Hill-Murray eighth-grader Joey Anderson celebrates after scoring his first career varsity goal. Photo by Loren Nelson
Joey Anderson has been part of Hill-Murray's varsity team for a week.
He's had to quickly adjust to the speed, physicality and the aura that differs from the Pioneers' junior varsity team.
To some players there might not be much to deal with, but Anderson is only in eighth grade.
On Thursday Anderson played in his second career varsity game, and it was a big one.
No. 1-ranked (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy visited the No. 2 Pioneers, and Anderson proved Coach Bill Lechner's decision to move him up to the varsity roster was a wise one.
Anderson scored his first career varsity goal in the second period on a backhand shot that beat sprawling Cadets' goalie David Zevnik.
The goal proved to be the game-winner in the Pioneers' 3-1 victory against St. Thomas Academy on Jan. 24 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
"I can't even tell you how this feels," Anderson said. "I am just happy that I am up here and most importantly we got the win."
Hill-Murray eighth-grader Joey Anderson scored a goal, notched an assist and took two penalties in his second varsity game. Photo by Loren Nelson
Anderson got the news he wasn't only going to practice with the varsity but play in his first varsity game on Jan. 18, a day before the Pioneers routed South St. Paul 11-3.
Anderson did not factor into any of the scoring.
"We told him the day before our game against South St. Paul, and he was like 'Oh, OK.' " Lechner said. "He handled it really well, and we were not too concerned after we met with him about it."
Anderson played his youth hockey in Roseville and last summer played with the Minnesota Blades in preparation for the high school season.
Jumping from youth hockey, where he was just learning the physical nature of the sport, to high school's elite hasn't appeared to daunting for the 5-foot-10 Anderson.
He held his own against a physical Cadets team, dishing out hard hits and even taking a couple penalties with his physical play.
"I was really impressed with how he handled himself out there," Pioneers' senior goalie John Dugas said. "St. Thomas (Academy) is physical and like to take the body, and he was right there with them.
"He has the size to take it and I am sure that they (Cadets) knew that he is just an eighth-grader so I am sure they wanted to test him, and he proved that he can."
From the drop of the puck in the first period Anderson was immediately involved.
Willie Brown opened the scoring in the first period with a wrist shot that beat Zevnik in the upper right corner. Anderson got the assist on that goal.
Hill-Murray's Joey Anderson, left, collides with St. Thomas Academy's Tom Novak. Photo by Loren Nelson
Anderson had a scoring chance in the first when he attempted to cut into the slot, but was tied up by the Cadets' Gunnar Regan and fell to the ice before getting the shot off.
"He was the best player on the ice," Pioneers' senior captain Zach Lavalle said. "We won the game, and he was obviously a big part of it with a goal and an assist, but he did more than just that. He had other scoring chances, too and just played a great game for us."
Lavalle is no stranger to being in the limelight at such a young age.
He also cracked the Pioneers varsity roster as an eighth-grader and has excelled ever since. For the past three seasons Lavelle has been a point-producing machine for Hill-Murray and a player it can count on for big goals in big games.
For Lavalle, getting the nod to play varsity hockey as an eighth-grader was not a gut-wrenching experience as some may expect.
"It's just adrenaline," Lavalle said. "You want to get out there and play. Joey (Anderson) just did that tonight and I am so happy for him and what he did. We are all proud of him."
St. Thomas Academy coach Greg Vannelli knows what it is like to have younger players on his varsity roster.
"Hockey is a little bit different, because if you have the skills, you don't have to be the biggest player out there to do well," he said. "In a sport like football, you need to have some size, especially if you are a younger player, but here, if you have the skill set, you can play."
Lechner said Anderson was so modest that he was reluctant to take the puck as a keepsake for scoring his first varsity goal.
"This is just a dream come true," Anderson said. "There is still a lot of hockey left and I am excited to be a part of it."
Eighth-grader Joey Anderson scored the winning goal and assisted on Willie Brown's opening goal to lead No. 2-ranked Hill-Murray to a 3-1 Classic Suburban Conference win against No. 1 (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy on Thursday, Jan. 24 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
Anderson, playing In his second career varsity game, scored his first career goal on a backhand shot that beat St. Thomas Academy goalie David Zevnik.
Brown opened the scoring in the first period when he received a pass from Anderson and beat Zevnik with a wrist shot high glove side.
Ryan Black put Hill-Murray up 3-0 in the third period with a power-play goal on a one-timer from the slot that beat Zevnik low glove side.
St. Thomas Academy's Henry Hart broke the shutout with a shorthanded goal with 31 seconds left in the third period after taking a perfect pass from Seamus Donohue.
The Cadets struggled on the power play going 0-for-3. They did not have many quality chances as Hill-Murray pressured the puck carrier and was able to clear the zone with relative ease.
Pioneers' goalie Jon Dugas was solid in net with 27 saves, while Zevnik stopped 28 for St. Thomas Academy.
With the loss St. Thomas Academy drops to 14-2-1 and will take on North St. Paul on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena.
Hill Murray improves to 15-2-1 and will host Tartan on Saturday, Jan. 26 at Aldrich Arena.
1. Joey Anderson, Hill-Murray
Anerson scored his first career varsity goal, which ended up being the game-winner, in just his second career varsity game in the second period. He also assisted on Willie Brown's goal in the first period. On the big stage for the first time, the eighth-grader proved the spotlight was not too bright for him. Anderson was composed all night and proved, even for his age, he could handle the physical play that the Cadets deliver.
2. John Dugas, Hill-Murray
Dugas is about as cool as they come in net and proved it again with a 27-save effort, which included a handful of huge glove saves against some of the Cadets' premier goal scorers. St. Thomas Academy goalie David Zevnik has been known to steal the show every now and then, but Dugas showed that he can be the difference as well.
3. Willie Brown, Hill-Murray
Brown, playing on a line with Anderson, notched a goal and an assist. The junior scored the opening goal in the first period on a wrist shot that beat Zevnik in the upper right corner and assisted on Anderson's game-winner in the second. Brown had plenty of scoring chances, displaying crafty stickhandling and a hard backhand shot, which he put on net several times.
Hill-Murray's John Dugas makes one of his several spectacular glove saves against St. Thomas Academy. Photo by Loren Nelson