It is not often that a sophomore steps up to the plate and delivers, but that is what Pioneers forward Zach LaValle did tonight in a 5-1 win against Mahtomedi.
LaValle scored two goals in a huge Classic Suburban Conference game against a team that has expectations of returning to the state tournament.
Tonight, on a senior-lead team, it was a sophomore who showed Hill-Murray the way to victory.
"I have a role on this team," LaVelle said. "and we all have jobs to do and we did them tonight."
If LaVelle's job is to score big goals this season, Pioneers coach Bill Lechner might have seen his best employee in action.
On his second goal of the game, LaValle showed the poise of an upperclassmen, when he had the puck on a two-on-one. He gave a quick look to his teammate streaking to the net on the left side and instead of sliding it over to him, he fired a quick wrist shot over the glove of Zephyrs goalie Sawyer Marshall and gave Hill-Murray a commanding 4-1 lead.
"You have to turn the knife," LaValle said. "We have to put teams away. You can not let up and just have to keep going.
LaValle was instrumental in getting the game started for the Pioneers as well, when he banged a goal home on a power play in the first period to give Hill-Murray a 1-0 lead and some much needed momentum to begin a road contest.
"Our goal is to always come out hard," LaValle said. "You have to win the first period and the coaches always talk about that."
Mahtomedi, still looking for its first win, came out on fire and made life difficult for the visiting Pioneers. LaValle took some pressure off with his power play tally.
"Getting the first goal was huge," senior Ben Bahe said, who had a goal and an assist. "They came out ready to play and we had a tough task on the road."
Being one of the seniors, Bahe had a hand in some pretty Pioneers goals.
He assisted on the game-winner to Kevin Becker just 15 seconds into the second period, taking away any momentum the Zephyrs may have had from a strong opening period.
Just over five minutes later, he practiced what his coaches preached, got in front of the net and tipped in a shot from Kevin Schulze.
"We just had to get to the net and get back to the basics," Bahe said. "It was just how we practiced all week. Get to the net with position and take advantage of having a power play."
Hill-Murray was attempting to stay away from its third defeat in five games already this season.
The 5-1 win at the St. Croix Rec Center against Mahtomedi was important not just for the conference standings, more so because losing is something the Pioneers did not do frequently last season.
A year ago, it lost a total of three games in what was an impressive state tournament run. The third loss came in the state semifinals against No. 1 Minnetonka, which ended up being a four-overtime thriller.
The Pioneers have played a tough schedule so far and their two losses are against some of the state’s elite. Burnsville beat them in the season opener 6-4 and Benilde-St. Margaret’s (BSM) 3-1.
Classic Suburban Conference (CSC) play has always been good to Hill-Murray. Usually it cleans house on some of the conferences bottom feeders, but gets good challenges from teams like St. Thomas Academy and Mahtomedi.
Its only CSC loss last season was to the Cadets, which was ranked second in Class A most of the season, but lost to the Zephyrs in their section final game.
A tough nonconference schedule has also benefited Hill-Murray, which is battle tested come the postseason. On top of already playing the Blaze, Red Knights and the Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers, Hill-Murray still has White Bear Lake, Breck, Eden Prairie, Holy Angels and Moorhead on the nonconference schedule.
That alone shows why the Pioneers find themselves in the section finals on an annual basis.
"We have no excuses," Bahe said. "The schedule has been tough, but we have seniors on this team that got third in state last year. I think coming in, we kind of expected it. Now we know we have to work for it."
Hill-Murray had an answer for just about everything tonight against Mahtomedi in a 5-1 win at the St. Croix Rec Center tonight.
Zach LaValle scored two huge goals, the first in the opening period after a hungry Zephyrs team came out with a lot of fire.
In the second, he put away another on a two-on-one, where he ripped a shot over the glove of Mahtomedi goalie Sawyer Marshall.
Ben Bahe had a goal and an assist on the night. He assisted on Kevin Becker's game-winning goal in the second, when he fed a beautiful pass to the front where Becker knocked it in for a 2-0 lead just 15 seconds into the period.
After Conner Mars cut the lead to 2-1 on a power play goal that just snuck by Tim Shaughnessy, Bahe tipped in a power play goal of his own to give Hill-Murray a two-goal lead once again.
After LaValle made it 4-1, Luke Voltin added salt to the wound in the third when his back hand got past Marshall early in the third to make it 5-1.
Shaughnessy had 19 saves on the night, while his counterpart was much busier. Marshall was peppered with 39 shots, stopping 34.
Hill-Murray will look to keep its winning ways going against Lakeville South on Saturday at Aldrich Arena. The Zephyrs will remain in conference play taking to the road on Saturday night against North St. Paul.
1. Zach LaValle, Hill-Murray
Easy choice for the games top star. LaValle scored an important first goal in the opening period for the Pioneers on the power play. He later added another in the second that put away the Zephyrs. His second goal was pretty, roofing a shot over the glove of Sawyer Marshall. LaValle had a two-on-one break, gave a look over to his teammate, which might have thrown Marshall off a bit.
2. Ben Bahe, Hill-Murray
If Hill-Murray wants to get back to the state tournament, Bahe is going to need performances like he had tonight. He assisted on Kevin Becker's game winning goal and tallied a power play goal in a beautiful tip in. The Pioneers have nine seniors that dressed tonight and he was one of the best out there.
3. Tim Shaughnessy, Hill-Murray
Although it was a quiet 19 save effort, it was the timely matter of his saves. Late in the first period, he had to make a big save to keep the game 1-0 and not give Mahtomedi any life heading into the second. His only goal allowed was on a Zephyrs power play, which barely got by him. It was a clean game for the senior, who will have to remain solid with Lakeville South and White Bear Lake looming on the schedule.