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Avalanche sending two to state
Photo submitted by Duane Gerhard Monroe Avalanches Jason Johnson fights with a Madison West Polar Caps player for the puck during a Bantams game earlier this season. Monroe will play Burnett Saturday morning in the state tournament.
MONROE - March Madness isn't just relegated to the sport of basketball.

The madness will spill over to the ice as two Monroe hockey teams shoot for state championships this weekend.

The Monroe Avalanche high school team qualified for the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association's Division 1 state tournament Saturday and Sunday in Kenosha. The Avalanche Bantam team also qualified for the WAHA 3A state tournament Saturday and Sunday in Tomah.

Avalanche high school coach Cary Bush has rooting interests in both state tournaments and may like to clone himself if he could. His youngest son, Eric Bush plays for the Bantam team, but because he will be coaching the high school team in Kenosha he won't be able to see his son play. But, his wife Ann will keep him updated.

"We text between periods and after the game," Cary Bush said. "It's hard with two boys playing. There are a lot of weekends when we go our separate ways. That's why I try to watch him at home as much as I can."

Bush said having two Monroe hockey teams gearing up for the state tournament this weekend is special.

"I think it shows our program is strong," Bush said. "We have good things to look forward to. Not everyone makes it. It's an accomplishment just to get here."

The Monroe Avalanche high school team, which qualified for state for the eighth-straight year, opens up tournament play at 8 a.m. Saturday against Marshfield-Wisconsin Rapids. Monroe completed its first year playing in the Northern Illinois Hockey League, which is comprised of Chicago-area and Rockford teams. Monroe finished fifth in the NIHL season and fourth in the tournament.

"I think it (the NIHL) has brought us up to a higher level of hockey," Monroe assistant coach Dan Moats said. "The fact that we played in a much higher level that gave us more competition."

Bush is a proponent of playing more competition in the NIHL and hopes it will pay dividends.

"A lot of first-year programs don't even qualify much less win games," Bush said of the NIHL tournament. "We wanted to do that so we could be prepared for tougher games at the state tournament."

Kenosha, which has beat Monroe in four out of five games this year, enters the state tournament as the favorite. Kenosha is looking to win a third-straight championship and is the biggest obstacle to Monroe's title hopes.

Monroe tied Kenosha earlier this year, but the Avalanche is still seeking its first win against the No. 1 seed. Bush thinks a rematch in the championship game is possible.

"We are the No. 2 seed and they are first," Bush said. "That is how it should play out. Can they beat us a fifth time? I don't know. The odds are in our favor."

If Monroe beats Marshfield-Wisconsin Rapids in the opener, the Avalanche would face the winner of the game between Superior and Marinette at 6 p.m. Saturday. Moats said senior captains, including forwards Drew Geissbuhler and Brandon Mortimer as well as defenseman Gotti Brandli, have stepped up when the team has needed them to.

Bush expects goalie Sean Winters will have a big tournament.

"He has been working really hard," he said. "I think he will have a good weekend."

Avalanche Bantam

Playing at the state tournament is nothing new for the Avalanche Bantam team because they qualified for state in Squirt and Pee Wee leagues in previous years.

"It really means a heck of a lot to the boys," Avalanche Bantam coach John Kallgren said, whose son, Johnny plays on the team. "It's really what they work for all year."

The Bantams will open state tournament play at 9:45 a.m. Saturday against Burnett, the defending state champions, in Tomah. If the Avalanche win, they would play the winner of Sheboygan-Reedsburg at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.

"You have to win your first game plain and simple," Kallgren said. "You have to prove you belong. You have to come out firing on all cylinders. You have to win the first game to make it a successful time."

Kallgren said a win in the first round would assure at least a fourth-place finish as the Avalanche are guaranteed three games at state.

Kallgren expects Sheboygan and Sauk Prairie, which has beat Monroe twice this year, to be two of the top teams at state.

"We matchup well with any one of those teams that has been playing Level 3 like we are," he said. "They (Burnett) should be pretty comparable to us. I'm guessing it will be pretty competitive."

The Bantam team has been led by two-year players Jason Johnson, Daniel Gerhard and Johnny Kallgren. The team has also benefited from an influx of talent.

Johnson scored seven goals in three games during the Region 4 playoffs, which helped the Avalanche beat Baraboo 6-2 and Reedsburg 3-2 to assure a trip to state. Goalie Jess Hager averaged 26 saves in the regional.

"One thing I don't have to do is psych them up," Kallgren said.