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Hill-Murray poses for its Section 4AA championship photo after beating Roseville 3-2 at that State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Photo by Helen Nelson

Hill-Murray’s triumphant boys’ hockey team found its locker room celebration delayed because someone forgot to unlock the door.
 
Taking a year off from nearly annual success in the Class 4AA playoffs got the program off its rhythm. Five consecutive section championships and ensuing trips to the state tournament ended last season in a double-overtime upset loss to White Bear Lake.
 
All accounts were squared Friday as the No. 9 Pioneers’ held off an inspired Roseville team for a 3-2 victory at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul. They scored once each period and allowed the Raiders’ precious few quality scoring chances.
 
“Last year was such a disappointment,” Hill-Murray senior forward Charlie Sampair said. “I’m just so glad we got it done this year.”
 
The teams traded goals in the first period. Pioneers’ defenseman Blake Heinrich scored from the point for a 1-0 lead. Roseville’s Robb Stautz tied it 1-1 as he broke into the Pioneers’ zone and flipped a puck over goalie John Dugas with 21.1 seconds to play.
 
Sampair had a golden chance to restore Hill-Murray’s lead but broke his stick as he tried to blast a puck into a wide open Roseville net. Redemption came at 12:10 of the second period when he slammed home a pass from cousin Conrad Sampair.
 
“Every time we got the lead there was just unbelievable relief,” said Charlie Sampair, a Mr. Hockey finalist.
 
A senior-dominated, experienced Roseville team made sure no lead was safe. The Raiders kept grinding, even as Jake Guentzel put Hill-Murray ahead 3-1 in the third period.
 
Tom Bartel’s goal late in the third period made the game’s final moments tense. Hill-Murray, which won its 10th consecutive game, had not allowed a goal in two playoff games.
 


Roseville goalie Zach Larson slides over to block a shot from Hill-Murray's Zach Lavalle (21). Photo by Helen Nelson

Roseville coach Jeff Pauletti praised the effort of his team, which lost 5-1 to Hill-Murray in last season’s section semifinals.
 
“We weren't intimidated,” Pauletti said. “Our defense was good and our goalie was great.”
 
Goalie Zach Larson stopped several strong Hill-Murray shots and earned respect from both sides. He kept Roseville competitive in its first section title game appearance in 10 years.
 
“Their goalie played outstanding,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “We had some good chances, and he shut us down.”
 
But like the locker room door, the Pioneers eventually found the key to success.
 
“We’re a good young team,” Guentzel said. “We play as a team. It doesn't matter who scores, we just have to play for each other.”
 
Last season, Lechner consoled a locker room full of seniors who came into the section final ranked No. 1 and lost. This season, he saw a welcomed change of emotions.
 
“It was really neat to see the expressions on their faces,” Lechner said. “For three-fourths of the team it’s brand new.”
 
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

 

Pioneers work to solve Roseville's defense

The contrast in styles was readily apparent. 

No. 9-ranked and top-seeded Hill-Murray flew around the ice, flipping saucer passes and stickhandling with ease in tight spaces. 

Roseville played with more restraint, locking up in its defensive zone, playing with physicality, strength and its trademark stifling defense. 

The strategies led to a chess match between the two squads in Hill-Murray’s 3-2 victory in the Section 4AA championship on Friday, March 2, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.

The Pioneers appeared to have the upper hand while peppering Roseville goaltender Zach Larson, but every time they had a real chance, there was always a Raider in the way to block the shot, poke it off a Pioneers’ stick, or get in the way at the last second.  

“Well, we played pretty well in the ‘D’ zone,” Roseville coach Jeff Pauletti said. “One of our big things was to limit their inside presence and keep everything to the rail, I thought we did a pretty good job.

“Our defenseman all year have been trained to play the body and play through hands, and I think they did a really nice job of that, I can’t credit my ‘D’ corps enough.”


Hill-Murray senior forward Charlie Sampair.

