Hill-Murray's Mitch Slattery scores a first-period goal against Burnsville. Photo by Loren Nelson
When Hill-Murray and Burnsville squared off in the first game of the season, neither team knew what to expect out of the contest, and it took on more of a “feel it out” style. Pioneer coach Bill Lechner was pleased with the 2-1 win, but didn’t read too much into the early outcome.
Fast forward to Thursday, Dec. 27 and the rematch in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division tournament, and, although his Hill-Murray squad ran away with a 7-2 triumph over the Blaze, Lechner still isn’t ready to finalize his beliefs on the Pioneers.
“It’s encouraging,” Lechner said after the Pioneers advanced to the Gold Division finals. “Our lineup and their lineup are way different than they were the first game of the season. You knew it would be a little different, and we wanted to see where our game has taken us. I was proud of the guys early, I thought we played pretty well early.”
Hill-Murray defenseman Ryan Black registered three assists against Burnsville. Photo by Loren Nelson
Encouraging, indeed, racking up the numbers on a team of Burnsville’s caliber. But Lechner knows the circumstances of the holiday tournaments and that changes can – and often do – occur in the second half of the season.
“It’s hard, it’s Christmas and they’re high school kids,” Lechner said. “We’re glad our kids came focused and played hard.
“You wonder what you’re going to get.”
Take, for example, what the Pioneers got in last year’s Schwan Cup. Hill-Murray was bumped from the first round in convincing fashion before going on to finish second in the Class 2A state tournament.
Now, as the team that will likely exit the Schwan Cup with the top-ranking in Class 2A, Lechner and his coaching staff have to adjust in similar ways that they did last year.
Some of that adjusting has already happened, too.
“We divided up our skill level [between the three forward lines],” Lechner said. “We believe that we have three lines that can score goals, and the top two obviously score a bit more. It’s nice to see.”
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff
A strong first period fueled Hill-Murray’s convincing 7-2 victory against Burnsville in Thursday’s Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinal at Ridder Arena.
The second-ranked Pioneers (10-1) dominated the first 17 minutes, scoring three times and building a 22-6 shots on goal advantage against No. 10 Burnsville.
Josh French got a puck to dribble through at 2:48. Mitch Slattery blasted a puck over traffic and into the net at 9:36. Willie Brown, left alone on the doorstep, fired a shot past goalie Nic Anderson at 15:18. Chris Mallon then replaced Anderson.
Burnsville (6-4) had a chance to get back in the game during the second period on a point-blank backhand from Cole Borchardt. But Pioneers’ goaltender John Dugas made the save. He stopped 20 of 22 Blaze shots faced.
Zach LaValle extended the Pioneers’ lead with two goals scored less than two minutes apart in the second period. He knocked in a rebound on the power play at 13:21 then buried a slick pass from Slattery at 15:00.
Burnsville scored twice in the third period, including a goal from Borchardt.
Hill-Murray also defeated Burnsville 2-1 on Nov. 29.
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer
1. Mitch Slattery, Hill-Murray
The big forward was a big nuisance for Burnsville all night, generating scoring chance after scoring chance with his shifty puck handling and exceptional play low in the offensive zone. For the game, Slattery racked up three points.
2. Zach LaValle, Hill-Murray
LaValle was flying against the Blaze, scoring twice in the second period and having several other golden opportunities to put a puck in the back of the Burnville net. He also had one assist on the night for a three-point game.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff