sophomore Max Toijala had a fantastic year and earned second team all-conference honors. He led the T-Birds this season with 20 regular season goals and 19 assists.

Sophomore Joe Beda had nine goals and eight assists. Freshman Teag Wagner had eight goals and nine assists. Junior Kyle Schaub had five goals and 11 assists, and senior Bryce Gilbertson had seven goals and seven assists.

Of this crew which achieved double-digit points, only Gilbertson will be lost to graduation.

Lakeland also got fantastic play in the net. Goalie Collin Guelcher was under heavy fire for much of the year and he withstood it admirably. He faced 827 shots on goal, saved 751 of them, and ended the year an all-conference honorable mention with a save percentage of .908.

Additionly, Suter said many young underclassmen got invaluable experience this year as well.

“A lot of the younger guys were kind of baptized by fire,” he said. “Being freshman and playing the minutes they did. They’ve grown from it and are very confident and look forward to next year.”

The head coach is also looking forward to next season after having such a great experience in his first year on the job.

“I loved it. It was a lot of fun,” Suter said. “I got pretty lucky having such a great group of kids and parents and everything that it made it easier for me and I look forward to doing it again next year.”

Northland Pines won the GNC this year. Waupaca finished second. Antigo and Rhinelander tied for third, followed by Tomahawk, Lakeland, Mosinee and Medford. 

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com.