The most dangerous player on a hockey team in the playoffs is always a hot goalie. For Team Southeast, senior Grand Forks Red River goalie Bryan Nies fit the bill, and then some.
Facing a barrage of shots, Nies deflected 27 pucks to help his team pull out an exhilarating 2-1 win in an October 29 matchup against Team Northwest at New Hope Arena in New Hope.
“We knew coming in that this was gonna be a big game,” Nies said afterwards. “We were pretty pumped up to play.”
Team Southeast brought plenty of energy to the ice rink and forced the high flying offense of Team Northwest into a defensive battle. Nies kept himself focused as he kept Team Northwest to just one goal in the game.
“I was just kinda saying to myself ‘do your job,’” he said. “As long as I do my job they said they’d do theirs and they stuck to it…They played well in front of me and limited their shots to the perimeter and those are shots that you should stop all day.”
As the clock ticked down late in the third period, Nies had to stop his mind from worrying about the pressures of overtime.
“It was in the back of my mind but I tried not thinking about it as much as I could.”
It turns out, he didn’t have to. With less than a minute to play, Eagan forward Nick Kuchera validated Nies’s efforts in the crease with a goal to put the game away and advance Team Southeast to the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League championship game on Oct. 30 at New Hope Arena in New Hope.
The Elite League had a shortage of goaltenders this year, creating a system of rotating goalies throughout the teams in the regular season. When the playoffs came however, the teams got to pick their singular goalie for the whole playoffs based on seeding. Team Southeast held the most points in the league with 32 based on their record, and therefore got the first choice. It was an easy one.
“Winning the league and being able to take the first choice of goaltender, there was no hesitance on our part,” Coach Sean Toomey said. “I chose Bryan.”
Through the regular season, Nies had finished in a tie for second in overall save percentage in the Elite League by stopping 90.5% of the incoming shots he faced.
When asked about his strengths that have helped him succeed as a goaltender he answered simply.
“All around, my movement. My mentality, my mindset. Keeping mentally strong,” Nies said.
Coach Toomey thought that there was plenty more that made Nies a worthy choice.
“He’s smart, he can move the puck off the glass and he’s going to help your defenseman out,” Toomey said.” So those little things like that are huge. Plus the fact that he’s a tremendous goaltender. He controls his rebounds, he didn’t let anything linger.”
Nies will return in net this season for the Grand Forks Red River Rough Riders, a high school in North Dakota. His Elite League experience he hopes will prove to be extremely valuable to helping his team succeed.
“I think I’m gonna have to adjust a little bit,” Nies said. “It’s a slower pace than this league.”
If he can put on performances similar to Saturday’s matchup against Team Northwest, North Dakota better watch out. He has proven that he can carry his team in high stress situations and can make an impact in the crease.
“Just an outstanding performance,” Coach Toomey said.
--Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff
1. Justin Quale, Team Northwest
Following up a big showing in his previous matchup, Quale, a Benilde-St. Margaret's junior, was a brick wall in net. He made 32 saves and had many brilliant stops during the game. Without his performance, Team Northwest wouldn’t have been so close to winning by the end of the game. His glove looked magnificent and he ruined the dreams of many with upper-shelf hopes.
2. Bryan Nies, Team Southeast
Neis, a senior from Grand Forks Red River, matched Quale save for save and came out with the win. He had 27 saves and was key in Team Southwest’s victory. His effort moved Southwest onto the championship round.
3. Nick Kuchera, Team Southeast
In a game that had very little scoring and was largely a defensive battle, Kuchera found a way to get it done for his team. With less than two minutes left, the Eagan senior made a nice backhand move and found the easy money when it mattered most. It was his only point on the night.
--Walker Orenstien, MN Hockey Hub staff
Talk about a thriller.
Team Southeast's Nick Kuchera of Eagan lifted his team past evenly matched Team Northwest 3-2 in a Saturday Oct. 29, Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League semifinal at New Hope Ice Arena in New Hope.
Kuchera picked up a rebound, stepped around diving goaltender Justin Quale of Benilde-St. Margaret’s and flipped a backhand into the net with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining.
The game was a giant stalemate heading into the third period with the score tied at 1. Textbook defense limited the scoring opportunities and shots.
Team Northwest goalie Justin Quale of Benilde-St. Margaret’s made 34 saves and stopped multiple odd-man rushes and breakaways. Bryan Nies of Grand Forks Red River stopped 28 shots, including a few key saves late in the third period.
In the first period, Team Southeast's Nate Flynn of Hastings managed to beat Quale by sneaking a wrist shot past his blocker-side shoulder. Lance Carney of White Bear Lake and Tyler Sheehy of Burnsville assisted on the play.
Team Northwest got power-play goal from Breck's Thomas Lindstrom in the second period to tie the score at 1. Assists went to Brecks' Grant Opperman and Wayzata's Sam Majka.