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Smooth Sailing

02/17/2012, 3:39pm CST
By Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff

Breck dominates rival Blake in regular season finale

When two rivals square off to take on each other, the expectations of a close game are typically the result, especially among top 10 teams.

In the regular season finale, No. 3 Breck started on a whole different level than No. 10 Blake, en route to a convincing 9-0 victory on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Blake School Ice Arena.

"We really didn't put a number on the game," Breck forward Grant Opperman said. "All we knew was if we played the way we have been, our team would have the confidence to come out and play well like we did."

The Mustangs could not have asked for a better start on the road, in their rivals home rink and in front of a packed house.

Seven goals on 24 shots in the first period of play silenced a full student section and momentarily put to rest an upset for the Bears.

"Our team is playing with a lot of confidence right now, so something like this was not out of the question," Mustangs coach Les Larson said. "We were opportunistic today and we have been for some time now, but we found the net against what is a good hockey team.

"I just think that when we started the way we did, it just made it very hard for them, but that is still a good team that we played against."

"They are too good of team to get that far behind," Blake coach Jon Sturgis said. "They put up a lot of shots and a lot of them went in and they made it very difficult on us to get off to a good start."

Even after a healthy lead that was created after the first, Breck did not let up.

In the previous meeting between the two back on Jan. 26, the Mustangs built a 7-2 lead, only to see Blake come back to pull within two.

The goals cooled down dramatically from the first period, but the level of intensity did not.

"We talked a lot about that first game and how we can't let teams back in the game if we do build a lead like that," Breck forward Conor Andrle said. "There wasn't as many goals scored after the first, but we still played really well and did not allow them back in the game."

There have been lessons learned in the second half of the season for the Mustangs.

On top of the previous meeting with the Bears, Breck lost to Totino-Grace, 7-4, after holding a 4-1 lead at one point.

"There wasn't any laughing or joking around after the first," Opperman said. "They (Blake) came back on us and Totino scored six unanswered on us to win, so that was a big wakeup call for us.

"We made sure we were focused because they could have easily made it 7-6 after two."

"Teams coming back on us has been a problem for us for most of the year, but lately our defense and goaltending have given us every chance to win like this," Andrle said. "We just wanted to make sure that we didn't let them back in the game like we did last time."

With the regular season now complete, the Tri-Metro conference rivals head into Section 2A play on different notes, but similar mindsets.

"I would much rather have this happen now than next week," Sturgis said. "I like the way our goalie (Devon Johnson) played in the second and third period. He did not give up, even though it is very tough to see seven goals go in on you. He can be a factor for us if we give him a chance."

"Our coach said that if we play like we have been, we are a tough team," Opperman said. "If we continue to play like this, my money is on us."

Change is a good thing

If Breck coach Les Larson is asked about his top line, he might be a little confused.

"I don't even know who our top line is anymore," he said. "We have three strong lines that we can put out and I have a lot of confidence in."

It might be the best problem a team could have and it was created when Larson decided to juggle his lines, creating three lines that can score at will.

One of them was the starting forward line of center Conor Andrle and his wings, Grant Opperman and Nate Breitenfeldt.

"Conor and I have been best friends since Kindergarten," Opperman said. "We have wanted to play on the same line together for a long time.

"When the season started, we were not on the same line and for other elite teams, we were not even on the same team, so when we switched our lines around and we found out we were on the same line, I was pretty excited."

In the 9-0 victory over Blake, Breck's unofficial first line had a total of 11 points.

Andrle scored twice in the opening period, while Opperman notched a goal as well.

"We have been clicking," Andrle said. "It's not just our line, though. When we changed them around, everything has gone pretty good for us."

Against Blake, Andrle led the way with two goals and three assists, while linemates Opperman chipped in with a goal and three assists and Breitenfeldt concluded with a goal and an assist.

Thomas Lindstrom came in with a four point game for the Mustangs, notching two goals and a couple of helpers.

"We are finding that our guys are just finding the net more," Larson said. "There have been chances all year, but there have been some games when we did not score.

"Now we are getting them in and our team is just that much more confident"

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

In the biannual battle of the Tri-Metro Conference's top teams, No. 3 Breck reigned supreme over No. 10 Blake with an impressive 9-0 win in the regular season finale on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Blake School Ice Arena.

Conor Andrle led the Mustangs with five points that included two goals and three assists.

Thomas Lindstron also scored a pair and had two assists and was joined by Grant Opperman (one goal, three assists) for four point games.

Breck came out of the gates about as good as it could, building a 7-0 lead after the first period and was able to cruise in the final two periods for the shutout victory over its biggest rival.

Devon Johnson saw 43 quality shots on goal for Blake, stopping 34 of them.

Mustang's goalie, Jack Kenney saw far less shots, 28, and was in control for a majority of the game as Breck's defense limited the Bears to few scoring threats.

Breck ends the regular season with a 21-3-1 record and were perfect in the Tri-Metro.

Blake falls to 16-9-0 and 10-2-0 in the Tri-Metro, losing to Breck twice in conference play.

Both teams will wait for the section seedings to be announced on Sunday, to see where they are placed in Section 2A play.

1. Conor Andrle, Breck
Two goals and three assists make him the easy selection for the top star. On top of that, Andrle earned every point that came his way against Blake. For his stature, Andrle is not afraid to grind his nose in front of the net, where he not only picked up his own goals, but set up teammates for scores of their own and even more chances. Andrle scored twice in the first period, which was part of a seven goal outburst from the Mustangs. He finishes the regular season with an impressive 68 points.

2. Thomas Lindstrom, Breck
If it wasn't for his teammate, Lindstrom would be the game's top start with two goals and two assists, but nonetheless, a solid performance by the junior, who similar to most of his teammates, found a way to put the puck in the net from in tight. His four-point performance gives him 60 points on the season heading into section play.

3. Grant Opperman, Breck
Just another day at the office for Opperman, who had a goal and three asists in the Mustangs convincing win over Blake. His goal in the first period was the definition of a "snipe" blowing a hard wrist shot by Bears goalie Devon Johnson in the first period. His celebration was equally impressive, pretending to tear his shirt open as if he were Superman. Opperman concludes his regular season with 67 points, second best on the Mustangs, behind his new linemate, Andrle.

Conference Standings

Statistical Leaders

How They've Fared

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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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

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