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On the Prowl

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/07/12, 11:00PM CST


Thief River Falls roars past New Ulm to continue seeded teams' dominance

Thief River Falls' Tanner Nessen beats New Ulm's Brach Kraus for the second of his back-to-back goals in the second period. Photo by Adam Crane

Tanner Nessen looked downright sheepish as he sat on the dais during the postgame press conference. His eyes cast downward, the Thief River Falls senior quietly answered questions about the Prowlers’ 5-1 victory over New Ulm in the final Class A quarterfinal Wednesday, March 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Call it a reflection of the staid Norwegian northwestern corner of the state from which he comes.

Don’t get too excited.

Don’t show too much emotion.

And certainly don’t toot your own horn.

Nessen could have had a full brass band in his honor, though, after scoring two goals to propel the Prowlers (23-4-2) past upset-minded New Ulm (17-12-0). His back-to-back tallies in the second period turned a tight 2-1 game into a commanding lead. It was also the first multiple-goal game of the season for Nessen, who came into the tournament with just eight goals – and only one in his last nine games.

“It’s always exciting to play the X,” Nessen shrugged.

Thief River Falls' Riley Soderstrom, left, scored twice as the Prowlers beat New Ulm 5-1. Photo by Adam Crane

As a junior, Nessen played on the Prowlers’ third line for their third-place finish at state. He split up with his linemates of a year ago, but has found a new winning combination on the second line with Logan Engelstad and Connor Doherty.

Their contributions were certainly needed against New Ulm, which found itself in a close game after being blown out in the state quarterfinals by double-digits in each of the previous two years. The Eagles were buzzing after leading more than half of the first period on Jeff Banal’s goal.

Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Thief River Falls was back on its heels against a team it was expected to easily defeat.

The Prowlers needed a boost. And Nessen was ready to warm up the band.

One minute, 17 seconds into the second frame he capped a tic-tac-toe passing play from Chris Forney, tapping the puck into a gaping net. Then just under seven minutes later, Nessen’s eyes widened and his stride quickened as a loose puck bounced into open ice across the New Ulm blue line.

“I saw my linemate chip it off the glass, I knew I had the defense beat, and I finally caught up to the puck,” Nessen said.

From there, the infrequent goal scorer knew what he wanted to do – and it wasn’t a pretty deke move. No, he went straight to the tough-guy northern hockey route.

“I crashed the net and buried it,” Nessen said.

That made it two goals in six minutes, 52 seconds for Nessen, who briefly raised his arms in celebration in a rare show of emotion. On the other side of the glass, the Thief River Falls pep band cranked out the school song in full blaring, blatting glory.

And the band played on.

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Thief River Falls' Tanner Nessen (19) looks for a rebound as New Ulm's Brach Kraus makes one of his 33 saves. Photo by Adam Crane

Thief River Falls' Tanner Nessen (19) looks for a rebound as New Ulm's Brach Kraus makes one of his 33 saves. Photo by Adam Crane

Advantage to the seeds

New Ulm injected some intrigue into the fourth and final state Class 1A state tournament quarterfinal game.

The Eagles were the only unseeded team to get a lead Wednesday, but the advantage was short-lived.

No. 4 seed and No. 4 ranked Thief River Falls scored five unanswered goals in a 5-1 victory. A New Ulm loss dropped unseeded teams to 2-22 in six years of seeding tournament fields 1-4 and selecting opponents by blind draw.

New Ulm’s Jeff Banal scored about four minutes into the first period off a well-executed faceoff play.

“It was just what the doctor ordered,” coach Erik Setterholm said. “It gave our kids some bounce.”

Setterholm said his team went on to generate “good pressure, even more than I anticipated.”

But the Eagles had not played an opponent the caliber of Thief River Falls this season, and it showed as the Prowlers mounted a comeback.

They responded with two goals and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. And they kept prowling around the New Ulm net.

Tanner Nessen scored twice in the second period. On his second goal, Nessen chased down a puck flipped down the ice by teammate Austin Odberg and finished the breakaway chance with a backhand shot. Odberg finished with three assists.

“I saw [Odberg] chip it off the glass and I knew I had the defense beat,” Nessen said. “Then I got in and I knew I had to beat the goalie, so I found the corner.”

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune

Replay put to good use

When Thief River Falls forward Isak Bergland's shot in the first period was stopped by New Ulm goalie Brach Kraus, Bergland's his arms went up as if he had tied the game for the Prowlers.

The problem was the officials ruled that the puck did not cross the goal, line as Kraus stretched out his left hand to make what was initially ruled a glove save.

Thinking nothing off it, Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland was ready to send out his next line.

There was a quick conference by the officials and they decided to have another look.

"I was ready to change my line and go," Tim Bergland said. "It didn't even dawn to me that it might be a goal.

