Senior Anderson fights for position with a Warrior player
By Rob LaPlante
Trailing 3-0 after one period in a pivotal Section 8AA boys’ hockey game, Buffalo head coach Aaron Johnson turned to backup sophomore goalie Ben Zitur to try and spark a rally.
Coming off his first career varsity win, and shutout in last Thursday’s 6-0 road victory at Cambridge-Isanti, Zitur’s number was called after Brainerd struck for three first-period goals, including two on the power play to give the Warriors an early three-goal edge.
Senior goalie Mikey Otten stopped six of nine shots that period, but Johnson said his decision to switch goalkeepers had nothing to do with the play of his starter.
“Mikey is our guy, and he’s a great high school goalie,” said Johnson, who pulled Otten after surrendering three goals on nine shots. “We just wanted to see if we could spark the team. Guys play with a little more intensity with the backup in. The score didn’t reflect it, but I thought we had a good start.”
Johnson’s move immediately paid dividends. Buffalo eventually battled back to tie the game 4-4, but a Warriors goal in the closing minutes of regulation proved to be the dagger in a 5-4 Brainerd win last Saturday night at the Civic Center on Hockey Day Minnesota.
After three consecutive minor penalties taken by Bison leading scorer Gunnar Goodmanson, Buffalo rallied for three second-period goals to pull within 4-3 heading into the final 17 minutes of play.
Goals 1:10 apart by seniors Jordan Carlson and Justin Laven pulled Buffalo to within 3-2, but Brainerd regained its two-goal cushion just 18 seconds later when Jacob Ellingson redirected a shot by Cole Smith past the glove of Zitur.
Coming off his first career shutout win, Zitur said he was pumped when his number was called, especially playing in a key game on Hockey Day Minnesota.
“I would say we were ready for tonight’s game,” Zitur said. “Especially our junior varsity game, they kind of set the tone for the varsity team. We were all really amped up for this game.”
A late goal in period two by junior Jake Ramsey pulled the Bison again within a goal. On a night where Goodmanson watched two goals from the penalty box, his line came out in period three and dominated play. The conference’s leading goal scorer tied the game 4-4, scoring his 19th goal of the season on a beautiful setup started by linemates Ramsey and junior Jerame Schuetzle.
“I thought we were all over them in the second and third periods,” Johnson said. “The two penalties in the first hurt us. We have kids who are physical players who play on the edge, but we’ve been pretty good so far this year winning the special teams battles.”
Buffalo outshot Brainerd 10-6 in the final period. With overtime looming, Brainerd hemmed the Bison in their own zone, and with 4:35 remaining in regulation, Mason Severson fired a rocket off the inside of the right post to give the Warriors a 5-4 lead.
Zitur said afterwards he had to battle through a screen, but still felt it was a shot he wished he had back. “It was a hard battle down low, and the puck squirted out front,” Zitur said. “I saw the puck, but I didn’t get out there in time. We had a little cluster in front, and the guy found an opening with a nice shot.”
“We made one mistake in the third period, and they capitalized on it,” Johnson said. “It was a great shot off the post from their kid with traffic in front. To be honest, it was just a good high school hockey game. Two pretty good teams with a fun environment and a fun game to be a part of.”
The victory was Brainerd’s fifth in the section, and dropped Buffalo’s section record to 1-3 overall. The loss was a dagger for Buffalo’s hopes to potentially host a first-round section playoff game. Roseau, Brainerd and Moorhead are locks to host a quarterfinal playoff game, and the fourth spot is a battle between six teams.
On the bright side, the Bison’s 6-0 win over the Fighting Saints gave them a conference 12 points, two better than Rogers’ 10. Buffalo heads into Saturday’s 7 p.m. road game at St. Michael-Albertville with a 6-1 conference mark and 10-6-1 overall record.
“It will be pretty hard for us now to be in the top four to host a home playoff game,” Johnson said. “We still have Monticello again, and if we can take care of them again, we could possibly secure that five spot in the sections. But we knew what the stakes were coming into this game with Brainerd. They have a nice team.”
* Buffalo’s 6-0 victory on Jan. 16 at C-I was the first career win and shutout for Zitur. It was also the first career varsity goal for senior forward Jesse Sullivan. Sullivan’s goal gave the Bison a 5-0 third-period lead. (Correction: This was Sullivan's second career goal.)
* Goodmanson extended his conference leading goal total to 19, two more than Chisago Lakes’ Brandon Gillespi’s 17. Jake Ramsey’s one assist also tied him with Chisago Lakes’ Blake Lizotte for the conference lead in assists with 19.
* Buffalo’s home game postponed Jan. 7 due to cold weather against St. Francis will be made up on Monday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.
Seniors Thompson & Anderle battle along the wall. All Photos courtesy of Rob LaPlante @laplante71
Juniors Schuetzle & Ramsey crash the Brainerd net
Jerame Schuetzle finished with two assists in the game