The Lakeland Union girls’ hockey team faced Central Wisconsin on Tuesday night in Merrill to open the season and no one took on the brunt of the Storm like Thunderbird goalie Anna Maulson.

The sophomore goalie saved over a dozen shots a period and left the Storm slamming their sticks on the ice in frustration more than raising them in celebration despite their 6-2 win.

“First period was shaky. Second period was good. Third period I told her (Maulson) that was the best period of hockey I’d ever seen her play,” Lakeland head coach Steve Bucklew said about his goalie, who had the puck in her face the majority of the game as the T-Birds struggled to keep it out of the defensive zone of the ice. 

But they started the game on the attack as Callie Johnson scored just over a minute into the game with a slap shot from right of the net.

“She had the most confidence with the puck,” Bucklew said. “There was three or four times where she skated the puck up the length of the ice. She’s going to be a player. She’s going to be something to watch.”  

Johnson’s goal was not only a tone-setting first score of the game, it was the first goal Lakeland had ever scored against the Storm.

“I was blown out of the water,” Bucklew said. “We knew going in that we had never scored a goal on the Storm.”

Lakeland also knew the Storm was the 2017 state champs and they can even the score in a heartbeat, which is what they did as junior Kassidy Olivia tied the game 1-1 just two minutes later.

From there the Storm would dominate possession and stay on the attack, almost relentlessly, for the remainder of the game.

The Lakeland defenders, despite admirable battles for the puck and numerous contested shots, were unable to keep Central Wisconsin away from their goal for extended periods of time.

“We have to get a little quicker on the back end and we have to get in better shape,” Bucklew said. “When we get an opportunity to score we’ve got to score, but it’s just as important when we get an opportunity to clear a puck over the blue line out of the defensive zone, we have to do it.”

Even though she was under attack all night, Maulson was able to dive to and slide in front of over 50 pucks on the night.

But the Storm was just too dangerous to be given so many opportunities and eventually some shots were going to go through.

Adding to Central Wisconsin’s first period lead were Audrey Ladewig and Eden Gruber, who got past Maulson.

At the first intermission it was 3-1 in favor of the Storm.  

Each team would match their first period performance in the second.   

The Storm came out firing and scored three more times in the second period.  

Devon Cronk-Smith scored a minute into the period and Kiley Hahner followed suit at 12:08 in the second.  

Then a lengthy defensive battle ensued, and Lakeland would survive a couple Storm power plays before sophomore Isabelle Boyer scored for the T-Birds with 3:02 to go in the period to make the score 5-2.  

But before the buzzer sounded on the second period, Hahner would score her second goal for the Storm to make it 6-2 going into the third.

Between periods Bucklew put the situation in perspective for the T-Birds and told the girls to stay in the present tense.

“Lets win this period.  We need to win this period,” Bucklew said he told his team.

And, largely due to the brilliant play of Maulson, the Thunderbirds almost delivered.

The defense battled and Maulson denied the onslaught of the Storm time and time again and kept them scoreless in the final period. 

“We tied the period,” Bucklew said approvingly. “We didn’t get a goal but we didn’t give up a goal. We tied the period. I was way more positive coming out of that then I was going into it.”

Despite the loss of the game, the performance of his girls against the 2017 state champs enhanced his understanding of his team going forward.

“These kids come out to play,” Bucklew said.  “From where I thought we were in the beginning of the season, I thought it was a great game.”

Lakeland travels to Menomonie on Friday to take on Chippewa Falls at 6 p.m.

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