With four games remaining in the regular season, the Buffalo boys’ hockey team feels like its hitting its stride.
A 5-1 road victory Thursday, Jan. 28 at Holy Angels was followed up with a dramatic 4-3 overtime home win Saturday, Jan. 30 over Rogers.
The latter of the two victories proved to be the most important. While the Bison were officially eliminated the week before from any hopes of a conference title, Saturday’s win over the Royals was their first of the season (1-2-1) over a section opponent.
“This was a playoff game for us,” said Bison head coach Aaron Johnson. “We had a rough stretch in the middle of the season that kind of put us in the seventh seed in the section. We looked at this game as a chance to climb up and hopefully leapfrog some teams at the end of the season.”
Senior captain Brady Hartman gave the Bison the first of four leads in the contest scoring the lone goal of period one at the 3:09 mark.
Twice in the second period the Royals tied the score, only to see the Bison answer in their next shift. The first coming at 7:04 off the stick of Hartman, which gave Buffalo a 2-1 advantage. Hartman’s goal came 57 seconds after Dustin Schoepke tied the score 1-1.
Jordan Fischer tied the score 2-2 at 11:41 for the Royals, but 1:03 later, junior forward Luke Ramsey gave the Bison a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
“We had great responses,” Johnson said. “Every time they grabbed some momentum from us, we came right back.”
Fatigue of three games in five days creeped into play as the Royals hemmed the Bison in their own zone for most the third period. Rogers outshot the Bison 12-4 in period three. Senior forward Vinny Billing tied the game for the third time at the 2:46 mark.
Senior goalie Taylor Strenge made several key saves down the stretch to send the game into overtime.
“He’s made the first save for us and hasn’t let any goals in that kill momentum for us,” Johnson said. “The guys are playing hard for him right now. We’re just riding the hot goalie.”
“Taylor’s been playing phenomenal,” said Bison junior Blake Habisch, who came into the game equally as hot, riding the strength of an 8-game point scoring streak. “He’s been stopping pucks. His rebound control has been pretty good and he’s been making some big saves for us.”
Strenge has started seven of the past 10 games for Buffalo and posted a 1.32 GAA and .932 save percentage with two shutouts. Senior goalie and two-year starter Ben Zitur has played in 14 of Buffalo’s first 20 games and posted a 4-9-1 record with a 3.24 goals against average and save percentage of .884.
“It’s good when you have goalies like this,” Johnson said. “It’s been a competition all year. We have two really good goalies, and we feel confident in both of them.”
Strenge improved to 5-0-2 in seven appearances thanks to an early goal by Habisch in overtime that resulted from a wild scramble around the goal crease.
Juniors Cade Stensby and Tom Rooney helped set up the game winner at the 1:09 mark. Habisch was lingering around the goal crease and flipped the puck just past Rogers’ goalie Jonny Preusse.
The victory avenged an earlier 3-2 overtime loss Dec. 22 at Rogers. Prior to overtime, Habisch said a few of the guys had flashbacks to that game in which the Bison blew a 2-0 lead.
“I was a little nervous,” said Habisch, whose point streak was extended to nine straight games (10 goals, 9 assists). “Cade told me before our shift, ‘let’s go get one,’ and I was like, ‘alright, let’s do it.’”
“Blake has a ton of speed. He can really turn on the jets,” said Hartman, who finished the night with two goals and an assist. “In the beginning of the season, he was going more around the perimeter. Now he’s driving to the net and getting pretty gritty. That seems to be working for him, and his line of late.”
Stensby has been equally as hot of late. His assist on Habisch’s goal gave him 10 points in his last five games.
Buffalo’s win improved its record to 9-9-3 overall and 6-3-1 in conference play. Although a conference title is no longer in site, players and coaches feel as if they are peaking at the right time of the season.
Like his team, Hartman also is peaking. His three-point effort came on the heels of another three-point game where he posted a goal and two assists in Buffalo’s 5-1 win at Holy Angels.
“We’re just out to win games,” Hartman said. “We want to get ready for the playoff run. We had a long week with two road games and getting back late on school nights. But we’re battling hard and it’s been fun.”
The Bison return to action with a 6 p.m. home game Thursday, Feb. 4 against Moorhead. Two nights later, they have a 7 p.m. tilt on Saturday, Feb. 6 at St. Michael-Albertville. The game lands on Hockey Day Minnesota.
Buffalo 5, Holy Angels 1
(Thursday, Jan. 28 at Richfield)
Bison 0 2 3 - 5
Stars 0 0 0 - 1
First period: No scoring.
Second period: B -- Tom Rooney (Michael Sawdey, Cade Stensby) 3:38; B -- Blake Habisch (Brady Hartman, Nick Mueller) 15:50.
Third period: B -- Stensby, 9:26; B -- Habisch (Mueller, Hartman) 11:30; B -- Hartman (Gavin Welch, Kevin Kemp) 13:30; HA -- Dylan Rallis, 15:00.
Goalies: B – Taylor Strenge (win) 22 shots, 21 saves; HA – Sean Daley (loss) 33 shots, 28 saves; Shots: B -- 8-12-13 – 33; HA -- 11-5-6 – 22. Power Plays: B – 0-2; HA – 0-4.
Buffalo 4, Rogers 3, OT
(Saturday, Jan. 30 at Buffalo)
Royals 0 2 1 0 - 3
Bison1 2 0 1 - 4
First period: B -- Brady Hartman (Gavin Welch) 3:09.
Second period: R -- Dustin Schoepke (Tate Nelson) 6:07; B -- Hartman, 7:04; R -- Jordan Fischer (Schoepke, Jake Moss) 11:41; B -- Luke Ramsey (Conley Stumpfl, Hartman).
Third period: R -- Vinny Billing (Nate Thelen, Fischer).
Overtime: B -- Blake Habisch (Tom Rooney, Cade Stensby) 1:09.
Goalies: R – Jonny Preusse (loss) 27 shots, 23 saves; B – Taylor Strenge (win) 25 shots, 22 saves; Shots: R -- 5-8-12-0 – 25; B -- 6-14-4-3 – 27. Power Plays: R – 0-0; B – 0-0.