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Polars stars keep hot streak alive

By Justin Magill, Hockey Hub staff, 12/08/11, 1:45AM CST


North St. Paul's big-time players come up huge against Spring Lake Park

It may come as a shock, but George Splichal only had one goal in a 6-2 North St. Paul victory against Spring Lake Park on Dec. 7 at Polar Arena.

In each of the Polars' previous three games, his lowest goal total was two.

However, he didn't need to take on the burden of being the go-to guy to put the puck in the net.

All he had to do was look to his linemates, Justin and Tyler Oliver, and have those two help out, which they did admirably.

The hardest thing Splichal may have had to do was figure out who was Justin and who was Tyler.

As twins, Justin and Tyler played liked they have never been separated, setting each other up for scoring chances, which Justin capitalized on twice.

"That is kind of what happens when you have been playing together for eight years," Tyler said. "It just kind of happens that way."

Similar to what is seen as no-look-passes on the basketball court, Justin and Tyler find a way to do it on the ice.

"Most of the time we don't even have to look, we just know where each other are on the ice," Tyler said.

"It's like second nature," Justin added. "I will be facing the opposite direction, but I know where he will be and just pass it to him"

It has not been uncommon this season for one of the two sophomores finding themselves with a wide-open net to shoot at, because the other somehow made a pass that found the tape perfectly for an easy goal.

"I was told I won't believe it until I saw it," Polars coach Jerry Diebel said. "I didn't think I would until I did last year when they were freshmen."

In just four games Justin has accumulated 15 points, which is good enough for second on the Polars.

He is outdone by Tyler, whose four assists against Spring Lake Park gave him 16 points on the season.

"I'm always amazed by what they do," Splichal said. "They are fun to watch and play with because they create so much on the ice."

On the first Oliver-from-Oliver goal, scored with just three second left in the first period, Tyler was able to find Justin on a pretty one-timer.

It was just one of many times the two attempted to set each other up for an easy, backdoor goal.

"They're sneaky," Panthers goalie Brandon Jones said. "You think you have it covered, but they find a way to get open and you don't see it."

With all the success the Oliver's have had together, Splichal has joined in on the parade of points when he has centered the two.

Even on some of the set plays Justin and Tyler have been building, as if it were to be an NFL playbook.

"We starting building our own little plays about five years ago," Tyler said. "Over time we have just been building on them progressively and slowly been getting George (Splichal) into them too. 

"Almost all of our points come from each other."

When Splichal has been the center, it has formed a nearly perfect bond for the three.

Splichal will grind it out on face offs, stay disciplined in the defensive zone and cash in on offense.

The "O's" as Diebel calls them, pounce on loose pucks and and create numerous odd-man rushes or other quality scoring chances because of what Splichal does on his end.

"George (Splichal) does a great job for them," Diebel said. "He works hard out there, especially in our own end and the O's have played great with him as well."

For all the hard work Splichal has done this season, when he gets a chance to relax, he gets to see a pretty good show in the Oliver's.

"I wish I could do half the stuff they do," Splichal said. "They've been working on it so long, so it's really special to see what they've done."

Hot start, but can't forget about defense

 Dec. 7 marked the first time in the young season Splichal did not record more than one goal in a game.

In each of the previous three, he has scored three, three and two respectively.

Nine goals in just four games had made Splichal one of the top goal scorers in the state already and he just continues to shoot the puck.

"I've realized that no shot is a bad shot," Splichal said. "I've scored some goals from some real bad angles and if you don't score, there's usually somebody there for a rebound to put it away."

Splichal is on a role and he said he knows it.

Now, he is making sure he makes the most of his chances.

"I've learned to capitalize on my opportunities," Splichal said. "It's just hard work and shooting everyday."

Putting in time and proving that a strong work ethic can lead to success, Splichal is not short on natural talent either.

His goal-scoring and playmaking abilities are noticed by others who know how to put the puck in the net.

"He probably has the sickest hands I have ever seen," Tyler said. "He's done stuff that no one else I have ever seen done with the puck."

Splichal's play has helped the Polars average 6.5 goals-per-game this season, which has allowed for their defensive play to develop.

