Senior all-state defenseman Nathan Jurrens returned from a foot injury and the Verona boys hockey team extended its winning streak to five games before losing a showdown with Stevens Point.

Verona (11-4) rolled to an 8-4 win over Wausau West on Friday, Jan. 15, at Marathon Park in Wausau. It marked Verona’s first WIAA-sanctioned game this season.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 5 in the Division 1 Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association Division 1 state poll and the defending WIAA Division 1 state champion, played their first 12 games as a club team under the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association and then had 10 practices before returning to the ice for two games over the weekend.

Verona then lost a duel to Stevens Point 3-0 on Saturday, Jan. 16, in Wausau, but bounced back with a 7-1 win over DePere on Monday, Jan. 18. The Wildcats’ game against Notre Dame de la Baie Academy on Jan. 16 was canceled for the second time this season.

Verona coach Joel Marshall said the game with Tritons, a rematch of last year’s state championship, was canceled because Notre Dame had to quarantine its team because of COVID-19 protocols. Verona escaped with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the Division 1 state title game last year. Instead, Verona took the Tritons’ spot in the Wausau West tournament.

“I’m really happy with how we came out of the gate pushing through some tough nonconference opponents,” Marshall said. “It was good to be back on the ice. It meant a lot more knowing the regional is ahead.”

Verona 8, Wausau West 4

Verona senior forward Walker Haessig and senior defenseman Josh Osting each scored two goals to lead the Wildcats to a win over Wausau West on Jan. 15.

Jurrens played in his first game since November. He scored a goal about 5 minutes into his shift.

“It was a good welcome back goal for him,” Marshall said. “He played three shifts and we wanted to limit his minutes.”

Wausau West scored two goals on 5-on-3 situations. The Wildcats had nine penalties and two conduct penalties. Marshall said with county COVID-19 restrictions, Verona didn’t practice much on special teams play.

Verona got goals from three of its four lines, including goals from sophomore forward Reece Cordray, senior forward Leo Renlund and Jack Marske.

Stevens Point 3, Verona 0

Stevens Point sophomore forward Kade Smigaj had one goal and two assists to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the New Year on Jan. 16.

The loss snapped Verona’s five-game winning streak. Smigaj scored first on an assist by Brady Dillingham at 11:29 in the first period.

After a scoreless second period, Stevens Point added to its lead in the final period, as Jacob Sanley netted a goal on assists from Smigaj and Dillingham.

“We had a few hits off the post,” Marshall said. “It was just a couple bounces here or there. It was a good fast-paced game.”

Verona played without senior forward Samuel Iszczyszyn, who suffered a concussion on Friday.

“We are going to play it safe,” Marshall said. “There is no rush.”

Verona pulled its goalie and with about 20 seconds left in the game and Dillingham scored an empty-net goal off a pass from Smigaj.

The Panthers outshot the Wildcats 32-31. Grant had 28 saves.

Verona 7, DePere 1

Cordray scored two goals to power Verona to a bounce-back win over DePere on Jan. 18.

The Wildcats trailed 1-0 early on, but it didn’t take them long to answer. Anthony Heinrichs scored a game-tying goal on an assist from Renlund and Caden Wedderspoon at 4:13 in the first period to tie the game at 1.

Verona forward Andrew Aune scored a go-ahead goal at 14:17 of the second period to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. Cordray scored his first goal on assists from Osting and Haessig at 9:52, then Haessig scored on passes from Cordray and Marske to extend the lead to 4-1.

Verona scored three goals in the third period. Easton Simpson scored on a pass by Renlund at 15:10. About five minutes later, Cordray scored his second goal on assists from 28, and Jurrens. Renlund tacked on the final goal on passes from Simpson and Heinrichs with 45 seconds to go.

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