To call the Warroad’s Class A State Tournament quarterfinal victory over the Hutchinson Tigers dominating would do the Warriors no justice at all. Section 8A champion Warroad thoroughly controlled every aspect of the game in its 7-1 defeat of the Tigers, the section 3A representative, on Wednesday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.
Warriors head coach Albert Hasbargen said getting game one behind them, especially a win, was important to calming his team’s nerves.
Asked if such a tournament-tested team could really be affected by nerves, Hasbargen responded, “Yeah, I’m nervous right now. The old butterflies are always there. Anytime you put a jersey on, especially down here, you’re going to have lots of nerves. It’s nice to get the first one out of the way.”
The Warriors outshot the Tigers 35-5 for the game, stifling any semblance of a Hutchinson attack. Warroad’s Brock Nelson led the way for the Warriors with three goals and an assist while Brett Hebel chipped in a goal and two assists. Warroad goaltender Jason Goldsmith averaged a save every 12:45 stopping four Tiger shots to pick up the win.
But it was the Warriors smothering defense which was the difference in this game as Hutchinson head coach Matt Telecky will attest.
“They did a nice job of keeping the shots to the outside and they didn’t give us a lot of space especially in the middle of the rink,” said Telecky. “They have four or five guys (on defense) that are about as good as we’ve seen all year back there.”
The Tigers managed to keep within striking distance for the game’s first half as they trailed only 2-0 at the game’s midpoint despite having only one shot on goal. In fact, Hutchinson’s Riley Bengston scored on his, and his team’s, second shot on goal of the game at 10:19 of the second to cut Warroad’s lead in half.
“We pride ourselves on (defense) so we weren’t very happy when they scored and took the lead back and cut the lead down so we really wanted to answer that and put them away,” said Nelson.
The Warriors did just that in less than two minutes; scoring twice in a nine-second span straddling the 12 minute mark of the second period on goals by Hebel and Nelson.
The big lead and wide margin in shots did not deter the Warriors from staying on the attack in the third as they fired 16 more shots in the final period scoring three more times in the process.
“We feel great defense is playing in the offensive zone. We don’t back off even if we’re up like we were today,” said Hasbargen. “Defensive hockey is played all over the ice and if you can stay on the attack that limits the other team in their offense.”
With the win, Warroad advances to face the Crusaders of St. Cloud Cathedral at 11 am on Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center for an opportunity to play for the state championship. The Crusaders, 5-2 winners over Mahtomedi in the other afternoon quarterfinal, defeated the Warriors 4-2 in St. Cloud on January 2.
“It’s going to be crucial. They’ve got a great forward line there and two great defensemen that really played well today,” said Hasbargen. “You can’t win championships if you don’t play good defensive hockey and we’re certainly going to need that on Friday.”
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