ONALASKA — If the Onalaska co-op boys hockey team wants to have a deep run in the postseason, coach Tim Ebner says it all comes down to the basics.
The Hilltoppers (21-2) have won 10 straight games after winning the MVC championship on Tuesday, and enter Thursday’s regional tournament as a No. 1 seed.
“We’re solid and we develop like any other team does throughout the season. We’ve been consistent over so many years,” Ebner said. “The guys have played well, and they’re playing consistently the way we’re asking them to play.”
Onalaska will host the winner of DeForest co-op vs. Black River Falls co-op, who play on Tuesday.
The basics are simple, according to Ebner. They go back and work on skills that are worked on at the first practice — skating, handling the puck and passing it.
Ebner says that the Hilltoppers will work on system-based drills and focus on scouting other opponents, too. However, if Onalaska doesn’t focus on the small things, the bigger things may not matter.
“The basics are everything at this point in the year,” Ebner said. “You have to do those simple things. If you can’t skate or can’t handle the puck, you can’t play the game or at least be successful with it. That’s why our focus has been that from Day 1.”
WEST SALEM BUILDS CONFIDENCE: West Salem/Bangor realizes time is running out, but the Panthers (9-12) have been on the rise as the regular season came to a close on Saturday.
Coach Eric Borre said it wasn’t a sense of panic, but one of realization that goals could still be accomplished.
“We’ve talked about earning opportunities throughout the season whether it’s winning a game or getting more ice time,” Borre said. “You have an edge (this time of year).
“With the finish line so far off, you don’t really make that connection,” Borre said. “There’s not as much as a sense of urgency. I would say that’s the case for most teams.”
The Panthers started off the season 1-5, but won four of five games between Dec. 28 and Jan. 8. In those wins, the Panthers allowed seven goals. They also shut out Viroqua 5-0 on Jan. 3.
West Salem/Bangor also beat Antigo 2-1 in overtime during its turnaround, and Alex Jackson scored a game-winning goal in the extra frame with assists coming from Brendan Holt and Grant LeDoux.
“We have kids that as the season has progressed that have filled roles,” Borre said. “Once you know what to expect, it frees you up to make plays.”
Borre sees confidence growing on and off the ice, and hopes that continues when West Salem/Bangor, the No. 6 seed, starts its playoff run against Tomah/Sparta co-op at 7 p.m. Thursday in Tomah.
Borre knew that the Panthers were going to have to learn on-the-fly, especially without its star player from last year, Jack Gorniak, who is currently playing at the University of Wisconsin.
The Panthers coaches didn’t want to put any extra pressure on the senior class, and said he puts the same level of expectations on every senior class, no matter if there’s a future NHL draftee on the team.
West Salem/Bangor’s top line of Jackson, Holt and LeDoux are all seniors. Jackson leads the team with 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists). LeDoux is second with 35 points while Holt has 25 points.
“In the past couple years, (Alex) had other guys on the team that we would count on to have more offensive load,” Borre said. “Those players are counted on. They’re carrying the brunt of that. They struggled with that, but now that they’re on a line with each other, they started to gain some confidence. They’re playing their best hockey.
“Does that mean we win? Of course not. They would agree in order for the team to be successful, they have to be successful.”