Elk River's Andrew Zerban (9) who scored one goal and had one assist skates the puck up the ice as Andrew Bertrand (5) of Centennial closes in. Photo by Helen Nelson
Elk River toted a perfect 3-0-0 record into the Centennial Sports Arena in Circle Pines on Tuesday, Dec. 6,
The Elks might have been long on wins, but they were short on swagger.
Coming off a 3-2 victory against Anoka on Saturday, but they didn't receive the typical celebratory post game speech from coach Tony Sarsland.
Sarsland told his players that, despite the win, their performance was unacceptable.
"We played horrible against Anoka," he said. "I went into the locker room, we won, but I said that was absolutely horrible and I said you played horrible, I coached horrible and my staff coached horrible.
"Then I asked my assistant coach, who I have been with for 20 years, I said in all the years you've been with me, have I ever come into the locker room after we won a game and said we were horrible?"
It is fair to say the Elks got Sarsland's message en route to a 5-3 victory over a Centennial team that threw a scare into No. 3-ranked (Class 2A) Minnetonka in an eventual 2-1 loss on Saturday.
Ryan Heid gave Elk River a 1-0 lead 25 seconds into the game when he picked up a loose puck on the Elks' blue line and was off on a breakaway, where he made a quick move to his backhand and slipped the shot by Centennial goalie Brian Anderson.
"It was a pretty goal that was scored," Sarsland said. "Now this is a senior, that if you would have asked me as a sophomore if he would ever play for me I would have said no, but he has just worked his buns off.
"He's a physical specimen now, he's got great speed, he's getting much better confidence about one-on-one situations."
Less than four minutes into the game, Elk River found itself with a 2-0 lead when Nick McCormack scored his first goal of the season.
"It was a great way to start coming off a tough game," Elks forward Jered McLaughlin said. "We didn't bury our chances whatsoever against Anoka, didn't play good as a team, took bad penalties."
Coming out and responding like Elk River did proved that it can take some adversity and criticism and turn it into something positive.
"They came out quick," Centennial coach Ritch Menne said. "We had a puck jump our stick, and they grabbed all the momentum."
Momentum was a key word used by Menne because after the first period, it seemed to go back-and-forth until the final buzzer sounded.
Centennial cut Elk River's lead to one on three occasions but could never find a way to tie the game.
Shortly after the Cougars would cut the deficit, Elk River came right back, wasting little time in regaining its two-goal lead.
"It was a roller coaster ride," Menne said. "Every time we claw our way back, they'd jump up by two."
When the Elks needed a backstop, goalie Anders Franke was there. A senior who played in the Upper Midwest Elite Hockey League this fall, he finished with 28 saves.
"He's a great goalie," McLaughlin said. "He knows he's the backstop of this team. We can play an average night, but we have a chance to win because of him."
After the first 17 minutes went to Elk River, the Cougars were the aggressors in the final 34.
They outshot the Elks 21-12 during the last two periods and had a great chance to tie the game in the closing minute, but could not solve Franke or a tough Elk River defense.
"We got nervous towards the end," McLaughlin added. "We just had to bear down and get the puck out, block shots and do the little things."
Jake Jeremko (5) of Elk River celebrates after scoring a goal against Centennial in the second period. Photo by Helen Nelson
In defeat, and even in victory, there is plenty that can be learned.
For Elk River, and more notably McLaughlin, school was in session on the cost of making mistakes.
Wtih Elk River holding a slim lead, McLaughlin was called for hooking in the third period.
The worst part of it was his penalty was in the Cougars' zone, a healthy distance away from Elk River's net.
On the ensuing power play, Joe Hess' shot from the point found beat Elk River elite goaltender Anders Franke, and the Cougars were within striking distance.
Knowing that this would be a close game until the end, McLaughlin figured he had to do something.
When the Cougars pulled Anderson for an extra attacker, they poured on the pressure, but McLaughin, along with the help of his teammates, were able to deter a numerous amount of scoring chances and preserve a victory as he iced the game with an empty net goal.
