The Duluth East Greyhounds hopped on the bus and traveled south on Interstate 35 Tuesday night and stopped in Blaine for a date with the Bengals. The #3 Hounds were coming off a Consolation Championship at the Schwan Cup Silver Division and the #7 Blaine Bengals shut-out the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks 5-0 this past Saturday.
Each team still had memories of tough losses in the backs of their minds as it was the opening round 4-2 loss at the hands of the Breck Mustangs that jolted the Hounds. Star Hound defenceman Derek Forbort was not available for the Schwan Cup as he was participating with the U17 US team in Victoria BC and his absence was felt. The Bengals admittedly played one of their most uninspired games in recent memory against the Edina Hornets in an 8-4 loss seen on MyFoxHockey.com.
Forbort was back in the line-up and his Hounds brought their swagger to Fogerty Arena. The Hornets hammered the Bengals in their defensive zone a week and a half ago while the main question resounded, would the Bengals be able to show that the Hornet game was an aberration?
The Bengals answered the question emphatically and put together one of the most well played games viewed on MyFoxHockey.com this season in capturing a 5-3 win over the Hounds. After a scoreless yet defensively polished first period by both teams, Blaine's Zac Frischmon scored as he walked in from high in the slot and beat Hounds goalie Matt Cooper to the high blocker pad side with a bullet of a shot at 5:44 of the first period.
The Bengals (11-1, 5-0) took advantage of a turnover as a Hounds power play expired. Taylor Richart fed Luke Bayer who raced down the slot and fired a shot that wiggled through the wickets of Cooper. Bayer's 10th goal of the game gave the Bengals a 2-0 lead and momentum through the second period.
As the Hounds (8-2-1) always do, they fought back and it was Joe Nelson converting a beautiful pass from behind the Blaine net from Max Tardy. Nelson's 4th goal of the season came with :23 seconds left in the second period.
The game had numerous ebbs and flows, as the Bengals stifled the Hounds with physical and steady play in their defensive zone. When they weren't in battles down low, the Bengals didn't allow many shot through from the talented Hound defence as Forbort's bombs were blocked or stick was on Joe Arbour's shots. Nick Bjugstad was committed to all three zones and his size and offensive flair was on full display.
It was Bjugstad that forced a turnover at the Hounds line an broke in the zone off the left side. As he cut to the forehand from the slot area, he ripped his 15th of the season past Cooper for the 3-1 lead.
It was a puck that took a Hounds bounce that energized Duluth East. Sean Klun who battled all night, especially on the forecheck. A clearing attempt by the Bengals deflected off a Blaine stick and cruised under the stick of a surprised Harper at 2:09 of the third on the power play.
Joe Arbour fired a rocket past Harper just 1:55 later to escalate the already intense Fogarty Arena to playoff like levels. They battled back and forth through the third period until a whistle forced a faceoff in the Hounds zone.
Clayton Wagamon crashed the net after the draw and was able to poke the puck home for the 4-3 lead at 10:47. The Hounds battled and had a couple of glorious chances with the extra attacker. The Bengals held them off and it was Benny Brovold who won a battle and gained the neutral zone by winning a race to a loose puck. As he won the race, he sent the puck at the open net for the 5-3 victory.
One of the best games of the season was witnessed on MyFoxHockey.com. Be sure to log on to the hockey archives to see a game that any hockey purist would appreciate. The defensive zone play by both teams was sterling, the goaltending was good, and the offensive creativity was impressive. It was truly a pleasure to call a classic game Tuesday night.
The Hounds hopped back on the bus and traveled north on I35 and will travel to Elk River for what proves to be another barn burner. on Saturday. The North Metro Stars travel to Fogarty Thursday where they have had considerable success in Northwest Suburban Conference action.