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Michael Sawdey fires a slapper during 1st period in front of Princeton bench. (Photos by Rob LaPlante)
Nick Hanson fires one from point during 2nd period of 4-2 win over Princeton.
Bison senior James McNamara stands in front of Princeton goalie Gabe Pangerl during the second period of Buffalo’s 4-2 home victory over the Tigers. McNamara’s power-play goal midway through the third period turned out to be the game winner.
By Rob LaPlante
Ever since suffering a 6-5 overtime home loss on Saturday, Jan. 24 to conference leading St. Michael-Albertville, the Buffalo boys’ hockey team knew they had to win the remainder of its conference games in order to claim another Mississippi 8 title.
Since that loss, the Bison have strung together a season-high five-game winning streak, which included a 4-2 home win on Thursday, Feb. 5 over Princeton and a 3-0 road victory on Saturday, Feb. 7 at St. Francis.
The two victories sets up a huge conference tilt with the winner assuring themselves of a Mississippi 8 title when both Buffalo and STMA collide for the rematch at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12 at the STMA Arena in Albertville.
Bison assistant head coach Thomas Johnson said everyone from the players and coaches knows what is at stake come Thursday, but the task of defeating some pesky conference teams the past week to make that game meaningful was the biggest challenge.
“You hear everyone say it, ‘one game at a time.’ It’s a stupid and overused cliché, but that’s what we had to do,” Johnson said. “Last time we played St. Francis, we had a full lineup and it was still a tight game.”
The Bison defeated St. Francis 7-6 in the first meeting. They had a much better defensive effort in game two, a 3-0 road shutout win on Saturday, Feb. 7 at St. Francis.
James McNamara battles with a Tiger defenseman during the Bison win.
Senior goalie Ben Zitur made 16 saves to record his 13th win and third shutout of the season. Seniors Gavin Welch, Jerame Schuetzle, and Gunnar Goodmanson each scored in the victory.
Prior to that game, the Bison took care of business thanks to another sound defensive game in which they held Princeton to zero first-period shots. While the game still remained close, it was a first-period goal by Goodmanson that gave the Bison an early 1-0 lead.
The lead was extended to 2-0 at the two-minute mark of period two when junior Kevin Kemp fired a puck towards the net that deflected off a Princeton defenders skate. The Tigers and Bison each scored a pair of goals in the final 17 minutes, the biggest coming after a Princeton goal when senior forward James McNamara stepped out of the penalty box and finished off a pretty passing play between seniors Jerame Schuetzle and Goodmanson.
“I saw the puck was going up ice and Gunnar made a great play to Jerame, and Jerame saw me back door and put it right on my tape,” McNamara said. “They made the whole play. I was just there to finish.”
Being one of six seniors, McNamara said it was nice contributing in potentially his final home game of his career. He earlier assisted on Buffalo’s second goal in the second period scored by junior Kevin Kemp.
“It’s fun to go out and get a goal like that in my last regular season home game,” he said.
Johnson said McNamara’s goal was the turning point in the game. Just seconds after coming out of the penalty box for serving a cross checking penalty, McNamara saw a play developing and made a smart decision by joining the play. His goal turned out to be the eventual game winner.
“It’s nice when guys like McNamara get rewarded for going hard to the net like that. That was the high point of the game, for sure,” Johnson said. “It was a nice play by Jerame. Our seniors led the way with their effort. We weren’t always smart, but we were working hard.”
Although he didn’t get an assist, senior captain Reed Morehouse helped set up the play by creating a Princeton turnover in the neutral zone. Morehouse leads all defenseman in scoring with 20 points, all coming by way of assists.
While he still is searching for that elusive first goal, a grinning Morehouse said that he hopes to eventually find the net before the end of the season.
“As a defenseman, I know it’s not my job to get the goals. I kind of leave that to Jake, Gunnar and Jerame,” he said. “Obviously like anyone, I’d like to pop one in here, especially my senior year. In the end, it’s just all about the team winning. If assists are what I’m adding to the team, I’ll take it.”
Only one game remains after Thursday’s STMA matchup. Buffalo (14-9 overall, 9-1 M8) will close the regular season schedule with a 7 p.m. road game on Saturday, Feb. 14 at Chisago Lakes.
With the Bison locked in position with a 3-1 Section 8AA record, the hope is the team can gain that elusive section playoff home game by grabbing one of four top seeds. Bemidji is a lock for the No. 1 seed, and the Bison, Moorhead, River Lakes and Roseau are all in contention for the other three top seeds.
“I know in year’s past that Buffalo hasn’t been able to get that first section win in a while,” Morehouse said. “I know the four years Gunnar has been playing in high school, he’s never been part of a section win. Having home ice advantage will be a really big benefit this year. If we want to make a run at the end, that’s the ultimate goal.”
But before any playoff scenarios take place, Morehouse knows there is still two huge games left remaining on the schedule.
“We’ve been executing a lot more the last few games and we’re looking to win-out the end of the regular season and into the playoffs,” he said. “We definitely have some momentum coming in towards the end of the year. Now we have the St. Michael game, which I know will be a good one.”
Buffalo 4, Princeton 2
(Thursday, Feb. 5 at Buffalo)
Tigers 0 0 2 - 2
Bison 1 1 2 - 4
First period: B – Gunnar Goodmanson (Cade Stensby) 3:41.
Second period: B – Kevin Kemp (Jake Ramsey, James McNamara) 2:00.
Third period: P – Josh Swanson (Dale Anderson) 1:32, PP; B – McNamara (Jerame Schuetzle, Goodmanson) 9:24, PP; B – Tom Rooney (unassisted) 12:46; P – Cole Heinemann, Derek Abrahamson, Swanson) 14:20, PP.
Goalies: P – Gabe Pangerl (loss) 21 shots, 17 saves; B – Ben Zitur (win) 11 shots, 19 saves. Shots: P – 0-6-5 – 11; B – 8-8-5 – 21; Power Plays: P – 2-6; B – 1-2.
Buffalo 3, St. Francis 0
(Saturday, Feb. 7 at East Bethel)
Bison 2 1 0 - 3
Fighting Saints 0 0 0 - 0
First period: B – Jerame Schuetzle (Jake Ramsey, Reed Morehouse) 12:14; B – Gavin Welch (James McNamara, Tom Rooney) 14:04.
Second period: B – Gunnar Goodmanson (Schuetlze, Ramsey) 15:13.
Third period: No scoring.
Goalies: B – Ben Zitur (win) 16 shots, 16 saves; SF – Logan Garaghty (loss) 27 shots, 24 saves. Shots: B – 12-8-7 – 27; SF – 7-4-5 – 16; Power Plays: B – 0-5; SF – 0-3.