The Lakeland Thunderbirds and the Waupaca Comets entered first round of the Great Northern Conference boys hockey tournament on Thursday, Jan. 24 from opposite ends of the GNC spectrum. 

Waupaca was second from the top at 6-1 while Lakeland was second from the bottom at 2-5. But records got thrown out the window when the tournament began and the Thunderbirds skated right with the Comets all night.

In fact, the Comets had to chase down the T-Birds to force a final 4-4 overtime tie.

Lakeland struck first, 4:37 into the game, when Keegan McJoynt scored off a Bryce Gilbertson assist, and that set the tone.

“Keegan McJoynt had the game of his life and that really motivated the rest of the guys,” Lakeland head coach Jake Suter said.

Just under two minutes later, though, Waupaca would counter when Cody Rasmussen scored off a Brady Johnson assist, and the battle had begun.

At 9:54 into the first, Waupaca’s Mitchell Trzebiatowski got called for hooking, setting up a Lakeland power play. A minute into the advantage Teag Wagner put Lakeland back up 2-1, scoring off assists from Max Toijala and Gilbertson.  

But again, Waupaca would answer, just a minute and a half later, when Jack Erspamer scored unassisted ,and at the end of the first period the score was tied 2-2.

Max Toijala, though, would give Lakeland the lead back 5:55 into the second period when he scored off a Wagner assist.

The Thunderbirds would hold that lead for most of the period until Tyler Gillich got called for head contact 12:08 into the second. A minute into the Waupaca power play Erspamer struck again and at the second intermission the score was 3-3.

Towards the end of the second period Lakeland goalie Collin Guelcher got called for interference, so the Thunderbirds had to start the third short handed.

That was no problem as Max Toijala scored again, this time unassisted, just 33 seconds into the third and the T-Birds had a 4-3 lead.

Guelcher would fight off 12 shots on goal in the third and hold off the Comets until a minute and a half to play when Erspamer completed hits hat trick, off assists from Jack Menzies and Davis Levine, forcing overtime.

Neither team would score in the extra frame and the game would end on a 4-4 tie.

Despite not coming away with a win, and being out shot 46 to 25, Suter was impressed by the way his team skated with a conference power house.

“The kids played a great hockey game,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and resiliency that our group showed. That game was a statement of what to expect from T-Bird hockey from now on.”

In the net, Lakeland’s Guelcher had a full nights work, making 42 saves. Waupaca’s Brett Berrens made 21.

On the power play Lakeland was 1-1 while Waupaca was 2-4. 

Lakeland, now 5-14-1 overall and 2-5-1 in the GNC, travels to Mosinee tonight for a second round GNC tournament game against the Indians, who lost to Rhinelander on Jan. 24. 

The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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