Still, Hill-Murray kept working and waiting until its wealth of skill eventually broke through the silver and black wall stuck over the Roseville net.

“It’s just we’d make the right play and be one pass short. They just got at sticks and everything,” Hill-Murray junior forward Jake Guentzel said. “We had to overcome that, I’m happy that our team did that.”

After a fluky goal from junior Blake Heinrich in the first, 'Mr. Hockey' candidate Charlie Sampair finally showed off the offensive flair that had been absent throughout the game. 

Sampair dished it to his cousin Conrad Sampair from dot-to-dot across the ice heading into the zone. Conrad quickly sent it right back his way through defenders to Charlie, who was able to tip it right in. All of the sudden the Raiders' shell was broken.

“Right at the beginning I thought I had it working, feeling my moves were working,” Sampair said. “They started clogging it up and that’s when you gotta move the puck, keep it simple you know.”

“I just busted to the net, my cousin found me, Great play, great relief.”

In the third period, the Pioneers finally earned some breathing room when Jake Guentzel scored Hill-Murray’s third goal of the game, propelling them to a state tournament berth.

The final shot total was 37-21 in favor of Hill-Murray.

“Definitely the shots show, I think we should’ve beat 'em by more,” Sampair said. “That goalie played great, I think they played a hell of a game, but when we get to state we got to bury our chances, we really gotta take advantage of our opportunities.”

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Charlie Sampair scored on a nifty feed from his cousin Conrad Sampair in the second period, and Jake Guentzel added an insurance goal in the third to spark top-seeded and No. 9 state-ranked Hill-Murray past No. 3 seed Roseville 3-2 on Friday, March 2, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
 
The victory sends Hill-Murray to the state Class 2A tournament starting on Thursday, March 8, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
 
It was a markedly different section final finish for the Pioneers (22-6-0) from a year ago, when they were top-seeded and ranked No. 1 in the state, only to be ousted in double overtime by arch rival White Bear Lake.
 
Hill-Murray took the early lead in the first-period on an off-speed shot from the point by senior defenseman Blake Heinrich. Robb Stautz tied it at 1 for the Raiders (17-9-2) when he tipped in a pass from Cole Knowton on a rush with 22 seconds left in the opening period.
 
Sampair’s goal came after a give-and-go with his cousin in neutral ice sprung the duo on a high-speed rush into the Pioneers’ zone. Conrad made a centering pass to Charlie, one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists, who slammed the puck into the net from close range.
 
Guentzel, a junior who leads Hill-Murray in scoring with 72 points in 28 games, put the Pioneers’ ahead 3-1 with 9:23 left in the third period. 
 
Guentzel’s goal proved to be the winner, as Tom Bartel scored with 2:24 remaining to pull the Raiders to within 3-2. 
 
Roseville pulled goaltender Zach Larson in favor of an extra skater with just less than 2 minutes remaining but the Raiders were unable to generate much pressure, let alone shots on goal, in the closing minutes. 
 
Hill-Murray senior goaltender John Dugas made 10 of his 19 saves in the second period. 
 
Roseville’s Larson, a senior who ranked among the state leaders in save percentage and goals-against average in the regular season, made 34 saves.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Pioneers' senior forward Charlie Sampair (14). Photo by Helen Nelson

1. Charlie Sampair, Hill-Murray
One of 10 finalists for the Mr. Hockey award given annually to the state's top senior skater, Sampair scored on a gorgeous passing play with his brother Conrad and used his turbo-boost speed to create numerous other scoring chances. Is there player in the state with better wheels? Doubtful.

A crafty junior center, Guentzel, who stands 5-foot-9 and is about as heavy as a paperweight, continually harassed and hounded the big, physical Raiders’ defense. Guentzel was responsible for numerous close-range shots or passes in the crease area that just missed connecting. 
 
A senior forward, Bartel scored with 2 minutes, 24 seconds remaining to give the Raiders a legitimate shot at the upset. A great skater who has a nose for the net, Bartel was among the most dangerous Roseville forwards all game.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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