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Breck outlasts Prowlers

By MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/10/12, 1:22AM CST

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Mustangs work overtime to beat Thief River Falls for third place trophy


Nate Breitenfeldt (7) and Grant Opperman (14) combined to net the game-winner in overtime for Breck in a 4-3 victory over Thief River Falls in the Class 1A third place game. Photo by Helen Nelson.

As the Class 1A third-place game between third-seeded Breck and fourth-seeded Thief River Falls entered the third period early Saturday morning, March 10, at the Xcel Energy Center, Grant Opperman had a terrible flashback.

He’d seen this somewhere before.
 
The Mustangs (26-4-1) seemingly had a comfortable two-goal lead over the Prowlers and could feel the cool oak and brass third-place trophy within their grasp. Still there was a nagging feeling that their business wasn’t quite finished.
 
“We addressed the two-goal lead (in the locker room) and said, ‘A two-goal lead is a no-goal lead.’ “ Opperman recalled after Breck was forced to go to overtime before finally earning a 4-3 victory over Thief River Falls.
 
“And it turned out that was the case.”
 
The Prowlers (23-6-2) rallied to tie the game on goals from Riley Soderstrom and Evan Ose. Suddenly, Breck was on its heels and trying to hold off a surging Prowlers’ team.
 
“The biggest thing is trying to go out with some respect,” Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland said of his team’s rally. “We knew we weren’t playing as well as we could.”

Grant Opperman (14) celebrates his goal that gave Breck a 3-1 lead. Photo by Helen Nelson.

Bergland had history on his side. Many of the same players on both teams were part of Breck’s third-period meltdown in last year’s quarterfinals to the same Prowlers’ program. The Mustangs led 4-2 entering the final 17 minutes, only to see Thief River Falls score five times for a 7-5 upset.
 
“I don’t know why we didn’t see that coming the second time or if we needed a spark, but that shouldn’t happen – especially twice,” Opperman said.
 
Breck’s Mr. Hockey finalist made sure it wasn’t going to happen again.
 
Just 3 minutes, 30 seconds into overtime, the lightning-quick Opperman cut right as he crossed into the Thief River Falls zone, creating just enough space and time to allow linemate Nate Breitenfeldt to catch up and barrel down the slot.
 
“I knew the Breit-man would be crashing and knew Conor (Andrle) was going to the net,” Opperman said, replaying the winning goal in his head. “I saw the defenseman. I saw his stick and I just used my reach on him and just kind of curled it around to the front of the net.
 
“Luckily it found Breit’s stick, and he popped it home.”
 
Breitenfeldt’s one-timer past a sprawling Jon Narverud finally brought the Mustangs the third-place trophy. And it soothed the recurring nightmare that was creeping into Opperman’s consciousness.
 
“Opps just took it wide and I just crashed the net like I always do,” Breitenfeldt smiled, enjoying his 10th goal of the season like no other. “He put the puck out there and I just tapped it in.”
 
Opperman finished with a goal and an assist. Keegan Iverson and Andrew Headrick also scored the Mustangs, while Jack Kenney made 22 saves. Narverud had 32 stops for Thief River Falls.
 
“I challenged some guys to get moving and they responded immediately,” Larson said, glancing to Opperman on his left. “The seniors really responded today.”

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA


Keegan Iverson (9) of Breck sends a Thief River Falls player tumbling to the ice. Iverson scored the first goal in the Mustangs' 4-3 overtime victory in the Class 1A third place game. Photo by Helen Nelson.

One last go 'round

Mr. Hockey finalist and Breck senior forward Grant Opperman was upset after he and his Mustangs fell short against St. Thomas Academy in the Class 1A semifinal Friday afternoon.

The 1-0 loss cut him deep.

“We took (yesterday) pretty tough,” Opperman said following his final game in a Breck uniform, a 4-3 overtime victory over Thief River Falls in the Class 1A third-place game Saturday, March 10 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Luckily, Opperman had another shot to go out with a win, even if it wasn’t his ideal ending to a spectacular high school career. Saturday's victory was the Mustangs’ 26th win of the season, capping one of the most successful runs by any group of seniors in Minnesota high school hockey history.

A pair of state titles.

Over 100 wins for a handful of the seniors.

Enough trophies to fill a room.

But going out on a high note didn’t come easy. Entering the third period with a 3-1 lead, Breck let the Prowlers get back into it, tying the score and forcing overtime.

Opperman and his fellow seniors talked about that during a TV timeout in the final minutes, and they knew that they needed to play for one thing above all else.

Pride.

“We knew that we would all regret it if we weren’t able to get the winner,” Opperman said. “Our last game together, (thinking) if we couldn’t go out with a victory, it wasn’t too hard to get up after that.”

When the contest entered overtime, Opperman set up teammate Nate Breitenfeldt for the game-winning goal.

Opperman, who mentioned how he is usually nervous in the extra session, said he experienced none of that today.

“Everything seems to get a little bit scarier (in overtime), every shot seems like it's going to go in,” Opperman said. “Today for some reason, in the back of my mind, I knew we were going to get that one.”

They did.

As the Mustangs celebrated, coach Les Larson smiled.

“The seniors really responded today,” said Larson. “We had a little bit of a talk after the first period, I challenged some guys to get moving. It’s normal for a 9 o’clock game to get going (slowly) after a tough one yesterday.”

“I knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game recap

Nate Breitenfeldt scored 3 minutes, 30 seconds into overtime to lift No. 3 seed Breck past No. 4 seed Thief River Falls 4-3 in the third place game of the state Class 1A tournament on Saturday, March 10, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Breitenfeldt’s goal came on pass through the slot from Grant Opperman, who had carried the puck wide into the Prowlers’ end, controlling it until he spotted his open teammate.

Riley Soderstrom and Evan Ose scored in the third period as Thief River Falls (23-6-2) rallied from a 3-1 deficit. Ose’s goal game with 7:51 left in the third.

Breck’s Keegan Iverson and Thief River Falls’ Logan Engelstad traded first-period goals.

The Mustangs (26-4-1), winners of back-to-back Class 1A titles in 2009 and 2010, surged in front in the second on goals by Opperman and Andrew Headrick.

Thief River Falls goaltender John Narverud made 32 saves while Breck’s Jack Kenney finished with 22.

-- MN Hockey Hub staff

1. Grant Opperman, Breck
Opperman scored just 36 seconds into the second period to jumpstart the Mustangs. Opperman also set up the Mustangs' overtime goal. The Mr. Hockey finalist finished his phenomenal season with 78 points (33 goals, 45 assists), including five points in the state tournament and six in the section playoffs. 

2. Nate Breitenfeldt, Breck
The senior forward netted the game winner for Breck, earning a well-deserved star. A great way to end his career with the Mustangs, Breitenfeldt had three points in the state tournament and finished his year with 26 (10 goals, 26 assists). Breitenfeldt is one of 10 seniors for Breck. 

3. Riley Soderstrom, Thief River Falls
Soderstrom had a goal and an assist for the Prowlers including a big shorthanded goal that kickstarted Thief River Falls. The senior forward had a wonderful tournament, picking up five points, including three goals. He finished his senior season with 57 points (30 goals, 27 assists).

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

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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