Darby O. Regan (20) celebrates with his teammates after scoring his first goal of the season in the Pioneers' 4-3 victory over Blaine. Photo by Loren Nelson
Hill-Murray goaltender Sam Illgen made 53 saves in Wednesday's 4-3 win over Blaine. Photo by Loren Nelson
It is not often No. 3-ranked Hill-Murray gets outshot the way it did against No. 6 Blaine on Wednesday at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
The Pioneers are not used to relying on their goalie to stand on his head to save the day, but senior Sam Illgen used just about every body part in a 53-save effort to give Hill-Murray a 4-3 victory.
"He was the star of the game," Blaine coach Dave Aus said. "There is no doubt about that. He won the game for them. If it wasn't for him, we win the game."
Illgen faced 42 shots in the final two periods, getting every bit Blaine had to offer after a lethargic first period which ended with the Pioneers leading 3-0.
The likes of Tyler Cline, Ian Scheid, Dallas Gerads and Joe Lau eventually found their offensive groove for the Bengals, and Illgen was the recipient of the thunderous shots they unleashed.
"It was pretty crazy," Illgen said. "I've maybe faced that many shots in squirts, but nothing like the skill that these guys have."
Hill-Murray's Josh French scored his team-leading 21st goal of the season early in the third period to give the Pioneers what appeared to be a comfortable 4-0 lead.
A revolving door to the penalty box put a quick end to any comfort level they had as four penalties in the final 12 minutes put the Pioneers on life support.
Brandon Notermann, Luke Notermann and Nic Simpson all scored for Blaine on the power play in the third. The Bengals went 3-for-8 with the man advantage.
"You can't have five-on-four's, five-on-three's for a whole period," Pioneers' coach Bill Lechner said. "We needed Sam (Illgen) to step up, and he did."
"It wasn't just one guy going, it seemed like every shift we had another guy going to the box," Illgen added. "You just have to step up for your team and do whatever it takes, even though it might be a little frustrating to see."
The Bengals crashed the net with vigor, knocked Illgen down, made him lose his stick, just about anything to throw him out of his comfort zone.
Illgen was not fazed by the immense pressure Blaine put on him. He stood his ground, never shying away from challenging the shooter, knowing there is often a body coming along with the puck.
"They had to get four in the last period, so you just go in knowing that they are going to come hard," Illgen said. "Even though they had a lot of shots, I was able to get a good look at a lot of them.
With the abundance of talent Hill-Murray has up and down its lineup, Aus said he thought the Bengals may have had the edge in net if they could get chances.
"I saw them play the other day, and I thought we could exploit them in goal," he said. "Their defense is really good, and they have scoring up front, too. I thought that if we got 50 shots on goal on them, that we would be in good shape, but you just have to tip your hat to the kid because he was simply the difference tonight."
Blaine finished with 56 shots to just 22 for Hill-Murray and held a 24-5 advantage in the third.
"A win is a win," Lechner said. "But hopefully we learn something from this."
Hill-Murray improves to 18-3-0 while Blaine drops to 16-4-1.
The Bengals have to turn around on Thursday for a Northwest Suburban Conference matchup against Elk River.
"I like playing these guys (Hill-Murray) this late in the season, but we have an even bigger one tomorrow," Aus said.