Zach Mills (14) of Hill-Murray scores a goal during the second period of the Pioneers' 6-1 win over Edina. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Nothing against Hill-Murray’s new jerseys, but when the Pioneers first took the ice at Aldrich Arena on Saturday night it looked like they were more suited to run drills and skate Herbies than square off against the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
Turns out that those new, retro uniforms were the perfect attire for a most bizarre evening, as Hill-Murray pounded defending state Class 2A champion Edina 6-1 in a game notable for its whacky goals, a malfunctioning sound system and net that required patchwork by the referees after a puck zipped through the webbing.
Strangest of all was the outcome. Edina, the state’s preeminent program (Hill-Murray, it could be argued, is a close second) doesn’t lose often and certainly not by five goals. The game was actually in running time per Minnesota State High School League rules (the mercy rule) in the third period because the Pioneers led by six goals.
Edina managed to avoid being shut out thanks to a late Miguel Fidler goal, but it requires a trip back to 2010 to find a Hornets’ loss more lopsided (they lost 7-1 to Minnetonka that season).
“If you were going to say you were going to have running time at Aldrich against (Edina coach Curt Giles), no,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “They are really good.”
No. 3-ranked Hill-Murray (11-2-0) led 2-0 after the first period, 4-0 after the first and was up 6-0 with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left in the third on a power-play goal by Josh French. Just 23 seconds before French scored, Pioneers freshman Joey Anderson was awarded a goal after it was determined that his shot taken minutes earlier had actually gone through the netting near the intersection of the right post and crossbar.
That might not have been the oddest goal of the night, however, as Mitch Slattery scored from the end boards behind the Edina goal by somehow banking a 15-foot shot in off the back of Hornets’ goaltender Andrew Rohkol.
“He was telling me between periods, ‘I was just looking for the net, and I saw some so I went for it,’ ” Hill-Murray goaltender Sam Illgen said about Slattery’s remarkable goal. “That’s just the way he does it. Pretty crazy.”
Anderson and Zach Mills each scored twice for the Pioneers, who outshot Edina 14-6 in the first period and 37-30 for the game. Mills opened the scoring with a power play goal midway through the first period and he put the Pioneers ahead 4-0 early in the second period with a shorthanded goal.
A shortstop on the Hill-Murray baseball team, Mills is one of several Pioneers forwards with soft hands and a scorer’s touch.
“He’s not the most physical, he’s not the biggest, but we want him out there in those moments,” Lechner said about Mills.
After opening the season with nine straight victories, Hill-Murray suffered back-to-back losses to Edina (4-2 in the championship game of the Schwan Cup Gold Division) and Lakeville North.
Not to worry. The state Class 2A runner-up the past two seasons, Hill-Murray beat Wayzata 3-2 on Thursday, then the unlikely blowout win over Edina.
“I think after the Christmas tournament, that’s when it starts coming together,” Mills said. “I feel like we are starting to find our groove.”
Other than a malfunctioning sound system that had fans holding their hands over their ears for a couple minutes as they sought relief from the high-pitched squealing, pretty much everything went right for the Pioneers on their home rink.
As for those new uniforms, Lechner saw them while flipping through old programs in the school’s archives.
“I liked the look of them,” he said.