Sparta-Viroqua bantams win state title

A last-minute decision to form a youth hockey cooperative involving bantam teams from Sparta and Viroqua paid big dividends recently.
The Sparta-Viroqua Bantam Bulldogs, which is in just its first year of existence, captured the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association state championship at the Sheboygan Ice Center March 8.
Sparta Youth Hockey Association President Brenden Kehren said the groundwork for the cooperative began late last summer.
“Sparta and Viroqua youth hockey teams have always had a rivalry. One year, Viroqua beats the pants off Sparta, the next year, Sparta beats Viroqua,” Kehren offered. 
“Late summer 2019, I heard Viroqua may be short on players at the bantam level and not able to make a team. Sparta was in a similar boat, with only having an estimated 11-12 players possibly coming back to play,” he continued. “Being the president of SYHA and having a player at the bantam level, I contacted Kyle Brudos, president of Viroqua Youth Hockey. After several meetings and approval by WAHA, a co-op was formed between the Sparta and Viroqua bantams. We then shared practices between the Sparta and Viroqua ice rinks in late October.”
The rest - as they say - is history.
The cooperative, which includes 13 and 14-year-old seventh, eighth and ninth graders, clicked from the start, winning the first state championship for a SYHA team in more than two decades.
Sparta-Viroqua opened play at the state tournament with a 4-2 victory over Shawano and advanced to the title game after a 10-1 thumping of Oregon.
In the championship game, the Bulldogs used a stellar defensive effort to capture the bantam state title with a 2-1 victory over Janesville.
Sparta-Viroqua 4, Shawano 2
Two first-period goals put the Bulldogs on top early in a 4-2 quarterfinal victory over the Lightning.
Alden Carney got things going for Sparta-Viroqua with a goal at the 12:06 mark in the first period with the help of a Collin Simonson assist.
Less than three minutes later, Brennan Otten scored off assists by Dylan Kaduc and David Doherty to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 cushion.
Shawano answered late in the frame to cut the deficit to 2-1 heading into the second period.
Sparta-Viroqua regained its two-goal lead with 9:07 left in the second stanza, when Dalton Buros scored on a power play off a Hayden Peterson assist.
The Lightning pulled to within a goal of the lead at 3-2 with an early third-period goal, but Simonson put the game away when he scored off an assist by Carney with just under three minutes remaining in the quarterfinal contest.
Alex Hoyum finished with 19 saves in the net for the Bulldogs.
Sparta-Viroqua 10, Oregon 1
Hoyum handcuffed the Oregon bantams all game, allowing just one goal, while recording 14 saves in the net.
The Bulldog offense was stellar as well, scoring five unanswered goals to open the semifinal.
Simonson scored a pair of first-period goals for Sparta-Viroqua, while teammates Tucker Gretebeck and Hudson Nundahl added solo scores to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 cushion heading in the second period.
Gretebeck, Peterson, Buros and Ryder Steele each recorded an assist for Sparta-Viroqua in the first period.
Buros added an unassisted goal early in the second period to extend the Bulldog advantage to 5-0.
Oregon’s lone goal would follow, cutting the deficit to 4-1 midway through the frame, but Sparta-Viroqua responded with five more unanswered goals to pull away for the win.
Carney and Otten ended the second period with back-to-back goals to give Sparta-Viroqua a 7-1 lead heading into the final frame.
Otten scored two more goals to open the third period – one off an assist by Connor Williams – to complete a hat trick, while Steele came through with the final score for the Bulldogs.
Sparta-Viroqua 2, Janesville 1
Carney’s late second-period goal lifted the Sparta-Viroqua Bulldogs the bantam state championship with a 2-1 victory over the Janesville JayHawks.
Janesville drew first blood in the championship bout, scoring with just 1:40 left in the opening period.
Sparta-Viroqua answered quickly, when Simonson scored off an assist by Carney just 18 seconds later to knot the score at 1-1 heading into the second period.
Carney followed with the unassisted game-winner with 2:20 left in the second period to give the Bulldogs the state title.
Kehren said the cooperative was solid from the start.
“The teams coaches are split very evenly, with half from Sparta and the other half from Viroqua. While 10 players are from Sparta, the other eight are from Viroqua,” he said. “Prior to practice starting in late October, a team gathering was held at Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario. The team got to know one another, as did the parents. There were some team-building exercises, as well as a barbeque.”
Kehren said the state title is only the second in the history of the SYHA.
“Back in 2011, the bantams came close by taking third against River Valley Youth Hockey from St. Croix Falls, and in 2012 the bantams took fifth against Shawno Youth Hockey,” he said.
“The last first-place championship title was earned by Sparta Youth Hockey over 20 years ago,” continued Kehren. “This season is one for the books and one the boys won’t forget. New friends were made, both from the players’ side and the parents’ side. Lots of great memories.”

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