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Steady and strong, Crimson take care of Blaine

By Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff, 01/26/12, 10:11AM CST

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Maple Grove uses a workmanlike effort to beat its rival

When a team is ranked third in the state, has only one loss on the season and  averages 4.89 goals-per-game, it means there is some scoring punch that filters throughout the lineup.

Usually those goals are of the highlight-reel variety, but Maple Grove took a different approach against one of its biggest rivals in Blaine on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Maple Grove Community Center.

The Crimson tipped shots, clogged the front of the net and even took shots from behind the net, which worked for Tony Paulson, who scored his 14th goal of the season by banking a shot off of Bengals goalie, Nick Malvin.

"We are just at a point in the season where we are going to do anything we can to score goals," Crimson defenseman Jordan Gross said. "It doesn't matter how they get in."

All of the Crimson goals came from a blue-collar type approach.

Paulson used hustle while Maple Grove was down a man because of a penalty and already behind 1-0.

He took a pass at the Blaine blue line, tried to make a move, but lost the puck and it went behind the net.

Instead of retreating back to the penalty kill, he remained aggressive, got the puck back and was able to score from behind the net.

"You look at a play like that, just fling the puck from behind the net, those can become important for you," Crimson coach Gary Stefano said. "We had to score goals like that."

Reason why was because Malvin was not going to let anything cheap go by him.

He ended up making 34 saves and kept Blaine in the game.

"If he didn't play like he did, we would not have had a chance," Blaine coach Dave Aus said. "They (Maple Grove) were really good tonight."

Since Malvin was proving to be a difficult task to handle, Maple Grove made sure create traffic in front of the net, which accounted for three goals in which Malvin ended up looking in a different direction to find the puck.

"It is just like the last time we played them," Stefano said. "We know he is a good goalie, so we had to do score the goals we did to win."

Maple Grove was consistent in its offensive attack as well.

Rarely did it go in spurts where it went a significant time without applying pressure on the Bengals.

Over time, it took its toll on the Crimson were able to capitalize.

"We just kept on getting pucks to the net and doing what we had to, to score," Crimson defenseman, Drew Aspinwall said. "In games like these, sometimes you are going to have to keep attacking them."

In a rivalry game and a stage that was set for an exciting matchup, Maple Grove just continued to stick with its game and methodically put up 38 shots on goal, a strong and consistent effort that wore on Blaine.

"We have a lot of offensive zone time because we possess the puck so much," Stefano said. "We are going to get a lot of shots on goal because of that, so it's just a matter of finding a way to score, anyway you can."

"It has taken a lot of pressure off of us defensively," Aspinwall said. "Tonight, we played so much in their zone that we did not have to spend a lot of time in our zone. Just worked hard in theirs and it was big for us because we got another conference win."

Familiar Setting

This has happened before.

Maple Grove was a favorite to go through the Section 5AA playoffs last season after a 20-3-2 mark in the regular season and not dropping a game to Blaine, winning and tying in those two games.

In the section finals, Blaine upset the Crimson to advance to the state tournament.

So after a its second loss of the season to Maple Grove, Bengals coach, Dave Aus said he is fine with the result, because he saw a better team on the ice.

"I am fine with the loss and we came in fine with winning or losing," he said. "Of course you want to win, but we wanted to close the gap on them from the first time we played them, which I really think we did."

Now that one of the bigger rivalries in the Northwest Suburban Conference might be on hold until another possible meeting in the section finals, Aus said the pressure will still be on Maple Grove, as another impressive regular season in in sight, and possibly another conference championship.

The road prior to the postseason is much more difficult for the Bengals as they still have No. 2 Duluth East, No. 7 Moorhead and conference games against Elk River and Centennial.

"They are going to be the favorites to win again," Aus said. "and we are fine with that. We have been in that position before and if it comes down to us two again to go to state, I feel like we have a pretty good chance.

"(Nick) Malvin is our key and I think he is a player that could make a big difference. He faced 38 shots tonight one of the best teams in the state and he didn't let anything easy go by him."

On the other side, Maple Grove is still on a short term basis.

Nearly flawless this season, the only hiccup in conference play was a 2-2 tie against Andover.

Dating back to last season, Maple Grove is now 26-0-3 in Northwest Suburban play and it wants to keep it that way, so there is no looking ahead to a third matchup with Blaine.

"We just want to focus on winning the conference and going undefeated again," Crimson defenseman Jordan Gross said. "That is out goal right now.

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Maple Grove defenseman Drew Aspinwall scored a goal and recorded an assist for the No. 3-ranked Crimson, which defeated Blaine 4-2 on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Maple Grove Community Center.

The Crimson unloaded 38 shots on goal and kept Bengals goalie, Nick Malvin busy all night.

Blaine scored first on a goal by Dylan Lambert, who slid a shot by Kyle Koop in the first period.

Later in the first, the Bengals had a chance to make it a two-goal lead when they were on the power play, but Tony Paulson tied it up for Maple Grove, banking a shot off Malvin after the puck went behind the net.

With just nine seconds left in the first, Shane Wolden's shot went in and Maple Grove took a 2-1 lead.

Aspinwall scored in the second period on the power play. He took a pass from the point and fired a low wrist shot, that may have been deflected and got by Malvin to make the score 3-1.

Sam Valerius gave the Crimson a 4-1 lead when he tapped in a shot from the crease after the puck was deflected again from the point. Malvin was unable to get back in time to stop the shot.

With just 26 seconds left in the game, Ian Sheid scored for the Bengals.

Maple Grove improves to 16-1-2 on the season and remain unbeaten in the Northwest Suburban Conference, holding an 11-0-1 record.

It will play Robbinsdale Armstrong on Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Plymouth Ice Center.

Blaine drops to 11-6-0 on the year and 9-3-0 in conference play.

The Bengals will host Elk River on Saturday, Jan. 28 at Fogerty Arena in Blaine.

1. Drew Aspinwall, Maple Grove
A force all night from the point, Aspinwall scored a goal and assisted on Sam Valerius' goal in the third for a two-point night. He also had plenty of more chances on a dangerous power play unit that the Crimson can display on any given night. Aspinwall was also part of a defensive corp that only allowed 19 shots on goal.

2. Tony Paulson, Maple Grove
With all the flashy players and highlight-reel type goals that Maple Grove can score, it was an unlikely one that went in to get the Crimson on the board and out of a 1-0 hole. While shorthanded, Paulson got the puck at the Bengals blue line, brought it in the zone only to loose it behind the net. Alertly, he got the puck, saw Blaine goalie, Nick Malvin out of position and banked the shot off him and into the net to tie the game. It was a goal that was indicative to how Maple Grove played all night, doing anything it could to score.

3. Nick Malvin, Blaine
Facing 38 shots is one thing, but from one of the top teams in the state is another. Malvin was able to stand his ground, using his tall frame to keep Blaine in the game. No goal beat him clean tonight as the Crimson had to use a bank shot, defections and screens to beat him.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com