After shutting out Mosinee and Marshfield last week, the second-ranked Northland Pines boys hockey team got a dose of reality in a 6-3 loss to Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH) in the Dome Saturday afternoon.

“It was a week that ended very poorly for us,” said Pines coach David Cox. “A lack of discipline and focus cost us the game. We are way too experienced to get beat between the ears with this group of players and that pretty much sums up the day.”

Pines and SPASH were tied 1-1 after one period and the Eagles led 2-1 through two periods, but the Panthers outscored the Eagles 5-1 in the third period to steal the win.

Cox said the game was similar to the Eagles’ game last year versus Waukesha, where Pines just did not respond and the Fond du Lac Springs game when Pines was in a 2-1 game and the Eagles did not get the critical play to change the game.

“I thought we were going to gut out a close win heading into the third,” said Cox. “The way we were playing, that should have never been a 2-1 game at that point. But that is how the game goes sometimes.” 

SPASH took a 1-0 lead at the 4:07 mark of the first period on a goal by Brady Dillingham. 

“Defensively, we allowed a SPASH player to carry the puck into the zone 1-on-3 and buy enough time for Brady Dillingham to corral a loose puck in the slot that we overplayed and he squeezed a fluttering shot between Bret Wilkins and the near post for a 1-0 lead,” said Cox.

Meanwhile, SPASH goalie Jonathon Nafe was hot in the first period, making eight saves.

“SPASH had a hot goaltender that made some huge stops in the first period that set the tone for them defensively,” said Cox. “We did a good job after a slow start getting the puck into a good scoring area.”

Pines’ Hunter Bill single-handedly beat a SPASH defender and then beat Nafe over the shoulder to tie it at 1-1 late in the first period, with Zach Maillette being credited with the assist. 

Maillette then scored the lone goal in a very even second period to put Pines ahead 2-1. The Maillette goal was assisted by Alex Sternhagen and Max Brown.

Then the tempo of the game changed. 

“We lost our composure in the closing minutes of the second period, going down 5-on-3 on a holding call that I feel was pretty suspect,” said Cox. “Riley McGee made a nice defensive play and is simply stronger than the offensive player and the referee saw it a different way. At that point, the referees became the center of the game and our kids allowed them to get involved as well. A 2-minute misconduct and a goaltender interference call as time expired turned the game, that we had under control, into a real crazy third period. “

SPASH scored three straight goals to take a 4-2 lead at the 3:59 mark, but Pines responded with a Brady Snedden goal at 4:38 to close the score to 4-3. Assists went to Gunnar Schiffmann and Alex Sternhagen.

But SPASH answered at the 9-minute mark and put the game away with another goal at 15:26 to give the Panthers a three-goal lead with under three minutes remaining.

“The third period saw another interesting series of plays that ended with the puck in the back of our net far too many times,” said Cox. “We lost focus and everything SPASH did turned into their advantage. This one got away and we are a much better club than what we showed on the ice tonight.”

Wilkins finished the game with 19 saves, while Nafe had 24 for SPASH.

Pines, 9-3 overall and 5-0 in the Great Northern Conference (GNC), was scheduled to play at Antigo on Tuesday of this week and will play at Waupun this Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. and at Waupaca this Saturday, Jan. 18, at 3 p.m.

“We are in the grind of our season and will prepare for Antigo on the road Tuesday and will have a huge seeding weekend playing Waupun and Waupaca Saturday and Sunday,” said Cox.