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Hill-Murray rocks Crimson

03/08/2012, 3:05pm CST
By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub Staff

Pioneers play role of giant killer as they stun No. 2-seeded Maple Grove


Maple Grove's Spencer Bell, right, tries to poke the puck past Hill-Murray's Sam Becker (27) and Pioneers goaltender John Dugas. Photo by Helen Nelson

Stunned is the best way to describe the head-hung-low body language of Maple Grove senior forward Alex Mason as he served his penalty time to round out the Crimson’s 5-2 Class 2A quarterfinal loss to Hill-Murray.

Just over three minutes into the game Thursday, the Crimson’s first shot on goal - a rising wrist shot off Mason’s stick - beat Pioneers’ goalie John Dugas over his blocker pad.

The tournament’s No. 2 seed appeared to be in the driver’s seat, but was soon pushed aside with a hardy shove.

Hill-Murray scored goals 38 seconds apart later in the first to take a 2-1 lead. It really took the momentum just over 10 minutes into the second when Maple Grove’s Jordan Gross, being pressured by Zach LaValle, put the puck into his own net.

Balloon, meet pin.

“From what I remember, he just kind of slashed my stick and then I threw it in,” a dejected Gross said afterward.

LaValle, who had the Pioneers’ second goal of the first period and added two assists in the game, didn’t recall much about the fluky eventual game-winner, either.

Apparently, neither did the official scorer at Xcel Energy Center. Credit initially went to LaValle before it was changed to Jake Guentzel, then back to LaValle again.

Regardless, it assured the unseeded Pioneers are into the semifinals.

“I’m not sure really what happened; it went in,” LaValle said. “No matter who touched the puck, it doesn’t matter. It’s a goal.

“I was fortunate.”

Maple Grove, which scored 15 goals last week in its section final victory, walked away with a different feeling.

“I thought we had a couple of good chances to get back in it, but they either missed the net or just didn’t get there,” Crimson coach Gary Stefano said. 

-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune staff writer

LaValle slash causes Maple Grove crash

Zach LaValle didn’t know if the goal was his.

Jordan Gross didn’t want to believe it was.

And the official scorer was so uncertain he changed his mind twice.

Of one thing there was no doubt. The puck was in the net – and it turned out to be the game winner as unseeded Hill-Murray upset second-seeded Maple Grove 5-2 in the Class 2A quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

With 6 minutes, 41 seconds left in the second period of a tight game, a loose puck lay to the right of the Crimson goal. Gross, Maple Grove’s stellar junior defenseman, attempted to clear it behind the net when LaValle streaked into the picture. The Pioneers’ junior star aimed a well-timed slap at Gross’ stick – and the puck shot past a surprised Kyle Koop.

“I was just trying to poke it off his stick and when it went in, we all started going nuts,” LaValle said.


Hill-Murray's Zach LaValle (21) tallied a pair of goals, including a crazy bouncing puck off defenseman Jordan Gross' stick. Photo by Helen Nelson.

A crestfallen Gross held his head in his hands in disbelief.

“He just kind of slashed my stick,” Gross said. “I don’t really know what happened.”

“It was just one of those gritty goals where you’re crashing the net,” LaValle said, recalling Kyle Rau’s game-winner in triple overtime of the Class AA state championship game last March for Eden Prairie.

“The state tournament was won last year off a goal like that.”

But while it was clear Rau was the star last year, it took a while to clear up LaValle’s hero status.

About five minutes after the goal, it was changed to Jake Guentzel, who had started the play by chipping the puck toward the net. As the last Hill-Murray player to apparently touch the puck, Guentzel was credited with the goal – even though he was 40 feet away from the play near the top of the left face off circle.

But during the second intermission, a second change was announced – the goal was truly LaValle’s. The junior finished with two goals and two assists, while Guentzel recorded a goal and an assist.

“Whoever touched the puck, it doesn’t matter. It’s a goal,” LaValle said.

As LaValle recapped the goal for the assembled media, Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner gave his answer the thumbs up.

“I found it amazing that it went in,” admitted Lechner. “We always say go hard to the net and that’s what he did.”

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Heinrich's play a big hit for Hill-Murray


Hill-Murray junior defenseman Blake Heinrich had several thundering hits against Maple Grove. Photo by Helen Nelson

How looks can be deceiving?

Coming into the state Class 2A tournament, Hill-Murray already had the task of trying to upend No. 2 seed Maple Grove.

Known for having one of the bigger teams in the tournament, the Crimson were not able to intimidate the younger, smaller Pioneers.

In fact, it was Hill-Murray leading the heavy hits, led by junior defenseman Blake Heinrich.

"I think they were a little shocked," Heinrich said. "We were at the banquet and we saw them and they are one of the biggest teams we have seen this year, so for us to come out and hit them, I think it may have surprised them.

"You look at our team, we are not that big, so teams might not think we can hit with them."


Blake Heinrich

The Pioneers are often highlighted by their offensive prowess with the likes of Jake Guentzel, Zach LaValle and Charlie Sampair, but it was the physical play at their blue line that got the attention of Crimson coach Gary Stefano.

"We had a lot of turnovers on the offensive blue line," Stefano said. "Our strength is once we get the puck in the zone and forecheck. We really couldn't get going because of their defensive play."

