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Pioneers dig deep for Gold

By MN Hockey Hub and Star Tribune staff, 12/28/12, 11:55PM CST


Hill-Murray wins Schwan Cup Gold Division title over St. Thomas Academy in shootout

Hill-Murray won the Schwan Cup Gold Division title after beating St. Thomas Academy in a shootout. The game ended in a 3-3 overtime time. Photo by Adam Crane

Willie Brown

The last five minutes of Hill-Murray’s hockey practices is reserved for players to sharpen moves that could result in goals.

Willie Brown has used the time wisely.

Brown’s deft shootout goal clinched a 4-3 victory against St. Thomas Academy (No. 1, Class 1A) in Friday’s Schwan Cup Gold Division championship game at Ridder Arena. The game will be officially recorded as a 3-3 tie but that did not damper Brown’s excitement.

With the teams tied 1-1 in the best-of-three shootout, Brown went to his backhand and made Cadets’ goaltender David Zevnik “bite a little bit” then switched to his forehand and blistered a shot into the upper corner.

“Especially since we suffered that loss to them earlier it was a really good way to end this game,” Brown said, referring to the Cadets’ 2-1 victory Dec. 15. “Scoring the game-winner tops it off.”

Hill-Murray (No. 2, Class 2A) jumped to a 2-0 second period lead Friday on goals from Zach Mills and Mitch Slattery. It was the first time in seven games the Cadets allowed more than two goals.

“When you play a team that’s as good as they are defensively you want to keep getting pucks to the net,” said Pioneers assistant coach Pat Schafhauser, who filled in for head coach Bill Lechner. Lechner flew to Colorado on Friday to meet a new grandchild.

The Cadets showed grit in coming back. Goals from Alex Johnson and Alex Broetzman tied the game 2-2 at the second intermission.

Hill-Murray defenseman Sam Becker broke the deadlock on a shot from the point at 6:08 of the third period. But the Cadets rallied to tie it 3-3 at 9:54 on a rebound goal from Gunnar Regan.

The teams did not score in the eight-minute overtime period, forcing a shootout. Slattery scored for the Pioneers and Henry Hart got the Cadets on the board. But Brown got the final word.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

Hill-Murray's Willie Brown fires a pass in the Pioneers' victory over St. Thomas Academy. Brown scored the winner in a shootout. Photo by Adam Crane

Gridlock results in great game

Like the meeting of a cold front and a warm front, No. 2-ranked Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy (No. 1, Class 1A) clashed in a 3-3 tie Friday. 

Hill-Murray brought its usual offensive flair, heating up the building. The Cadets' defense was an ice bath, freezing out any flashes of scoring.

Just like when two weather systems meet, a storm broke out at Ridder Arena.

In what was maybe the best game of the 2012-13 season so far, the strengths of the old rivals were showcased as the game grinded to a high-intensity stalemate and left the teams tied in nearly every category.

Three goals each, 38 shots on net and an impressive zero penalty minutes. When one team had a scoring chance, the other answered. Big hits were traded. Even an extra 8 minutes of overtime wasn’t enough to find a winner.

“It was a heavyweight battle,” St. Thomas Academy co-head coach Greg Vannelli said. “Each team had their punches right. The momentum just kept going back and forth.”

In most high school games, mistakes are easy to find. They cause goals, penalties happen, breakdowns go both ways. On Friday they were few and far between.The goals came mostly on rebounds and opportunities created by strength and grinding towards the net.

With nobody in the box, the game flowed end-to-end and didn’t allow one team to get an upper hand.

“I like when the refs call it like that,” Hill-Murray senior captain Zach LaValle said about the absence of penalties. “Gives us a chance to play hockey actually. There was a few shots out there they could have called but I enjoyed just playing the game of hockey five-on-five.”

With a nice rhythm going on the ice, Hill-Murray assistant coach Pat Schafhauser preached error-free hockey as a key to coming out on top.

“Simple is better, especially when you are playing against a really skilled team like [St. Thomas Academy] who is also sound defensively” he said. “Trying to do too much with the puck often leads to turnovers.”

Despite the impasse, Hill-Murray was happy to exit the game with the title of Schwan Cup Gold Division champions even though no team has ever won this division and gone on to win a state championship – with Duluth East being the latest victim.

“It gives us a lot of momentum going into the second half of the year,” LaValle said. “We’re just gonna keep moving forward, trying to get better every day.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff


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Game Recap

Willie Brown and Mitch Slattery scored in a shootout to hand Hill-Murray the Schwan Cup Gold Division crown in a 3-3 tie with Classic Suburban Conference rival St. Thomas Academy Friday, Dec. 28, at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

In an incredible stalemate of a game, both teams toughed it out with spectacular defense and high intensity. Mitch Slattery scored a highlight-reel goal and three players scored for both teams in regulation.

In the end, the flashy offense of No. 2-ranked (Class 2A) Hill-Murray (10-1-1) came through in the shootout.

Both teams had 38 shots on net, and goaltenders David Zevnik of St. Thomas Academy and John Dugas of Hill-Murray each made 35 saves, not including the shootout.

The first period ended tied at zero, with Hill-Murray getting an upper hand in shots and scoring chances. Neither team took a penalty.

End-to-end play erupted when the Pioneers put up two goals in the second to take the lead.

Junior Zach Mills got the scoring started, and Slattery wowed the crowd with some dipsy-doodling stickhandling to beat multiple defenders and senior goaltender David Zevnik.

The No. 1-ranked (Class 1A) Cadets (8-1-1) came roaring back in the period as senior Alex Johnson scored a five-hole goal and Alec Broetzman tacked on another.

Hill-Murray's Sam Becker and St. Thomas Academy's Gunnar Regan scored goals for the squads in the third period, sending the game to overtime. 

The Pioneers scored twice in the shootout. Henry Hart scored the lone shootout goal for the Cadets.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

1. Mitch Slattery, Hill-Murray
The great unknown, a junior forward scored a fabulous goal in regulation and had a stunning shootout goal to help Hill-Murray take the championship. He is second in scoring on the Pioneers with 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists).

2. Willie Brown, Hill-Murray
His shootout game-winner was the deciding factor in a gridlocked matchup. He made a few nice moves before finishing and bracing for his screaming and charging teammates. It takes guts to take the anchor spot on the shootout and he earned it.

3. Jack Dougherty, St. Thomas Academy
The junior defenseman had an assist on the game-tying goal in the third period for the Cadets and contributed to the lockdown defense. Dougherty and his defense partners kept the high-flying Pioneers to the outside of the rink throughout the game.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

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