After inching closer to its first Mississippi 8 conference title, the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey team took two steps back, losing a 4-1 decision at Monticello and a crucial 5-1 home loss to Rogers.
The Royals came into the Jan. 29 showdown with STMA just a game behind the Knights in the win column. The defending 3-time conference champs knew they had their work cut out for them.
“Huge game,” said Rogers’ head coach Tim Marchand, on the importance of the STMA matchup. “These guys know they have to win out if they want to be conference champs for a fourth season in a row.”
Senior goalie Blake Ternus came into the contest having posted two consecutive shutouts. His attempt at a third straight shutout ended midway through the first period when STMA senior Mike Ryan tied the game just seconds after Royals junior Jacob Walker opened the scoring.
“It was a big game,” Ternus said. “We’re walking a thin line here, so we had to produce. After one period it was shaky. After two periods it was still on the fence and we came out strong in the third and did well.”
Junior Nate Weber scored the eventual game-winning goal at the 1:10 mark of the second period. A wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle beat STMA senior goalie Matt Borgen.
The Knights had trouble finding rhythm. A number of stoppages due to an abnormal amount of icing calls killed any flow.
“A lot of people were just throwing the puck off the boards,” said STMA junior captain Connor Spetz. “We probably should have picked our heads up and made the easy passes.”
Rogers outshot the Knights 30-19 through two periods. STMA best opportunity to even the game came early in period three. Consecutive penalties allowed the Knights a 2-man advantage for nearly two full minutes. Despite a hit post, STMA struggled with the power play and iced the puck twice during the 2-man advantage.
“We gave ourselves a good chance in the third period by getting two power plays,” STMA head coach Jerr Johnson said. “Their goalie made some big saves and then they chipped one in to make it 3-1. At that point, it was really disheartening and you could see our guys with their heads down.”
“That was a huge momentum boost,” Ternus said. “After we killed that off, we felt like we had the game in the bag.”
Sophomore Jason Roberge made it 3-1 and two late power-play goals from Walker – his second of the game – was followed by junior Alex Lorman’s goal, making the final 5-1.
The Rogers win was the first time this school year that any Royals fall or winter sports teams had defeated STMA. The Knights came in a combined 11-0 against their cross-town rival.
“I was not aware of that,” said a surprised Marchand, when told of the streak between the two schools. “The communities are so close and it’s become a nice rivalry. It’s not been a dirty rivalry by any means. But it’s nice to win one.”
“It was an emphatic no, when we asked the guys if this is the best we can play,” Johnson said. “At this point of the season, we need to figure something out going down the home stretch.”
STMA (3-3, 7-12-2 overall) ended its mini-two game losing skid skating to a 3-3 tie Jan. 31 at Coon Rapids. Despite outshooting Coon Rapids 46-24, Cardinal goalie Zach St. John made 43 saves.
Junior Brett Marshall gave the Knights a 1-0 lead, but Coon Rapids scored three straight goals and it was Marshall’s second goal in the third period that helped start the comeback. The game was tied at the 10:21 mark of regulation when senior Daniel Lund scored his first career varsity goal.
Johnson made some shuffles to his lineup at Coon Rapids. Sophomore Trent Olson started in place of Borgen in goal. The top line of senior captain’s Jon Gibbs and David Anderson was broken up.
“We just have to work hard in practice and get to the grindstone and play through it,” said Spetz, on finding consistency as a team.
STMA will be in action Thursday night at No. 12 (Class 2A) Prior Lake. Saturday at 3 p.m. they host the much anticipated matchup with No. 3 (2A) Duluth East.
“If we’re not ready to play the next few days, we’re going to be in trouble,” Johnson said. “We’re going to work hard over the next few days and make sure we are.”
Another rivalry game took place Jan. 31 at Buffalo. With a win, the Royals could tie Buffalo for first place in the conference standings. Rogers took an early 2-0 lead on goals by Weber and Roberge.
The team’s would exchange a pair of second-period goals making the score 4-2. From there, the wheels fell apart, as the Bison scored four unanswered goals in period three for the pivotal 6-4 win – giving Buffalo a two game lead in the standings over both STMA and Rogers.
Rogers (3-3, 9-10-2 overall) defeated Proctor 7-3 at home on Feb. 2. Weber and Lorman each scored twice and Roberge, Spencer Marchand and Brandon Spah also scored. It was Rogers’ fourth win in the past five games.
“We’re playing our best hockey. Peeking at the right time,” Ternus said.