"Then they came to the bench and they thought it went in."

For Isak Bergland, there was no doubt that he scored his fifth goal of the season and first since Jan. 31.

"I saw the goalie catch it and looked like it was behind the goal line," Isak Bergland said. "And the ref said they'd review it."

"I'm very happy to be perfectly honest," Tim Bergland said. "Once he shot it, from the angle we were at, it was a non issue for me."

The Minnesota State High School League implemented the rule to use instant replay on goals starting in the 2006 state tournament.

Officials on the ice and a video replay official would have the ability to review any questionable goals using instant replay.

Minnesota was the first state to use instant replay in high school athletics.

"It was clear at the end that it went in, so obviously I was ecstatic," Tim Bergland said. "It was a big goal for us because we had some chances and didn't get anything out of it, but to get that one was nice."

If this isn't the Class A state tournament, Isak Bergland's shot is not a goal and the Prowlers would have had to continue to try to solve Kraus, who was solid in facing 19 shots in the first period.

"They had that one goal called a goal that in the other 28 games we played this year, you know that's not a goal," New Ulm coach Erik Setterholm said. "But here at the 'X' it is and that's the way it is."

-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff

New Ulm goaltender Brach Kraus makes a save on Thief River Falls' Chris Forney during the quarterfinals of the state Class 1A tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo by Adam Crane

No comfort in winning

Thief River Falls head coach Tim Bergland didn’t shy away from the truth following his team’s 5-1 Class 1A quarterfinal win over New Ulm on Wednesday, March 7.

Despite not knowing much about the Eagles, and even though his team pulled out win, Bergland thought the Prowlers weren’t good enough.

No excuses.

“I can’t say much about New Ulm; we’ve never seen them before,” Bergland said. “Just looking at ourselves, I know I wasn’t satisfied with where we were. Part of it could be us being in the state tournament and nerves and those sorts of things, but our execution was pretty average, and average doesn’t cut it right now.”

Luckily, Thief River Falls will have a day to prep for its next opponent, top-seeded, top-ranked and unbeaten Hermantown. But at this point, Bergland can’t find much security in the effort from Wednesday.

“I don’t know how comfortable we are (going into the Hermantown game),” Bergland said. “At this stage of the game we need to make sure we’re on edge. We’ve got a task ahead of us.”

At the very least, Bergland and his players know that they can hang with the unbeaten Hawks. Hermantown beat Thief River Falls 3-1 on Dec. 27 in Thief River Falls.

Sure, that might not make the task any easier. But it might hold a hidden lesson.

“We need to play 51 minutes, we were up on them in the holiday tournament and they came out hard in the third period,” senior Tanner Nessen said. “We can’t let them do that again.”

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Following three game’s worth of lopsided results to kick off the state Class 1A tournament, unseeded New Ulm was the last hope for the underdogs.

The Eagles (17-12-0) struck first on a goal by senior defenseman Jeff Banal just 4 minutes, 8 seconds into the opening period, but the lead lasted less than 8 minutes.

It was soon back to reality.

No. 4 seed and No. 4-ranked Thief River Falls (23-4-2) scored all of its goals unanswered in its 5-1 victory on Wednesday, March 7, dropping unseeded teams to 2-22 in the quarterfinals all-time in six years of seeding the state tournament.

Tanner Nessen and Riley Soderstrom each scored twice, and Austin Odberg had three assists for the Prowlers.

Nessen's goals came in a span of 6 minutes, 52 seconds in the second period as Thief River Falls' lead ballooned to 4-1.

Goaltender Jon Narverud made 25 saves for Thief River Falls before sitting out the last 3:22.

New Ulm's Brach Kraus also exited with 3:22 remaining after stopping 33 shots.

-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune

Thief River Falls goaltender Jon Narverud made 25 saves in the Prowlers' victory over Wyatt Peterson (11) and New Ulm. Photo by Adam Crane

1. Tanner Nessen, Thief River Falls
The senior forward put the game away by scoring the third and fourth goals for the Prowlers. The goals essentially sealed the game for the Prowlers, putting the score out of reach for New Ulm. Nessen only had eight goals and none in the playoffs entering the game. He now has 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists).

2. Riley Soderstrom, Thief River Falls
Soderstrom also scored two goals for the Prowlers. Thief River Falls' senior scoring leader put the Prowlers ahead 2-1 in the first period and capped the scoring with 1:20 left in the second period. He bumped his season total to 29 goals.

3. Brody Peterson, New Ulm
Peterson was all over the place for New Ulm. The senior forward had five shots on goal and earned the assist on the Eagles' lone goal. Peterson has a team high 69 points this season including 41 goals and 28 assists.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Photo Gallery

Hub Prediction

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Zack Friedli Thief River Falls
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