Thief River Falls goaltender Tanner Holmes (35) reaches behind to make a stop during a 2-1 loss to East Grand Forks Tuesday night. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
Tanner Lindstrom might be a little lighter in the wallet after East Grand Forks' latest victory.
The Green Wave's senior goaltender was in a generous mood after a 2-1 victory over Thief River Falls at Ralph Engelstad Arena -- a win that avenged one of his most forgettable moments of the season. As his teammates filed out of the locker room, Lindstrom glanced over his shoulder before quietly joking, "Maybe I should take (my defense) out to dinner."
It's tough to blame him for keeping it quiet.
If his teammates were within earshot, Lindstrom might have to open his wallet wide. His defensive corps certainly played hungry Tuesday night. They never let any Prowlers even get close to setting the table -- and ate pucks as if they hadn't been fed in a week. The Prowlers (15-9-0) managed only 16 total shots, including just two in the third period as the Green Wave clung to a one-goal lead. Lindstrom stopped 15 of them.
"We put a major emphasis on how we play in our own end, how we play in the neutral zone," said East Grand Forks coach Tyler Palmiscno. "I thought we did a great job limiting their close-in opportunities."
When things are going well for East Grand Forks (19-2-3), that's exactly the recipe they follow. It allowed a young team to race out to a 13-0-2 start to the season and make the Green Wave the last unbeaten program in the state. The start -- and the fact that it came with the Green Wave posting seven shutouts in that span -- was a bit of a surprise to some of the longtime varsity regulars, including senior forward Tommy Hajicek.
"I thought we'd have a little more offensive team and if maybe we had a weak spot, it would be in our defensive zone," admitted Hajicek, who scored the game-winner Tuesday night on a rebound midway through the second period. "But we've worked very hard on our D zone and played very well."
East Grand Forks has a young defensive corps, with no seniors seeing regular time. A mix of juniors (Colton Poolman, Taylor Brierley and Eddie Eades), sophomores (Tye Ausmus and Nathan Peabody) and a freshman (Trevor Selk) have matured quickly. They've teamed up with Lindstrom to post nine shutouts and allow two or fewer goals 18 times in 24 games. Only one team has scored more than four against the Green Wave all season long -- the six put up by Thief River Falls in their first meeting back on Jan. 22.
In that game, Lindstrom was pulled midway through the first period after allowing four goals on five shots. He sat the remainder of the first period to clear his head before finishing off the game, a 6-2 loss. After the 15-game unbeaten streak to begin the season, that loss was the second in a row for the Green Wave. In just a few days, they went from unbeaten to losing skid.
"Very few teams go through the season without getting beat," said Palmiscno. "We knew it was coming. It wasn't a matter of if it was coming, it was how were we going to handle it once it happened."
"It was definitely a reality check," said Hajicek. "It was good for our hockey team to get a loss. We came back to practice working hard."
The Green Wave got back to what had made them successful to that point -- strong defense. In seven games since that loss, East Grand Forks is 6-0-1 and has allowed just 10 goals.
"We learned what losing feels like," said Hajicek. "We hate the feeling and don't want to lose again."
Tuesday's victory likely wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 8A playoffs for the Green Wave, who split two games with probable No. 2 seed Thief River Falls and went 1-0-1 against likely No. 3 seed Warroad. But that doesn't really matter to Palmiscno and the Green Wave, who host the section tournament at the East Grand Forks Civic Center in a week.
"We like the way we're playing coming into the section tournament and that's the most important thing," said Palmiscno. "One seed, two seed, three seed…it doesn't matter. You just have to play your best hockey this time of year."
Senior Tommy Hajicek scored midway through the second period to give East Grand Forks a 2-1 victory at Thief River Falls Tuesday night -- and likely wrap up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 8A playoffs.
The win for the Green Wave (19-2-3) avenged an earlier loss to the Prowlers (15-9-0) for a split of the season series. Since that game, East Grand Forks has gone 6-0-1, but none were bigger than Tuesday night's win.
After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals in the opening 1:15 of the second. Grady Pederson gave the Prowlers a brief lead, squeezing a long, low shot past goaltender Tanner Lindstrom just 20 seconds in the frame. East Grand Forks' Dixon Bowen answered 55 seconds later, ripping a rising shot over the glove of goaltender Tanner Holmes to tie it at 1-all.
As it has done much of the season, East Grand Forks turned up the defensive intensity after Hajicek's goal, limiting the Prowlers to just two shots in the third period and 16 total in the game. Lindstrom finished with 15 saves.
Holmes was busier in goal for Thief River Falls, stopping 35 shots.
1. Tommy Hajicek, East Grand Forks
The senior forward did something Tuesday night he'd never done in his varsity hockey career -- beat Thief River Falls. That it came on the Prowlers' home rink and wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the section playoffs was good. But what made it even better was that Hajicek notched the game-winner midway through the second period. His offensive prowess and attention to defensive responsibilities helps lead the Green Wave.
2. Chris Forney, Thief River Falls
Forney seemed to be on the ice nearly the entire game -- or at least half of it -- and he was key to a good defensive effort for the Prowlers. Despite allowing 37 shots on goal, many were from the outside as Forney and his mates kept the Green Wave from penetrating good scoring position. Rangy and tough to beat one-on-one, Forney anchors the Prowlers' defense.
3. Tye Ausmus, East Grand Forks
How to single out someone on the blue line for the Green Wave? The third star could -- and probably should -- go to all of them. It's tough, as it's a true team effort that has made East Grand Forks one of the best defensive teams in the state all winter. Ausmus recorded an assist and also used his speed to break up several Prowlers' scoring chances.