Prior Lake won the Schwan Cup Silver Division championship with a 3-0 victory over Lakeville South. Photo by Loren Nelson
During his four years as head coach at Prior Lake, Joe Pankratz has done his best to instill a certain level of intensity into his program. He expects his teams to come ready to play. He asks them to give it all they’ve got. If that happens, Pankratz likes the Lakers’ odds.
Through the first handful of games for Prior Lake this year that compete level wasn’t exactly where it needed to be, so Pankratz and his coaching staff cranked up the aggressiveness to try and change the tide.
It looks like the adjustments worked.
The Lakers stormed through the Schwan Cup Silver Division, outscoring opponents 13-1, including a 3-0 title-game triumph over South Suburban Conference rival Lakeville South on Friday, Dec. 28.
“The mentality’s there, the work ethic is there, and we just have to go do it on the ice,” Pankratz said after Prior Lake skated away with a banner for its arena. “We have a good team, we have a lot of skill on this team, and for the past three or four games we’ve been good.”
Prior Lake's Blake Busch deflects the puck in front of Lakeville South goaltender Tyler Schumacher. Photo by Loren Nelson
A giant part of that success stems from the forechecking of the Lakers’ giant forwards, namely seniors Blake Busch, Dylan Zins and Gavin Smith. Lately, when Prior Lake has gotten the puck deep into the offensive zone, opposing teams aren’t finding it easy to dig it out.
“The forecheck is a little more aggressive than what we ran in the first few games of the year,” Pankratz said. “We’ve got some big guys up front, and the first forechecker in is taking the body pretty well and creating a turnover. Our forecheck is huge for us.”
Lakeville South got a first-hand lesson in what kind of damage the physically and relentlessness of the Lakers’ offensive attack can inflict.
The Cougars struggled to exit their own zone, had an even harder time containing the Prior Lake forwards and ended up chasing most the game while the Lakers racked up 38 shots.
“They played well,” Lakeville South coach Kurt Weber. “If you don’t move the puck, they are going to end up in your zone the whole time. They’re hard, they’re physical, they’re strong, and you got to move the puck better than we did.
“We knew what to expect, and we really didn’t respond that well.”
As the calendar turns to the second half of the season, Pankratz wants to see that frustration on the other bench night in and night out.
He believes that can happen, and that’s why he’s set the goals that he has for the Lakers.
The first goal was accomplished on the ice at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. He hopes the next one results in a chance to skate on the ice at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“It’s kind of what we expect of our program now at the high school level,” Pankratz said. “They have had success at the youth level coming up, and [winning this tournament] is just another stepping stone for us as a school and as a hockey program in the right direction.
“We have pretty high goals, and our goal is to be playing in March.”
Jack Murphy, Ben Keckeisen and Dylan Zins each scored and Jordan Moran stopped 23 shots to lead Prior Lake over Lakeville South 3-0 on Friday, Dec. 28 in the Schwan Cup Silver Division championship at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Murphy started the scoring with an unassisted goal 2 minutes, 7 seconds into the middle period when he stuffed a shot through Cougar goalie Tyler Schumacher after walking out of the corner with a nice power move.
Keckeisen put home a rebound 11 minutes later to extend the lead to 2-0, and Zins wired a shot to the back of the net in the third to ice it.
Lincoln Eiter, Will Reedy, Blake Busch and Gavin Smith each recorded single assists for Prior Lake (6-4-0).
Moran completed the shutout – his second in as many nights – to give the Lakers more than enough support in net.
Schumacher finished with 35 stops for Lakeville South (5-5-0).
The victory for the Lakers avenged an earlier loss to the Cougars – a 4-3 setback on Dec. 8. The two teams will square off again on Jan. 26 in Lakeville.
1. Dylan Zins, Prior Lake
Zins was a huge piece of the Prior Lake forecheck, using his size and strength to grind down the Lakeville South defenders until they had little left in the late portion of the game. He also scored a goal on an absolute laser shot from the left dot that hit the back pipe and left the net so quickly that half the crowd didn’t realize it was in.
2. Gavin Smith, Prior Lake
Much like Zins, Smith used his size and strength to keep the Cougars bottled up in their own end. Unlike Zins, Smith didn’t record a goal, but his contribution low in the offensive zone and his shifty moves with the puck made him one of the most noticeable players on the rink.
3. Tyler Schumacher, Lakeville South
Schumacher saw a lot of rubber against the Lakers, and, although he yielded three goals, he did stop 35 shots to keep the Cougars relevant until the late minutes of the third.