Prior to the 6-2 win against Spring Lake Park, North St. Paul allowed five goals to St. Francis, but were still able to win.

If those wins are going to increase, defensive play must improve, Diebel said.

"We have to play better in our own end," he said. "We all know that because if we play like this, we might allow seven against Hill-Murray or St. Thomas (Academy).

"But we are getting better and we have Manny (Eric Manteuffel) in net, who can keep games close for us against those teams."

On the schedule are tough games against Classic Suburban Conference teams like defending Class A champions, St. Thomas Academy and perennial state power Hill-Murray.

There is also the rivalries with South St. Paul, Tartan and Mahtomedi that bring out the best in both teams, so the competition will be tough from here on out for the Polars as they play teams that can possibly match them in the goal scoring department.

What North St. Paul will need to do is more than likely score like it is now, while not sacrificing the play in its own zone.

"We are coming together as a team and we still have some things to work on," Splichal said. "Right now it is paying off, but we are realizing that defense wins games and that is what we need to work on when we play Hill-Murray, St. Thomas (Academy) and Tartan."

"We just have to come out and not be intimidated," Justin added. "We have to play the body and our style of hockey."

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

 Spring Lake Park's David Taylor scored 29 seconds in, but it could not cool of North St. Paul's offense as it defeated the Panthers 6-2 on Dec. 7 at Polar Arena.

Ryan Nicolai and Justin Oliver each had two goals for the Polars, while Justin's brother, Tyler, recorded four assists.

George Splichal added a goal and an assist and Ryan Donovan chipped in with a goal of his own.

After Taylor's goal, North St. Paul scored five unanswered goals to break the game open.

Coming in, Splichal had scored at least two goals in the previous three games, which included hat trick's in the first two.

He concluded the scoring with an empty net goal to give him nine so far on the season.

Nicolai put North St. Paul on the board when he was able to find the back of the net as Panthers goalie Brandon Jones was scrambling through the crease.

North St. Paul took a 3-1 lead into the locker room after the first 17 minutes of play, which included goals by Donovan and Oliver.

Nicolai struck again in the second to give the Polars a 4-1 lead, a score that stayed that way until the third period.

Justin Oliver made it 5-1 10 minutes, 18 seconds into the third, while the Panthers Brandon Reimann scored less than two minutes later.

With an empty net, Splichal kept his goal-scoring streak going when he got a loose puck at center ice and cruised in for the easy goal.

Brandon Jones finished the game with 33 saves for the Panthers, while his counterpart, Eric Manteuffel, rebounded nicely after giving up an early goal, making 38 saves for the win.

North St. Paul improves to 4-0-0 on the season and will play Henry Sibley on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Polar Arena.

The loss drops Spring Lake Park to 2-1-0 and will host St. Paul Academy on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Fogarty Arena.

 1. Ryan Nicolai, North St. Paul
After the Polars went down 1-0 just 29 seconds into the game, it was Nicolai who got North St. Paul on the board. His goal sparked the Polars offensive attack, as they continued to hound Spring Lake Park for the rest of the period, scoring two more goals in the period to take a 3-1 lead after 17 minutes of play. At around the same elapsed time in the second, Nicolai scored again to give the Polars a commanding 4-1 lead.

2. Justin and Tyler Oliver, North St. Paul
The twins combined for six points, Justin with two goals and Tyler with four assists. Both of Justin's goals were assisted by Tyler, the first being a two-on-one that Justin buried with three seconds left in the first in what ended up being the game winner. The connection they have on the ice was put on display in a big way as they once again put up impressive offensive numbers, which put both near the top of the state.

3. George Splichal, North St. Paul
Through four games, Splichal has nine goals, one coming on an empty net late in the third. He also assisted on Justin Oliver's power play goal earlier in the third to give him his fourth multi-point night in as many games. This was the first time this season that Splichal was held below the two-goal mark on the stats sheet, but his play on both ends of the ice allowed for teammates, such as the Oliver twins to put up points as well. Splichal was solid on draws, played well defensively, all of which did not sacrifice his play in the Panthers zone.

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