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Little Falls' goaltender Michael Stumpf (1) shut down Hibbing/Chisholm with 35 saves Friday night in a 3-0 Flyers' victory (Photos by Tim Kolehmainen).


Little Falls' Ben Newman (10) takes the body against Hibbing/Chisholm star Adam Johnson (7).

Little Falls coach Tony Couture has seen gimmick defenses thrown at star players before. When Couture was trying to find ways to open up the ice for his dominant players such as Jared Festler and Ben Hanowski in years past, he knew the frustration that came with opponents keying on them.

Sometimes it came from shadowing Hanowski and Festler. Sometimes it came from sending two and three players at them every time they touched the puck. Sometimes it came from taking the body every chance they got.

“They tried to get in (Ben’s) face and get him frustrated,” recalled Couture of the heavy attention paid to the state’s all-time leading scorer. “They tried to take away his space.”

Couture allowed himself a quick – and ironic -- smile.

After seeing those defenses for years, Couture certainly turned the tables in his team’s favor Friday afternoon at the Hibbing Memorial Arena. With a team he described as “not the run-and gun Flyers of the past,” Couture remembered those tactics and put them to good use. He had his hard-hitting, rugged defensemen keying on Hibbing/Chisholm’s Adam Johnson, a shifty and elusive University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit.

It worked like a charm, as the Flyers frustrated Johnson and the Bluejackets, holding them off the scoreboard in a 3-0 season-opening victory.

“We tried to send someone right on him so that he didn’t get the puck so easy and have a lot of space,” said Couture, who didn’t shadow Johnson so much as put intense pressure on him to give up the puck.

“Last year when we played them, he just free-wheeled around us,” said Couture of a 5-4 Hibbing victory in which Johnson had two goals and an assist. “He cranked it up and we couldn’t stop him.”


Hibbing/Chisholm coach Mark DeCenzo gathers his team during a late timeout.

Little Falls senior defenseman Matthew Stumpf certainly remembers that game. Even after scoring the game-winner with a first period slap shot Friday night, he admitted to being happier about the shutout than the goal.

“We were just trying to take the body to just get him off his game,” said Stumpf. “Rub him out. Every chance we get, just hit him.”

Stumpf and fellow senior Spencer Fenske earned praise from Couture for their defensive efforts, as did Nathan Adamietz, Taylor Kottschade and freshman Mack Anez

“We’re not going to put up points like we used to against teams of this caliber,” admitted Fenske. “There aren’t going to be blowout games for us this year. We have to play solid D and bury the puck when we need to.”

Hibbing/Chisholm coach Mark DeCenzo had been around the block a few times, as well. He knows that teams will be focusing on Johnson this winter and what that means for his team.

“If we’re going to be successful, other kids are going to have to step up and not rely on him so much,” said DeCenzo. “If we go into the season relying on him, then we’re screwed. If we go into the games knowing that he’s an integral part of our team, but we’re going to carry our load, we’ll be a lot better.”

The “star treatment” worked well against Johnson and the Bluejackets on opening night, but Couture knows it’s a game of Russian roulette. After all, there’s a reason Hanowski’s name is at the top of the state scoring charts. Just as there’s a reason Johnson was so heavily recruited by D1 schools like UMD.

“The next time we play them he could score five goals,” shrugged Couture.

But on this night, the Flyers had Johnson and Hibbing shooting blanks.

Quick Hits

  • Little Falls also got a reprieve on defending Hibbing/Chisholm’s Adam Johnson when the star forward was hit with a head contact penalty late in the second period. Earning a 5-minute major and 10-minute misconduct as per MSHSL rules, he sat out most of the third period before returning with just over four minutes left.
  • Flyers’ goaltender Michael Stumpf picked up where he left off last season, stopping all 35 Hibbing shots for the shutout. The senior had six shutouts last winter, including a 185-minute, 22-second shutout streak in mid-January.
    “When he’s on his game, it’s hard to beat him,” said defenseman Spencer Fenske. “It’s a blessing. You know if you make a mistake, you have somebody else behind you who can get the job done.”
    “He did an outstanding job tonight controlling rebounds and seeing the puck,” said coach Tony Couture. “It probably looked like a beach ball back there to him.”
  • Little Falls is a senior-dominated team, many of whom have played varsity hockey since they were freshmen and sophomores. But there are a few new faces earning big minutes Friday, including defenseman Mack Anez and forward Thomas Miller, who played on the third line and also saw some penalty kill and power play time.

Hibbing's Cole Maki (26) takes out Taylor Drager of Little Falls with a heavy check.

Summary, stats

Game recap

Behind a 35-save effort from senior goaltender Michael Stumpf, Little Falls opened its season with a 3-0 victory at Hibbing/Chisholm Friday night, Nov. 23. The Flyers (1-0-0) were outshot by by a 35-26 margin, but the Bluejackets (0-1-0) couldn't solve Stumpf and the Little Falls defense.

Matthew Stumpf -- no relation to his goaltender -- gave the Flyers the only goal they would need, rifling a slap shot into the low left corner at the 5:10 mark of the first period. August Maciej added a goal in the second period and Ben Newman capped the scoring with an empty-netter. Luke Majerle and Austin Bjorge each had two assists.

Despite 35 shots, Hibbing/Chisholm was held scoreless on the night, as the Flyers' defense kept most of the shots outside prime scoring territory -- and Stumpf took care of the rest. Little Falls also used the body to slow down Bluejackets' sniper Adam Johnson, a UM-Duluth recruit. Johnson also sat out much of the third period after receiving five- and 10-minute penalties for head contact.

Tyler Carlson made 23 saves in goal for the Bluejackets.

1. Michael Stumpf, Little Falls
Stumpf won 21 games and led the Flyers to the state tournament last year -- and looks primed for an encore. He turned aside all 35 shots Hibbing/Chisholm and star Adam Johnson fired at him to earn first star of the game. Stumpf controlled his rebounds well and didn't allow the Bluejackets many second chances.

2. Matthew Stumpf, Little Falls
Not only did Stumpf score the game-winner for the Flyers on a first-period slapshot, he also was a key part of their defense that held Hibbing/Chisholm off the scoreboard. Stumpf took the body regularly and didn't allow the Bluejackets space to operate.

3. Billy Wherland, Hibbing/Chisholm
Although held off the scoreboard, Wherland had his moments as the Bluejackets searched for scoring power on opening night. He was able to generate a few scoring chances with his puck skills, particularly while Adam Johnson was serving 15 minutes in penalties in the third.

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