White Bear Lake players salute their fans after beating Roseville 4-2 on Tuesday in the Section 4AA semifinals. Photo by Katherine Matthews
And a sophomore shall lead them.
And so shall another, and another, and another.
Everywhere you look, White Bear Lake has sophomores doing something spectacular.
Here comes gamebreaker Jake Wahlin with a goal. Over there is A.J. Welch scoring two more. That’s Thomas Giller winning two huge draws in the Bears’ end in the closing seconds.
“All of our sophomores have been really stepping up lately,” Wahlin said after the Bears hung on to beat Roseville 3-2 in a Section 4AA semifinal on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
The way Wahlin plays, it’s easy to forget he’s one of White Bear Lake’s young pups. Wahlin’s second-period goal against the Raiders gives him a team-best 67 points this season.
White Bear Lake sophomore A.J. Welch scored twice in the third period against Roseville. Photo by Katherine Matthews
He was in the locker room long after the game when he received a battered puck with white tape wrapped on its outer edge. Written on the tape were the particulars of the game (date, score, etc.) and the number 67. No player in school history has scored more points in a single season.
“You know, it’s so exciting,” Wahlin said about Tuesday’s taste of section playoffs atmosphere at the cavernous Coliseum. “It’s so much fun. It’s the greatest time of your life.”
And it’s not over yet. Not by a mile.
Next up for the Bears is longtime rival Hill-Murray. These teams have an amazing history, much of it dominated by the Pioneers. But every once the underdog Bears sting their private school neighbor. Like two years ago, when White Bear Lake stunned Hill-Murray in a thrilling section final at the Coliseum.
“Every team every year is a little bit different,” White Bear Lake coach Tim Sager said. “With these young guys it will be another fantastic journey, episode for them coming up on Friday night.
“Because most of them have never played here.”
No. 2 seed White Bear Lake and No. 1 Hill-Murray meet at 8:30 p.m. on Friday at the Coliseum.
The Pioneers have been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the second half of the season. They will be the overwhelming favorite.
This year’s version of the Bears, meanwhile, might just be too young to understand what they are up against.
“It’s a great rivalry, and I feel real excited for our next game,” Wahlin said. “I think we’ll have a great week of practice and come out and be ready for Friday night’s game.”
Hill-Murray beat White Bear Lake 6-1 on Dec. 18 in the teams’ only regular season meeting. The last time they met in the playoffs, however, it was White Bear Lake emerging with a 5-4 double overtime victory.
“We’ve got two days to try to prepare,” Sager said. “Hill-Murray is a great skating team. We’re going to have to try to really nullify that."
Robb Stautz scored for Roseville in its loss to White Bear Lake. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Sophomore A.J. Welch scored twice in the third period, and junior goaltender Chase Gorman withstood a barrage of shots in the closing minutes as No. 2 seeded White Bear Lake held on to beat No. 6 Roseville 3-2 in a Section 4AA semifinal on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
The win sets up a classic rivalry showdown for the Section 4AA title between No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Hill-Murray and White Bear Lake at 8:30 p.m. on Friday at the Coliseum.
Welch, who scored six goals in 25 regular season games, stripped the puck from a Roseville defenseman that fired a shot that dribbled over the goal line to put White Bear Lake (17-9-1) up 2-1 less than 2 minutes into the third period.
Welch scored again with 8:52 remaining to put the Bears ahead to stay, although Roseville (12-13-2) made the final minutes increasingly frantic as the Raiders peppered Gorman with an array of shots from long range, close range and in between.
Ross Stecklein scored the third-period goal that tied it for Roseville. Robb Stautz also scored for the Raiders.
Sophomore Jake Wahlin opened the scoring for White Bear Lake, setting the school single-season points record with 67 in the process.
Gorman finished with 39 saves while Roseville’s Zach Larson had 13.
1. A.J. Welch, White Bear Lake
Welch, a sophomore who scored just six goals during the regular season, would have been an unlikely candidate to carry the Bears to victory. But there he was -- tenacious, opportunistic and incredibly clutch. He scored twice in the third period for a show-stopping performance in the biggest game of his life.
2. Jake Wahlin, White Bear Lake
Another of the Bears’ super sophomores, Wahlin put on quite the display with his speed and puck savvy. And his stickhandling and shot. He scored a second-period goal, using a Roseville defenseman as a screen and whipping the puck in just inside the left post, to put the Bears up 1-0. The goal gives Wahlin 67 points, the most in a single season in school history.
3. Robb Stautz, Roseville
The big senior was a one-man wrecking crew, crashing the net, slamming into opposing players and firing pucks from all angles at White Bear Lake goaltender Chase Gorman. Stautz had a half-dozen or so quality scoring chances, and he put one of them away with 4.4 seconds left in the second period to tie the score at 1.
White Bear Lake's Jake Wahlin. Photo by Katherine Matthews