Hill-Murray senior forward Andy Faust (No. 19) waits for the puck to be dropped as he faces off with Stillwater's Nick Anderson (No. 10) in the Section 4AA semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Photo by Jon Laqua
With a four-goal victory in the Section 4AA semifinals, Hill-Murray advances to the section championship for a berth to the state tournament.
While that statement is true for the Pioneers’ 4-0 victory over Stillwater on Wednesday, Feb. 29, in this year’s postseason, it was also true last season. And that story didn’t end well for then top-ranked Hill-Murray as then top-ranked Hill-Murray was upset by White Bear Lake in the 2011 Section 4AA championship.
“It's on my mind basically right now,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “We try to keep that out until we get to Friday night but it's a fact. Everybody knows it. A year ago, arguably we're one or two in the state and we don't even get to the state (tournament). Hats off to White Bear and everything but we didn't play well that Friday night.”
Even with the recent four-goal victory, the Pioneers’ players can’t help but think back to last year.
“For the returning guys no one's really talked about it -- but it's definitely in the back of all of our heads, what happened last year,” Hill-Murray forward Andy Faust said. “We don't want that to happen again and I think we're going to stay focused here and try to get the 'W' (on) Friday.”
Now a year later, the Pioneers have had plenty of time to dissect and learn from its transgressions.
“We came a little bit unglued and didn't play our systems,” Lechner said. “So we've been emphasizing a lot probably the last three-four weeks, we're going to force (the players) to stay with the system because then everybody knows what everybody else is doing.”
So far the systems seems to be working for Hill-Murray who after being held scoreless in the first period, netted three goals in the second.
“(In the) second period we kind of went to the net a little harder and got a little uglier,” Lechner said. “I think we had a power play there and once we got it going, it seemed to kind of open up for us.”
Hill-Murray senior forward Andy Faust (No. 19) beats Stillwater goaltender Blake Cates (No. 30) for his second goal of the Section 4AA semifinal game on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Photo by Jon Laqua
Scoring two of those second period goals was Faust is on a hot streak as the senior forward has notched five goals in the sections playoffs.
“It's my senior year and I think all the seniors have just decided they've gotta step it up,” Faust said. “It's win or go home right now and it's our careers on the line so I think all the seniors know we need to pick it up.”
Faust’s effort has been noticeable by the Hill-Murray coaching staff.
“He played well,” Lechner said. “Actually he's playing really well right now. I hope he can keep it going. He had a hat trick against Tartan and he had two tonight but it's not like he's a puck hog or he did it by himself. Both the Sampairs are his linemates and they fed him the puck and he's shooting and he's hot right now. So they'll keep feeding him.”
Undoubtedly, the Pioneers will look to Faust’s hot-hand come Friday, March 2, when Hill-Murray will take on Roseville for a trip to the state tournament.
But one thing both Lecher and the Pioneers have learned from last year is that anything that has already happened no longer matters
“(Last year’s game) means nothing on Friday,” Lechner said.
Trying to erase the memory, Hill-Murray plans on keeping things simple.
“Just take it one shift at a time, one period at a time,” Faust said. “Don't get too high or too low as coach Lechner and just stay even keel.”
A simple yet familiar strategy for the Pioneers.
“It's very important right now not to change anything,” Lechner said. “If things aren't going right, kids' tendency in high school is 'we better do something different' but you gotta keep with the system, you gotta keep with the structure, just keep working harder at it.
“Usually good things will happen, you gotta be a little lucky and make it happen.”
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff
Emerging from the Stillwater locker room after spending time with his team amidst the hustle and bustle of the State Fair Warner Coliseum, coach Phil Housley took a quick moment to speak with the MN Hockey Hub about the game, his team and the future of the Ponies.
Question: Never an easy task playing the top-seed. What were your thoughts on the game?
Answer: After the first period, it's 0-0. We killed the penalty on a power play, we had a couple good chances but from that point on we got into penalty trouble against a good hockey team that has two well-rounded power play (units) and we knew we had to stay out of the box. That sucked a little energy out of us and I don't know if we made enough plays. We had chances -- I don't know if it was nerves or what have you, we have a very young team -- but to get in this position, I'm very proud of our guys. To beat a Mounds View team that was very physical and come out with a win, all-in-all I'm proud of the guys but we've been here for four years in a row. We've got to get over the hump somehow.
Q: I know the loss is especially tough with it being the last game for senior goaltender Blake Cates. What has he been like for your team this year?
A: He's been our best player, no doubt. He's covered up a lot of mistakes for our team and when he was not going well, you could really see it in our game. He gave us a chance to win both games; he shuts out Mounds View and gave us a chance to win this game. We had an opportunity (in the) first period that we could have maybe capitalized. If we get that first goal, maybe we have a different attitude. But give Hill-Murray credit. They have a well-balanced team, they skate well, they pass the puck well and after they got the third one, the third one was tough. Congratulations to them.
Q: Are there any positives you can take from the game looking ahead to next season?
A: Oh yeah, these kids got here. This is the fourth year in the row that they've had big game experience in the playoffs. We've got a lot of young kids. Really when you look at our lineup we only had four guys on the section team last year so that's the positive; that we moved forward. I appreciate the efforts of our seniors but the future's looking bright. Our Bantams were very solid, three of our top (defensemen) were a freshman and two sophomore so that's the positive thing about our team and we're looking forward to next year. We've got to learn from these experiences though.
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff
Stillwater senior goaltender Blake Cates (No. 30) makes one of his 29 saves in the Section 4AA semifinal game against Hill-Murray on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Photo by Jon Laqua
Hill-Murray senior Andy Faust scored twice in two-minutes in the middle of the second period to propel the No. 9-ranked Pioneers past Stillwater on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
After a close first period, Hill-Murray (21-6-0) broke open the scoring when Blake Heinrich ripped a firecracker of a slap shot from the sideboards on the power play. The goal beat Stillwater junior goaltender Blake Cates who had stifled the Pioneers up to that point.
After Heinrich got things rolling, Faust flipped in a fluky goal around the midpoint of the second period to put the Pioneers up by two. In what seemed like just a blink of an eye later, Faust made his second goal a little prettier, sniping Cates top corner and effectively sealing the game.
In the third, Blake Heinrich popped in a snipe to match Fuast when when he beat Cates glove-side in a play eerily similar to Faust's.
Stillwater (13-12-2) had some nice chances in the first period but ultimately couldn’t get much rolling offensively at any point in the game. The chances the Ponies did have were turned away by senior goaltender John Dugas, who made 17 saves on the night.
Blake Cates stopped 29 shots to end a wonderful season for the Ponies.
Hill-Murray will move on to the Section 4AA championship game, played at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum on Friday, March 2, where the Pioneers' opponent will face Roseville.
-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff
Hill-Murray junior goaltender John Dugas (No. 1) made 17 saves, shutting out Stillwater in the Section 4AA semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Photo by Jon Laqua
1. Andy Faust, Hill-Murray
The senior forward scored twice to put the game out of reach for the Pioneers. He did it with a little flash and a little grit, pushing him to 43 points on the season (16 goals, 27 assists). Through two section playoff games, he has five points on five goals.
2. Blake Heinrich, Hill-Murray
Heinrich scored on two marvelous shots, putting up two points on two goals. He also had a few bone-crunching hits that he is well known for, intimidating the Stillwater offense. Heinrich has 33 points on the season (10 goals, 23 assists)
3. John Dugas, Hill-Murray
Although he didn’t have to save a ton of great scoring chances, it’s tough to not give a man with a shutout a star. The junior goaltender stopped all 17 shots he faced, giving him his second shutout in a row in the section playoffs.
-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff