Burnsville's Chris Mallon made 28 saves as the Blaze beat Prior Lake for the third time this season. Photo by Helen Nelson
As No. 2-seed Burnsville prepared to play third-seeded Prior Lake there were no surprises or curveballs.
Both members of the South Suburban Conference, the Blaze and Lakers had met twice during the regular season and were familiar with each other.
“We know each other pretty well,” Burnsville coach Janne Kivihalme said. “This is our third game we've played against each other.”
In the previous two meetings the Blaze handled Prior Lake -- outscoring the Lakers 16-5 -- so it may not have been a shocker that Burnsville won its Section 2AA semifinal game against Prior Lake, 4-1, on Saturday. Feb. 25.
But the game itself proved anything can happen in postseason play.
Regardless of the familiarity between the two teams, no one could have expected Prior Lake to sit senior goaltender Kyle Miller and start sophomore Nick Vidmar.
And certainly no one expected Vidmar to have a 29-save performance and hold Burnsville to three goals before the Blaze scored a fourth on the empty net.
“He did a great job,” Kivihalme said of Vidmar. “I talked to the kid afterwards (and told him) how good he played. Good to know that they're going to have good goaltending coming up.”
Teemu Kivihalme, Janne’s son and a sophomore defenseman for the Blaze, also pointed out the frustration that was caused by Vidmar.
“He had a pretty good game,” Teemu said. “We just kept throwing it on him. Our team (stayed) composed and kept going at him so eventually the puck went in the net. A little relief there.”
Burnsville’s scoring relief was paired with a solid performance by the Blaze’s own netminder, Chris Mallon who finished with 28 saves.
“Chris is a competitor,” Janne said. “He will continue working on his game and he's been doing that all year long. But I'm also happy with how our guys in-front of him have been playing -- giving him opportunities to have success. At the beginning of the year, even though we got some wins, I don't think we were giving him the support he needed. It's fun that the kids are doing that now.”
Mallon has been giving Burnsville reason to score keeping the Blaze in games and has earned the respect of his teammates.
“He's a big guy,” Teemu said. “Good goaltender, young guy -- only a junior -- coming up big. He's always ready to play and ready for anything that comes towards him.
“He's a focused guy.”
Burnsville will need continued leadership and performance between the pipes on Wednesday, Feb. 25, against top-seeded Edina in the Section 2AA championship at Mariucci Arena.
“I think both Edina and us, we've been playing each other every year and we continue doing that and we know each other,” Janne said. “I'm looking forward to playing them.”
However there's a different tone emulating from the Burnsville locker room: determination mixed with payback rather than excitement.
“We're going to get ready for Edina,” Teemu said. “They've beat us a couple times but our seniors (have) got beaten by them a couple times so I think they got a lot of heat against them. They'll be really ready to play, they want this.
“We definitely want revenge.”
Burnsville's Teemu Kilvihalme (26) scored one goal against Prior Lake. Photo by Helen Nelson
Though the game ended unfavorably for Prior Lake, the game was closer than some may have expected and gave Lakers coach Joe Pankratz reason to smile. Though disappointed with the result, Pankratz was pleased with his team’s performance and took some time to speak with the MN Hockey Hub after the section semifinal loss to Burnsville on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Question: What were your thoughts on your team’s performance?
Answer: I think we outshot them 14-4 or 14-5 in the third period and they didn't quit at all. We have a good senior class. They played hard and clean the whole game and they didn't quit. Geez, we had two breakaways, a couple pipes, a couple other deflections in there that we needed a bounce, earlier than we (got), but they didn't quit the whole game. They kept competing. It was a pretty even first period, they had a little momentum in the second period for a five-six minute stretch but besides that it was a fairly even matched, back-and-forth game. I think shots ended up 33-30 or 33-29, something like that. So it was a good game. Definitely there weren't as many goals scored as past games might indicate that there would be. That's a good playoff game. Three (to) one with an empty netter is a good game.
Q: When was the decision made to play Nick Vidmar and how do you think they performed?
A: Well that was one of those coaching decisions that's about as tough of a decision as you make because Kyle Miller; he's played every game for us this year, and he's a senior, and he's a great kid but he's just been fighting the puck lately and really he's been struggling. Sections -- when you get in the playoffs you do whatever you can to win and we just thought that throwing Nick (Vidmar) in there would give us a better chance to win. He had never played before. He was (junior varsity) all year and sat on the bench for us when one of our other varsity backup was injured. He's a gamer, he's a good goalie, he's completive and we thought he would go out there and play the way he did today. Fortunately he did. Looking at Mallon for them -- both goaltenders played really well. It was kind of a goaltender's dual it came down to at the end. It was nice to see Nick go in there and play well, that's what we were expecting of him, and at the same time it was really tough to not play Kyle.
Q: Tough end to the season but what were your thoughts on the year and what can we expect for Prior Lake next year?
A: For Prior Lake, we keep getting better every year. Now we're turning into a pretty good program that nobody is looking past anymore. I think we're far past that point. We set a lot of records this year -- Kyle Krueger is the all-time leading scorer, Matt Crist is all-time season points leader, Kyle Miller set the wins and goals against and some of the goalie records. There really isn't a tradition right now in Prior Lake at all from the hockey side of it. So that's stuff that the younger guys -- juniors and sophomores -- they need to look at what our senior class did this year: 16-11-0 on the season, they made a huge jump from where we were last year in our conference. They played the game the right way and they set a great example. Our senior leadership was awesome this year so that's what we pass on to those younger guys. That's the stuff year-to-year-to-year when you want to build a really good program, you gotta have that leadership from your seniors and these guys did a great job and that's what our younger guys will take from this hopefully.
Prior Lake head coach Joe Pankratz watches the game against Burnsville. Photo by Helen Nelsn
Prior Lake goalie Nick Vidmar. Photo by Helen Nelson
1. Chris Mallon, Burnsville
With the exception of an unlucky bounce in the third period, Mallon was perfect, stopping everything that Prior Lake could throw at him. The junior goaltender finished 28 saves and was solid for the Blaze all game.
2. Nick Vidmar, Prior Lake
While he may have surrendered three goals, it could have been a lot worse. Vidmar, making his first career varsity start, kept his team in the game until the very end, making 29 saves -- several of them coming at point-blank range. Burnsville peppered the sophomore goaltender throughout the game but Vidmar held his own.
3. Teemu Kivihalme, Burnsville
Stellar defensively, Kivihalme made sure Prior Lake's chances were limited. Also contributing on the other end of the ice, the sophomore defenseman scored 39 seconds after Tyler Sheehy capping off an offensive burst that Prior Lake could not overcome.
Four players scored for Burnsville and goaltender Chris Mallon made 28 saves as the Blaze defeated Prior Lake, 4-1, in the Section 2AA semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Braemar Ice Arena.
Kyle Kauth, Tyler Sheehy, Teemu Kivihalme and Cory Chapman scored for Burnsville with Sheehy and Kivihalme scoring 39 seconds apart in the second period.
The two-goal burst by the Blaze came in the midst of a never-ending struggle with Lakers' goaltender Nick Vidmar who finished with 29 saves in his first career varsity start for Prior Lake and allowed three goals. Burnsville's final goal by Chapman was scored on an empty net.
Despite several chances throughout the game Prior Lake could not figure out Burnsville goaltender Chris Mallon until the Lakers scored with four minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the third period.
Prior Lake finishes the season with a 16-11-0 record.
Burnsville (17-9-1) advances to the Section 2AA championship at Mariucci Arena where the Blaze will take on Edina at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29.