Athlete of the Week: State-bound Eau Claire North hockey

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- For the first time in 13 years, the North hockey team is heading to the WIAA State Tournament. On Saturday, the Huskies took down Hayward in the sectional final 3-2 in double overtime to claim a spot in the state quarterfinal. The team is our Osseo Automotive Athlete of the Week. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert has the story.

“It was kind of a shock moment. Seeing the puck go in, you know you won,” junior Zach Urdahl said about Sam Stange’s game-winning goal in double overtime. “You kind of freak out a little bit. You’re not really sure how to celebrate or what to do.”

Secure a sectional title? Check; Stange finally ended it after 70 minutes of hockey.

“It was really cool. A little bit of a relief,” Stange said. “We were hoping we could’ve finished it off sooner, but to be able to battle back giving up the two late goals was huge.”

That goal was quite reminiscent of his brother Zac’s overtime goal in February of 2017 that helped North down Eau Claire Memorial for the 1st time in 22 tries.

“We were able to talk about that and we found the old headline for that and it was pretty similar,” Stange said. “It was really cool to be able to share a moment like that.”

The road to state wasn’t an easy one; after having a conference lead midway through the Big Rivers season, North finished 3rd in the final standings. Something needed to change.

“We hit that lull there, that two-week lull – since we retooled a little bit, we’ve been really emphasizing defense and really putting that into our game plan,” Ryan Parker, North’s head coach, said. “Going through the playoffs, giving up 2 goals in 3 games kind of shows our commitment to the defensive side, it shows our players buying into that.”

The North hockey program went 8 straight years without winning 10 or more games. Over the past 4 seasons, the Huskies haven’t won fewer than this year’s total of 17, and that number could get higher at the state tournament.

“You might not hit your goal right away the first year, but if you set that standard – it’s high school, four years, guys have something to work towards and pushing towards,” Parker said of North’s hockey program’s turnaround.

Heading to the state tournament, the squad says they’re right where they want to be.

“Right now, we feel confident going up against anyone we have,” Stange said. “Everybody is doing their job, and if we continue to do that, we feel confident with what we have.”

“We’re going to go down there and play our game,” Urdahl said. “Hopefully we come away with a few wins here.”

North was awarded the 5-seed and will face the 4-seed Verona in the quarterfinal on Thursday afternoon.