East Grand Forks' Colton Poolman (6) reaches for a loose puck with an attacking Thief River Falls forward. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
Logan Engelstad had a message for the rest of Section 8A on Tuesday night.
Don’t count out Thief River Falls.
Engelstad recorded a hat trick as the Prowlers rolled past rival East Grand Forks at the East Grand Forks Civic Center by a 6-2 score. The victory extended an eight-game winning streak and gave the Prowlers a boost in the section seeding race.
“There was a lot of hype coming into this game,” said Engelstad, who leads the Prowlers with 18 goals, including at least one in each of his last nine games. “But we just tried to come into the game thinking it’s another game along the way. The games that matter and are really important are coming in late February.”
Engelstad and the two-time defending section champions certainly know about playing important games late in the winter. They also know that no mid-season game is going to make or break their year. The time for that is once the one-and-done portion of the schedule begins.
“This was a big win for us but we still have to come to practice every day and get better,” downplayed senior defenseman Chris Forney, who added a goal and an assist.
Don’t let their words fool you.
This victory was certainly huge in more ways than one.
First are the obvious ramifications for section seeding, as the two schools and perennial power Warroad are likely again battling for the Nos. 1 to 3 seeds. Secondarily, the Prowlers needed this victory for confidence – and to show the rest of the state they’re not ready for a changing of the guard in Section 8A.
That wasn’t obvious early this year. Rather than starting quickly in defense of its back-to-back section titles, Thief River Falls lost six of its first eight games and seemed in a tailspin heading into the holidays. Coach Tim Bergland’s team had scored over two goals just once and was uncharacteristically giving up big numbers against. Meanwhile, East Grand Forks was the last unbeaten team in the state, going 13-0-2 until losing at Moorhead last Thursday, 4-3. As the Prowlers looked at the standings, they kept seeing the gap increase between themselves and the Green Wave.
“Guys were starting to press, defense was trying to do too much and goaltending felt they had to stand on their heads to win games,” said Bergland, who knew he was challenging his young team with a tough early-season schedule. The Prowlers played a veritable “Who’s Who” of Class 1A hockey, including losses to Totino-Grace, Hermantown, Warroad and International Falls.
“We knew going into that start that we had some good teams with a young team,” continued Bergland. “The games were competitive, but when you’re only scoring a goal a game, it’s hard to win those games.”
But after Christmas, something clicked for the Prowlers – and they haven’t lost since.
“The puck’s starting to go in the net, but there’s reasons for that,” said Bergland, who listed the time-honored hockey truth of getting to the net.
The current eight-game winning streak began with a three-game sweep of the Ralph Engelstad Classic holiday tournament and continued with five big section victories over Kittson Central (4-1 on Jan. 3), Park Rapids (7-2 on Jan. 8), Crookston (4-1 on Jan. 10), Warroad (5-1 on Jan. 17) and Tuesday against the Green Wave.
Suddenly, an avalanche of goals has rained down while opposing offenses have been as dry as the Sahara on the scoreboard. And on Tuesday night, the Prowlers came out of the dressing room fired up. Thief River Falls scored on three of its first four shots, quite a contrast from the way the season began.
Thief River Falls scored on three of its first four shots and held on for a 6-2 victory over East Grand Forks Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the East Grand Forks Civic Center. The Prowlers (10-6-0) got goals from Zeb Nelson, Ian Lund and Logan Engelstad to take a 3-0 lead just 3:11 into the game and the second-ranked Green Wave (13-2-2) couldn't recover.
Engelstad finished with a hat trick, capping his night with an empty-netter with 2:58 remaining in an important Section 8A battle. Chris Forney also scored for Thief River Falls, which has won eight straight games after starting the season just 2-6-0. The Prowlers are the two-time defending Section 8A champions.
The loss was the second straight for East Grand Forks, which had been the last unbeaten team in the state until losing at Moorhead last Thursday night. Taylor Brierley and Kolton Aubol scored for the Green Wave, who outshot Thief River Falls 33-19.
Tanner Holmes had 31 saves for the Prowlers, while Tanner Lindstrom and Garrett Lieberg combined for 13 saves for the East Siders. Lindstrom was pulled after allowing three goals in four shots, but later returning to the net to start the second period and went the rest of the way.
1. Logan Engelstad, Thief River Falls
Engelstad did the heavy lifting on the offensive end for the Prowlers, recording a hat trick, including the game-winner to end the three-goals in three-minutes flurry that carried his team to victory. Engelstad leads TRF in scoring with 18 goals, including at least one in each of his last nine games -- perhaps not surprisingly the Prowlers have won eight straight.
2. Tanner Holmes, Thief River Falls
Holmes, a junior goaltender, made the Prowlers' early 3-0 lead stand up, despite being outshot 33-19. Holmes finished with 31 saves -- including 16 in the first period -- and was steady throughout.
3. Chris Forney, Thief River Falls
The rugged -- but jovial -- senior defenseman is arguably the Prowlers' best player, and he's played like it over the past month as the team has won eight straight. Not only has he contributed 14 points in that span, including a goal and an assist against EGF, but he's been a big part of a defense that has only allowed nine goals in that time.