The Maple Grove Crimson burst on the High School Hockey scene as they brought their unbeaten 10-0-2 record into Saturday's game with the Centennial Cougars. In what the scribes of MnHockeyHub described as the biggest game in franchise history, the Crimson were in a position to advance their already excellent start.
At stake was keeping pace with the Northwest Suburban Conference leading Blaine Bengals and the Cougars. An impressive win over Elk River a few weeks back and a terrific showing at the Schwan Cup Bronze Division by the Crimson has been noted by the hockey community. A number of players on the Crimson who are now seniors, were members of the Maple Grove State Championship Bantam B1 team as first year players. To date, it is the only youth state title for the program. They know their way around big games, but this would be different as the Centennial Cougars have seen their share of big games as one of the most storied High School and youth hockey programs of the past 10 years.
The Cougars outlasted the Crimson in a tight checking, well played 2-1 win Saturday in Maple Grove. Centennial's Zac Fairbanks scored the game's first goal at 13:15 as he converted on two on one low in the Crimson zone as Jared Brunn hit him off the side of the net beating Crimson goaltender Sean Elmer.
Period one went to the Cougars on the scoreboard and on the ice. They had the extra jump on the Crimson. Centennial out-shot Maple Grove 11-6 for the period and out-chanced the Crimson as well.
The Crimson leveled the playing field in the second period as they operated in the neutral and offensive zone with more vigor. The Cougars out-shot the Crimson 20-11 for the period and Elmer was the best penalty killer for the Crimson as the Cougars were 0-3 with the man advantage for the game. The second period shot totals were not indicative of the balance between the two teams as each generated quality chances.
An interesting battle of posts ensued during period two, and it favored the Cougars 3-2 with ear piercing clinks off the iron. Still, one felt as though the game was going to go down the closing minutes of the third period, and it did as the Cougars tied the game at one as Josh Gross scored from Matt Dee at 8:15 of the third period.
The Cougars were unaffected and went to work. They took the lead a few minutes later as it was Zach Brickner jamming home an unassisted effort at 11:30. He got his stick in on a Maple Grove defenceman that was handling the puck in the low slot. As he forced the turn over to Elmer's right, he tucked the puck in just past the outstretched foot and inside the post of the Crimson goal for a muddy looking tally. No one in the building noticed it was in the back of the net until they realized the Cougars were celebrating in the corner.
After a furious finish, the Cougars (9-1-1, 6-0) staved off the Crimson (10-1-2, 5-1) and captured the much needed victory. The game was huge for the Crimson, although they did not get the result they were looking for, they have plenty to work with and knowledge they can go toe-to-toe with a top team in the State. Maple Grove will be heard from, and the Cougars proved they have the depth to be dangerous down the stretch.
The Cougars are off until next Thursday when they travel to Andover while the Crimson have another tough showdown with the Blaine Bengals at Fogarty Arena.
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