Breck goalie Henry Johnson and defenseman Justin Paulson (55) look on as a shot by Duluth Marshall forward Jeremy Lopez (7) sails just wide.
Clinging to a one-goal lead with time winding down in the third period in its season debut on Saturday, Dec. 1, Breck benefitted from a simple play that made a big difference.
The Mustangs’ opponent – Duluth Marshall – was pressing for the tying goal as a puck squirted out to the point. A Hilltopper defenseman gathered, loaded and fired towards the net, but his shot never made it to goalie Henry Johnson. Forward Jack O’Connor blocked it, the puck trickled out to center, the horn blew and No. 2-ranked Breck started its season with a 2-1 win.
“It’s the little things,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “There were a lot of other little things tonight [that led to the win]. But there’s also a lot of little things that we have to work on.”
After years of high-scoring teams, Larson expects the little things to be the difference for the Mustangs this year. Overall, Breck lost seven of its top 10 scorers from last year, meaning a change of style is in order.
“I think it’s more of a ‘team’ this year than we’ve had in the past,” Larson said. “This is a good group of guys. We have a few stars, but, other than that, we have all these lunch bucket guys that have to pitch in. I like the attitude and work ethic that they have.”
As it turned out, the hard work not only kept Duluth Marshall from scoring late, but also led directly to both of the Mustangs’ goals.
The first tally of the night came after Matt Colford chipped a puck loose and made a great play on a shorthanded breakaway. The second was a result of a strong battle in the corner. After Colford dug it out, he found Thomas Lindstrom at the edge of the crease to put Breck up for good.
That’s exactly what Larson and his team expects from Colford and Lindstrom – Breck’s top two returning scorers. Those players not only lead on the ice, but they’ve been leading off it, too.
“We have great senior leadership this year,” O’Connor said. “We had about 15 seniors leave after last year, and we had to bring in all new guys. Those seniors now show us what to do and how to do it. Now we’re all hard workers, and we like to get into the battles.”
Along with the leadership, Larson liked the character of the Mustangs in their first contest. Overall, it’s something he thinks can help Breck get to where it wants to be.
“On the road with a young group, I liked the way we hung in there tonight,” Larson said. “Marshall is a good club, and I thought the pace of the game was very quick. I think we have the potential to be a lot better than we were tonight, but if we keep up the hard work, we’ll only get better.”
Matt Colford had two points, Thomas Lindstrom scored the eventual game-winner and goaltender Henry Johnson turned away 34 shots as second-ranked Breck held on to beat No. 4-ranked Duluth Marshall on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Mars Lakeview Arena in Duluth.
Colford scored the Mustangs’ first goal – a shorthanded marker that he slipped through Hilltopper goalie Caden Flaherty’s legs – and then assisted on Lindstrom’s tally to lead all players offensively.
Matthew Klassen opened the scoring with a breakaway goal just 6 minutes, 27 seconds into the contest. With teammate Michael Damberg looking for an outlet, Klassen streaked up ice, gathered in a bouncing puck and beat Johnson low-blocker.
Then, just 61 seconds later, Colford evened the score, setting the stage for Lindstrom’s game-winning goal at the 9 minute, 44 second-mark of the second period.
With the puck bottled up in the corner, Colford won a battle, walked the puck out and fed Lindstrom in the slot. Lindstrom one-timed the pass through Flaherty’s five-hole.
Flaherty finished with 31 saves, including several of the highlight variety.
The Hilltoppers (2-1-0) will travel to Hibbing on Tuesday, Dec. 4, for an early season section 7A battle with the Bluejackets.
Breck (1-0-0) will get another test against a top-ranked foe on Tuesday night when it hits the road for a contest with No. 5-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral.
1. Henry Johnson, Breck
After posting a perfect 6-0-0 record as a sophomore, the Breck goalie wasn’t exactly perfect in his junior-season debut, stopping only 34 of 35 Duluth Marshall shots to backstop the Mustangs to a big season opening win. Johnson had to be good in all situations, too, as the Hilltoppers had several breakaways, a pair of odd-man rushes and tons of chances on power plays.
2. Matt Colford, Breck
Colford is one of four captains for the Mustangs this year, and he proved his leadership with a pair of points – a beauty of a shorthanded goal and a equally as pretty feed to teammate Thomas Lindstrom on the game-winner – to help Breck start the year off on the right foot.
3. Caden Flaherty, Duluth Marshall
Flaherty was just as good as Johnson, making a ton of great stops, especially early in the middle period when the Mustangs were buzzing the net. Flaherty might not get as much credit as some of the other goalies in the state, but, if he plays like he did on Saturday, that will likely change soon.