"After I took that penalty in the offensive zone, I knew I had to contribute back to my team," McLaughlin said. "It was nice to put that last one in. I felt like I contributed more."
In defeat, Menne said there was plenty Centennial can take from it, both negative and positive.
First being that losing and losing tough games when victory is so close is a nasty taste.
"It's a good lesson for our kids," Menne said. "It should hurt a little bit and realize that they don't like to lose."
What Menne also got a glimpse of is a team that never gives up.
Centennial went down 2-0 early in the game and instead of packing it in, it stuck in and never let Elk River extend the lead to where a comeback would be out of question.
In the second, the Cougars cut the lead to 2-1 and shortly after, Elk River would get it right back to a two-goal lead.
Again, Centennial would cut it and the two exchanged punches that way.
Needless, the Cougars, who lost to Minnetonka by a goal last week, proved they can be right in the thick of it with some of the best teams in the state.
"We were proud of our kids for that, that they kept fighting and clawing," Menne said. "If we tie it up, who knows? We gain momentum and I think the train comes, but we couldn't scratch our way back."
After a strong start, which included a goal just 25 seconds in, Elk River hung on for a 5-3 victory against Centennial on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at the Centennial Sports Arena in Circle Pines.
The Elks' Ryan Heid opened the scoring when he slipped in backhand.
Less than 3 minutes later, Nick McCormack made it 2-0 as Elk River seized control of the first period.
Jordan Pitlick put the Cougars on the board in the second period when he scored on a rebound to beat Elks goalie Anders Franke.
One minute, 16 seconds later, the Elks regained their two-goal lead when freshman Jake Jaremko tallied a power-play goal, which gave Elk River a 3-1 lead going into the third period.
The game got a little wild and lot interesting in the final 17 minutes.
Three goals were scored in 2 minutes, 5 seconds, with the Cougars' Joe Hess starting the scoring on the power play.
Andrew Zerban gave the Elks their two-goal lead back 41 seconds later and Hans Gorowsky pulled Centennial back within a goal 1 minute, 24 seconds after.
Centennial pulled goalie Brian Anderson with more than a minute left for the extra attacker and had the puck in the Elks' zone for a majority of that time.
Elk River was able to clear, and Jered McLaughlin was set loose to grab the puck and put it into an empty net with a second left to give the Elks a 5-3 win.
Heid, McCormack and Zerban each had a goal and an assist for multi-point nights for the Elks, while Franke finished with 28 saves.
Hess had a goal and an assist for Centennial while Nick Larsen and Adam Lovick recorded two assists.
Elk River improves to 4-0-0, all wins in the Northwest Suburban Conference and will stay in conference play when it hosts Blaine on Saturday, Dec. 10.
Centennial drops to 1-2-0 (1-1-0 NSC) and will travel to Bloomington Jefferson on Thursday, Dec. 8.
1. Ryan Heid, Elk River
Heid delivered on a message from his coach that the Elks previous game against Anoka was unacceptable and scored 25 seconds into the game. It gave instant spark to a team that needed some fire after a poor showing the game prior. He also had an assist for a two point night.
2. Anders Franke, Elk River
When Centennial made its push, Franke stood tall. He received praise from both, his coach and Cougars coach Ritch Menne for his performance. He stopped 28 of 31 shots for his fourth win of the season.
3. Joe Hess, Centennial
In the third, Hess scored a key power play goal, shortly after the Cougars had to kill a penalty of their own. On top of recording an assist as well, Hess has been an anchor on the blue line for Centennial not only in its game against Elk River, but for the season. Hess showed no signs mailing it in when his team went down 2-0. If anything, his played picked up and was a reason why the Cougars had a shot at the end.
Elk River senior goalie Anders Franke (31) faced 31 shots and made 28 saves during the game against Centennial. Photo by Helen Nelson