"They are a really good team that can transition fast on you, so it was important to play physical with them," Heinrich said. "We know that they can do the same, so it was big for us to match that and I think we did."

Hill-Murray physical play was put on display by Heinrich's two bone-crushing checks that sent Crimson forwards straight to the ice.

His first was at the Pioneers blue line, laying out Maple Grove forward Tony Paulson.

The initial reaction from Heinrich was the check might have been a little too good.

After his check, he made a direct line to the penalty box with the expectation that he was going to serve some sort of minor penalty.

"I thought I was going to the box," Heinrich said. "There was a whistle right after and one of their guys came and said something to me.

"I was heading over there and LaValle told me I didn't' get a penalty."

In the serious, competitive nature that is the state tournament, Heinrich did not receive any laughs or jokes from his teammates.

"No, nothing like that," he said. "Not during the middle of the game."

Heinrich's body checks were not the only fireworks he had.

In the first period, he took a wrist shot from inside the blue line that rang off the left post and caromed off the right.

He was in full celebration mode after his shot with the notion that he gave the Pioneers a 3-1 lead.

"Had a little celly, going on after that," he said. "Man, I thought I had that one, but we won the game and that is all that matters."

For his first state tournament game, Heinrich made his mark already.

-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub Staff

Rough day at the office

Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano was delighted with the way his Crimson skated in the opening minutes of their first state Class 2A state tournament appearance.
 
Maple Grove scored just 3 minutes, 19 seconds into the game, wiped the boards with Hill-Murray bodies and had a get-up-and-go not typically seen in tournament rookies.
 
“We felt good coming out and getting that first goal in the first five minutes,” Stefano said. “Then they stepped it up a little bit.”

Alex Mason's goal early in the first period was the only cause for celebration for Maple Grove in its state quarterfinal loss to Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

The Pioneers didn’t just step it up a notch; they turned the dial as far as it would go, exploded for five goals in a row and cruised to a 5-2 quarterfinal win on Thursday.
 
It looked as if Hill-Murray, which is located just minutes from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, was as comfortable as possible under the bright lights.
 
Maple Grove, on the other hand, couldn’t look further out of place.
 
“That’s a good club,” Stefano said. “We really couldn’t get going.”
 
But what were the reasons for the ineffectiveness?
 
State tournament jitters? Nope.
 
Tumbling into a quick hole on the scoreboard? Not quite.
 
Penalty trouble? Think again.
 
According to Stefano, the Crimson’s futility was a precise mixture of Hill-Murray’s effort and some poor puck luck.
 
“That’s a good club, one of the best we’ve faced all year,” Stefano said. “They gave our defensemen fits. Their transition game is very good. We had a lot of turnovers.” 
 
Pioneers goalie John Dugas stopped at least five golden chances on different Maple Grove rushes, flurries or quick tries at the net.
 
Two Crimson players rang shots off the post, too.
 
But then Maple Grove would lose a puck in the offensive zone, Hill-Murray would scoot out of the zone and end it with the puck sitting behind goalie Kyle Koop in the net.
 
Stefano was right. Just one of those days.
 
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

After spotting state tournament newcomer Maple Grove an early goal, stalwarts Hill-Murray rolled to a 5-2 upset victory in Thursday’s first Class 2A quarterfinal game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Alex Mason scored for No. 2 seed Maple Grove (24-3-2) at 3:19 of the first period, but Tyler Funk responded with the equalizer for the Pioneers (23-6-0) at 7:27. Just 38 seconds later, Zach LaValle buried a beautiful pass from Willie Brown and Hill-Murray led 2-1.

Hill-Murray defenseman Blake Heinrich, who spent the afternoon laying crushing hits on Crimson skaters, nearly scored a third quick goal but his shot went off both goalposts and out.

LaValle scored his second of the game at 10:19 of the second period, whacking Maple Grove defenseman Jordan Gross’s stick and causing his clearing attempt to go into the Crimson net.

Mr. Hockey finalist Charlie Sampair scored at 13:11 on the power play to put the Pioneers ahead 4-1. And Jake Guentzel’s shorthanded goal in the third period put the Pioneers on cruise control at 5-1.

Sam Valerius scored for Maple Grove late in the third period.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

1. Zach LaValle, Hill-Murray
The junior scored the goal of the … wait, the goal was credited to Jake Guentzel, no it was re-credited to LaValle … whatever the case, LaValle’s well-timed slap of Maple Grove defenseman Jordan Gross’ stick sent the puck in the net and gave the Pioneers a 3-0 lead midway through the first period. It was just one of those days for LaValle, whose touch was so magical he probably turned his water bottle into gold. He finished with two goals and two assists.

2. Blake Heinrich, Hill-Murray
The junior defenseman, known for his thunderous hits, rocked Maple Grove speedster Tony Paulson at the blue line and delivered at least two other monster blows on unsuspecting Crimson players for a game-high three hits. He also unloaded a cannon shot that hit both goalposts and did everything but cross the goal line. He had one assist and a game full of shutdown defense.

3. Jake Guentzel, Hill-Murray
The playmaking junior had a goal and an assist, shared the team high with six shots on goal and won 19 of 30 face offs. Guentzel’s gorgeous shorthanded goal came in the third period off a feed from La Valle and put the Pioneers ahead 5-1, all but ending an drama surrounding the chance of a Crimson comeback.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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