Despite University School of Milwaukee continuing to build its lead, the Brookfield Stars — a team capable of scoring in bunches — kept the pressure on in search of a momentum-shifting goal.
But the Stars couldn't solve Wildcat sophomore goaltender Frank Fee, as USM ended Brookfield's surprise playoff run with a 6-0 victory in a WIAA sectional semifinal Feb. 21 at Uihlein Ice Arena.
Third-seeded USM advanced to the sectional final against top-seeded Arrowhead on Feb. 24. The sixth-seeded stars Stars, which downed Fond du Lac and upset second-seeded Homestead to win their first regional title since 2014, finished 9-17-0 overall.
"Chance-wise, we were right with them (22-21 USM in shots)," Stars first-year coach Greg Copeland said. "We couldn't beat Frank. He's a good goalie. He played well and had some big breakaway saves early. He stood tall in the third period when we outshot them (10-4). We just couldn't come back. We dug a hole too deep to come back from.
"But I'm proud of the kids. They battled all the way to the end. As much as we lost, it is a pretty good season to hang your hat on."
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead with 10:59 left in the first period when Tim Rooney beat Stars freshman goaltender Emmett Peters glove side with a shot from just inside the blue line. Logan Geisness made it 2-0 when he chipped home a rebound allowed by Peters with 1:56 remaining in the period.
Brookfield had a golden chance to cut the deficit in half when Eric Sinson had nothing but open ice between him and Fee. But Fee was up to the task, and the puck bounced so far off of him that Nick Epperson was able to collect it at the red line for his own breakaway. Epperson beat Peters with his shot, making it 3-0. Geisness scored his second goal of the game with 7:25 left in the second period to put USM up 4-0.
"We talk about bounces all the time," Copeland said. "Eric comes down and tries to put it 5-hole and the puck bounces all the way to the red line and they get a breakaway goal. You can't write fiction like that. Kudos to them for capitalizing on those opportunities. That's how you go to state, by capitalizing on opportunities.
"When they got the fourth goal to go in, that was the momentum one. To battle back from down four against USM in their own barn is pretty tough."
Epperson scored off a spin move early in the third period to make it 5-0, while Brandon McGill capped the scoring with 5:35 to play.
Brookfield entered averaging 4.83 goals per game and had scored 16 goals in its first two playoff games. But Fee stood tall, stopping all 21 shots he faced to become just the second netminder to shut out the Stars this season.
Not only was it Copeland's first season as head coach of the Stars, but it was the first year Wauwatosa East, Wauwatosa West, Sussex Hamilton and Menomonee Falls joined Brookfield Central, Brookfield East and Catholic Memorial in the co-op.
"We just wanted the seniors to light the torch for us," Copeland said. "That's all we asked, to help guide these guys. The juniors this year will carry it as seniors and then keep passing it on. I'm proud of the seniors. If we come out with the same level of compete next year, I think we will be fine for a long time."