Grand Rapids skaters Cody Mann (16 in black) and Nate Mondry (11) fight for a loose puck in front of Lumberjack goalie John Scheuer as Nate Miemi (16 in white) looks on. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net
With rumblings in hockey circles surfacing about the possibility of Grand Rapids being voted the No. 4-seed for the Section 7AA tournament, the Thunderhawks know that they must play their best hockey in the final month of the season to be one of the top-three seeds come playoff time.
The Thunderhawks used that motivation to battle their way to a 3-2 win over Cloquet/Esko/Carlton on Tuesday, Jan. 17, earning a much needed 7AA victory.
“To stay above Cloquet and stay in the fray for a potential 2 or 3-seed [in the section tournament], we had to win this game and get one more strong section win,” head coach Bruce LaRoque said. “[The win] is important.”
The Thunderhawks entered the 2011-12 campaign as one of the favorites to represent 7AA at the State tournament. However, with a loss to 7AA foe Elk River in mid-December and the defeat at the hands of Duluth East last Thursday, coupled with the fact that Andover is playing some of its best hockey right now, Grand Rapids is fighting to stay in the conversation.
On top of all that, Grand Rapids played its last 7AA game of the regular season on Tuesday night, leaving it zero room for slip-ups in the final month against some stiff non-section opponents.
That’s why the game against Cloquet was a biggie for the Thunderhawks.
“There were rumors going around that we might get the fourth seed, which we really don’t want,” said winger Avery Peterson, who scored an enormous goal for the Thunderhawks against Cloquet. “We were happy just to get the win and maybe come out with the better seed.”
Part of Grand Rapids’ struggles has been because of lapses in its play during big games. In fact, LaRoque has mentioned in the past that the Thunderhawks are struggling to string together three solid periods. Nevertheless, Grand Rapids seems to be figuring out how to play complete games lately, especially in its last two contests.
“We know [the players] come to the rink wanting to play, it’s just a matter of making them know that in order to beat tough teams, you have to play hard every shift, every period and every game,” LaRoque said. “We need to come with that energy, or we’re not going to get better.”
The energy and intensity that LaRoque discussed was the difference for Grand Rapids against Cloquet, as it outshot the Lumberjacks, 39-21, and dictated the pace of the game for almost the entire 51 minutes.
Key players have really stepped up lately, too, giving the Thunderhawks a much-needed boost in its quest for a better seed. Peterson, who has seven goals in his last five games, is just one example of a guy taking his game to the next level in crunch time.
“We’re just trying to bring everything we can to the rink, and we’ve been playing good as team lately,” Peterson said. “We lost a few games there, and we just want to come and play three periods like the coaches say. We did that tonight.”
Nick Koerbitz, Avery Peterson and Travis Underwood scored goals for Grand Rapids, Patrick Flaherty stopped 19 shots and the Thunderhawks skated away with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Section 7AA rivals Cloquet/Esko/Carlton on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.
Grand Rapids, which is fighting to better its 7AA tournament seed, used a balanced, three-period effort to knock off the Lumberjacks.
Peterson got the scoring started 9 minutes, 49 seconds into the game when he wired a shot over Cloquet goalie John Scheuer’s glove. The Thunderhawks flew into the offensive zone on a 3-on-3 rush, fed the red-hot Peterson in the slot and watched as he scored his seventh goal in the last five games.
The Jacks’ Westin Michaud evened the score with a little over 90 seconds to go in the first, batting home a rebound in front of Flaherty.
The goal seemed to get Grand Rapids fully into the game, and it controlled play from there.
The Thunderhawks used a short power play to go back in front 14 minutes, 2 seconds into the middle frame on a shot by Underwood from the top of the crease.
Koerbitz scored on another Grand Rapids power play midway through the third period to give the Thunderhawks a 3-1 lead, proving to be the insurance they needed.
Kaleb Kadelbach scored an unassisted goal just a minute later to make the game interesting at the end, but Flaherty and the Grand Rapids defense stood strong and secured the win.
Six Thunderhawks recorded single assists, including Koerbitz, who was the only Grand Rapids skater to notch a multi-point game.
Scheuer was great between the pipes for the Jacks, turning away 36 shots in the losing effort.
Beau Michaud and Karson Kuhlman each had single helpers for the Lumberjacks.
Grand Rapids (11-5-0) will battle Iron Range Conference rival Hibbing on Thursday night in Hibbing before making the trip to the Twin Cities to square off with White Bear Lake on Saturday morning in Minnetonka. The game will be part of the Hockey Day Minnesota festivities.
Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (12-5-0) stays at home to take on Duluth Denfeld on Thursday night.
1. Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids
The junior defenseman was all over the ice on Tuesday, earning an assist for his efforts against Cloquet/Esko/Carlton. Bischoff’s impact was much greater than the score sheet indicated though, as he created tons of chances in the offensive zone, turned the puck up the rink quickly at the backend and suffocated the Lumberjacks’ best scorers with steady play at the blue line.
2. John Scheuer, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
The Lumberjacks’ assistant captain was spectacular in the cage on Tuesday, turning away 36 of the 39 shots Grand Rapids threw at him. With the Thunderhawks controlling the game, Scheuer made sure to control the puck. His rebounds went to the corner, any shots at his glove or body were held on to and he allowed CEC to be in a position to force overtime late in the contest.
3. Nick Koerbitz, Grand Rapids
The big, strong senior used his size to battle in front of the Cloquet goal, and it eventually paid off when he found a centering pass on his stick late in the third period. Koerbitz buried his opportunity, and it proved to be the game-winning goal. He also had an assist, dishing a pass on the rush that ended with Avery Peterson scoring the game’s first goal.