Friday night’s hockey game between the Lakeland Thunderbirds and the visiting Rhinelander Hodags was a fast and furious, hard hitting contest. 

Lakeland was trying to sweep the season series between the two teams, while Rhinelander was trying to avenge an overtime loss to the Thunderbirds in early January.

At even strength the two teams skated toe to toe, but the game came down to who took better advantage of the power play.

Unfortunately for Lakeland, it was Rhinelander that cashed in on their opportunities, scoring two power play goals en route to a 4-1 victory over the Thunderbirds.

But Lakeland had their chances.

At 11:26 into the first period, with the game still scoreless, Rhinelander’s Jake Losch was called for tripping, giving Lakeland the advantage. Rhinelander though was able to kill the two minute minor.

As soon as the game was back to even strength, the Hodags were immediately hit with another penalty when Freddy Wisner was called for interference. The Hodags successfully killed that penalty as well and Lakeland missed out on two consecutive opportunities with a numbers advantage. 

At the end of the first period the game scoreless.

“The first period kind of reminded them that there’s hitting in hockey and after the first they played good,” Lakeland head coach Jake Suter said.

It didn’t take long into the second, just 2:56, for Lakeland to snap into it as Joe Beda found the net off assists from Kyle Schaab and Max Toijala. The passing between the three Thunderbirds had Rhinelander goalie Seth Stafford all turned around and Beda found a gap to put the T-Birds up 1-0.

Rhinelander answered back midway through the second period when Max Spaulding scored off a Jake Losch assist and the game was tied 1-1.

Then, 10 minutes into the second period Lakeland’s Tyler Gillich was called for an interference penalty, and Rhinelander took advantage 25 seconds later as Freddy Wisner took a Conor Pequet pass and scored the power play goal to give the Hodags a 2-1 lead which they took into the second intermission.

In the third, Lakeland’s Max 

Toijala was called for cross checking 9:40 into the period. Rhinelander would again take quick advantage and add to their lead as Bridger Flory scored the Hodag’s second power play goal off a Hunter Hicks assist and the game was 3-1 in favor of Rhinelander.

The Hodags would add an exclamation point as time expired when Max Spaulding scored an empty netter off a Bridger Flory assist and the final score was 4-1 Rhinelander.

“We played a period and a half,” Suter said. “They started to get better toward the end of the second and the third was overall pretty good. It was a good tight game with chances both ways, but (Rhinelander) buried theirs.

The Hodags out shot the T-Birds 31-21. Lakeland goalie Colin Guelcher, who played fantastic all night under heavy pressure, made 27 saves.

“He had another good game, did well. I’m excited for two more years with him,” Suter said of his sophomore goalie.

Seth Stafford had 20 saves for Rhinelander, but the game came down to the fact that Rhinelander scored after each of Lakeland’s penalties, while the Thunderbirds could not cash in on their three tries with the advantage. 

The loss drops Lakeland to 7-15-1 overall and 4-5-1 in the Great Northern Conference where they finished in fifth place behind 6-5 Rhinelander.  

The T-Birds next skate against the Pacelli co-op in the first round of the WIAA state tournament tonight at the Lakeland Ice Arena at 7 p.m.

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