With freshman phenom Shane Gersich across the ocean playing for the U.S. under-16 boys' select team at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria, Holy Family Catholic had to look for other players to shoulder the load on offense.
In the Fire’s 2-1 victory over East Ridge on Tuesday Jan. 3 at Cottage Grove Ice Arena in Cottage Grove, the needed firepower came from an unlikely source – the blue line.
With 5:29 to play in the first period, freshman defenseman Matt Runyon fired a low shot from the point on the power play that snuck past East Ridge goaltender Thomas Wermers to put Holy Family Catholic up 2-0. The goal was Runyon’s first point as a varsity player and the second score by a Fire defenseman in the period.
“It felt pretty good,” Runyon said with a smile about the goal. “I saw the shot the whole way. I was pretty pumped when it went in.”
Even though the Holy Family Catholic defensive crew had stepped out of their ordinary role, they had no trouble getting back to normal. With Runyon’s help, they bottled up East Ridge for the rest of the game.
“The defense played well,” Holy Family Catholic coach Noel Rahn said after the game. “We knew it was gonna be a defensive battle… We knew it was gonna be kind of a muck-and-grind kind of game.
“We had to play well defensively because we knew they were gonna play well defensively.”
The Fire had to lean on their defense during the second and third period, when they took a total of eight penalties for a combined 36 penalty minutes, including two ten minute misconducts for checking-from-behind and boarding.
In the third period, the Fire’s bench was the shortest when defenseman Dylan Woolf was sent off for boarding, leaving their defensive rotation at four kids.
The extra time on the ice didn’t faze Runyon.
“It was pretty tiring but there was a lot of whistles, and a lot of penalties, and there was some timeouts called at the right moments so we got our rest,” he said. “You just gotta stay focused on the game, you can’t give up. You really gotta bear down and you can’t just throw the puck everywhere.”
Runyon’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed by Rahn, who was appreciative of the assets that Runyon brings to the table every day.
“He brings a lot of heart and he works extremely hard,” Rahn said. “He’s not the biggest kid on the team but he brings a lot of pizazz and he’s physical and he skates extremely well for a defenseman. He can play at this level because of his skating ability and his work ethic and I think he’s getting better and better.”
Although Holy Family Catholic moved up to class 2A in the 2010-11 season, they haven’t been able to play as many 2A opponents as they would like to in the future.
Maybe it’s because they class 2A teams they’re playing, they keep beating.
Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over East Ridge moved the Fire to 4-1 on the season against class 2A teams, with their only loss being a close loss to Roseau.
“We gotta go out and prove to the other double-A schools that we’re worthy of competing with them,” Holy Family Catholic coach Noel Rahn said. “Finishing 4-1 isn’t bad. Hopefully some of that gets around the state and some other schools can kind of see Holy Family growing as a program and if they do schedule us they’re gonna get a good game.”
Rahn’s team has faced challenges against tougher opponents, especially considering that a lot of their team consists of ninth and tenth graders.
“They’ve prepared themselves physically to be able to play at the double-A level and I think our program that we offer... in the summer to build strength and power is paying dividends...To be able to play with the double-A schools and to play with some of the top—and beat some of the top single-A schools with such a young team just shows that our kids aren’t intimidated.”
The extra time in the gym plus fabulous young scoring talent has propelled the Fire into a solid club with dangerous upset potential. Shane Gersich, a ninth grader, leads the charge for the team. His 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) are first on Holy Family Catholic and first in the Wright County Conference. Freshman John Peterson is a close second in both, with 30 points (6 goals, 24 assists).
“We’ve got three or four kids that should be playing Bantam hockey right now,” Rahn said. “It’s a great tribute to them that they’ve worked hard in the summer so that when the hockey season does come around they can not only play but be successful on our team.”