WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The Verona boys hockey team’s season began filled with uncertainty.
The defending WIAA Division 1 state champion Wildcats didn’t know if they would get to play due to the health and gathering orders from Public Health Madison & Dane County in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then the players competed as a club team outside Dane County, prior to receiving permission from the Verona school district to play a WIAA schedule in January. The Wildcats persevered through it all and wound up where they ended last season — in the state championship game.
But second-seeded and second-ranked Hudson stymied fourth-seeded Verona’s bid for a repeat title, earning a 4-0 victory Saturday at the South Wood County Recreation Center. The Raiders (21-3) dominated offensive possession and were credited with outshooting the Wildcats (16-7) by a 35-7 margin.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of the boys,” Verona coach Joel Marshall said. “The adversity they battled this year was beyond any of my imagination. … To play here is something special. Right now, it is difficult. They know what that (winning) side is like.”
Marshall, whose team knocked off top-seeded and top-ranked University School of Milwaukee in a semifinal Thursday, called Hudson the best team Verona played this season and the best team in the state.
“They had energy,” Marshall said. “They controlled the pace the whole game. They set the tone at first. We really couldn’t respond. We played right into their game. We didn’t have very good puck management. They are a great hockey team. They deserve this today. They definitely played better than us the entire 51 minutes.”
Verona senior goaltender Kaden Grant, named the state’s top goalie on Friday, was under pressure from start to finish while making 31 saves.
“I just kept working for my teammates, to try to keep it as close as possible,” Grant said.
His counterpart, senior Alex Ripplinger, needed to make only seven saves while recording the shutout for Hudson, coached by former University of Wisconsin and NHL player Davis Drewiske, who was on Hudson’s 2001 state title team.
Junior forward Carter Mears scored twice for Hudson, which won its fifth state title.
“We were working, but they played a tremendous, defensively sound game that hemmed us in our D-zone quite a bit,” Marshall said. “Our boys battled hard and they fought, but Hudson won the little battles up and down the ice tonight.”
Mears, off an assist from sophomore forward Carson Strapon, went top shelf for the game’s first goal 9 minutes, 11 seconds into the first period.
Hudson was on the board again 53 seconds later when sophomore forward Alex Pottratz scored.
“One of our best games was against USM (on Thursday),” Verona senior forward Walker Haessig said. “I think in this championship game, we needed to have our best game possible. But you have to congratulate Hudson because they played unbelievably good. They played all-around phenomenally. It’s pretty hard when you can’t get shots.”
After a scoreless second period, Verona didn’t convert on a power-play opportunity early in the third period.
“If we could just squeak one in, it would have been a different game,” Marshall said. “That’s where momentum and that’s where energy comes from. … In a game like this when your back is against the wall as much as it was, it was hard to find the positives and hard to get that momentum going in our favor.”
Mears then gave Hudson a 3-0 lead, scoring from just to Grant’s right with 12:58 remaining in the third period. Junior forward Matthew Mauer’s empty-net goal with 2:37 left to play closed the scoring.
Fond du Lac Springs 4, Superior 1
In the Division 2 final, Brady Welsch scored the first and last goals for the top-ranked Ledgers (26-2-0), and assisted on two goals by Calvin Grass, to defeat the second-ranked Spartans (11-6-0) and give Springs a repeat championship.
Chippewa Falls co-op 3, University School co-op 2 (OT)
In the girls final, Joey Schemenauer scored 4:40 into overtime to complete a comeback that gave the sixth-ranked Sabers (14-6-1) the program’s first championship in its third trip. Sidney Polzin scored with 7:20 left in regulation to tie the score. For the Wildcats (17-4-0), Jordan Bonk had a goal and an assist.
Photos: Hudson 4, Verona 0 in WIAA State Hockey D1 championship