Hill-Murray junior forward Willie Brown (17) is greeted by teammate Sam Becker after Brown scored one of his three goals against Stillwater. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Zach LaValle, Mitch Slattery and Josh French. Yeah, that’s a pretty potent top line.
Willie Brown, Joey Anderson and Tyler Funk. Those guys form an equally explosive top unit.
Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner is used to having a bottomless pool of talent from which to draw players.
But two first lines? This is getting ridiculous.
“Every year it seems like we have good skill guys, but I think there’s a little more balance a little more depth this year,” Lechner said after the No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Pioneers beat Stillwater 6-2 on Tuesday, Feb. 26, in a Section 4AA semifinal at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul. “You don’t worry too much about who is out on the rink as far as matching up lines, although we’ve got to be a little bit careful there.”
Stillwater's Chad Smith, left, and Hill-Murray's Willie Brown battle for the puck along the boards. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Since Lechner called up Anderson, an eighth-grader, from the junior varsity late in the regular season the dynamic of the Hill-Murray’s offense changed. Which is the long way of saying the Pioneers got a whole lot better.
Anderson has nine goals and nine assists in 10 games. He also has a new best friend in Willie Brown, who scored a hat trick against the Ponies. At least two of those goals were the result of brilliant passes from Anderson.
“Early in the year it seemed like he was snakebit and struggling a bit, and I think it did help a lot when we brought Joey Anderson up from the JV,” Lechner said about Brown. “It kind of completed the top two lines. As soon as that happened then Willie took off, too.
“I said make sure you pay attention and put your stick on the ice because that kid is going to find you.”
“That kid” would be Anderson.
“That kid has a ton of speed,” Brown said. “He’ll break through the middle, like a couple of times, and you’ve just got to feed him the puck. If you give him the puck, he’s young, so he really respects his elders, so he’ll get you the puck back.”
Stillwater coach Phil Housley, when talking about the Pioneers, hardly mentioned their forwards. Housley pointed out that Hill-Murray returned five of its defensemen from last year’s state Class 2A runner-up team.
The Ponies managed to break through the Pioneers’ defense enough to get at least a handful of quality scoring chances. On one of them, sophomore Devin Cates had an open net at which to shoot, only to have the Pioneers’ Zach Mills bat Cates’ shot down in mid-flight.
“We had some glorious chances that we didn’t finish on, and against a good hockey team that is going to come back and bite you,” Housley said.
Against a team with two first lines, a team with an abundance of finishers, it marks the end of a season.
Stillwater sophomore Devin Cates (6) had his shot at an empty net blocked by the stick of Hill-Murray's Zach Mills. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Junior forward Willie Brown scored three goals to propel No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Hill-Murray past No. 4 seed Stillwater 6-2 on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in the Section 4AA semifinals at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Brown scored a goal in each period, giving him 12 in 27 games this season, and his third goal put the Pioneers (24-2-1) ahead 4-1 with 7 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third period.
Stillwater (10-15-2) closed to within 4-2 late in the third when Nick Anderson scored his second of the game on a power play. The Ponies had pulled goaltender Colton Anderson in favor of an extra skater when Nick Anderson scored with 4:57 remaining.
Stillwater coach Phil Housley opted to keep Colton Andeson the bench for most of the final minutes, and the Ponies generated several good chances while playing with the extra skater.
Hill-Murray took advantage of the open net by getting goals from Zach LaValle and Colten Greeder.
Tyler Funk also scored for Hill-Murray, which scored four unanswered goals after falling behind 1-0 just 2:30 into the opening period on Nick Anderson’s first goal.
Stillwater had a chance to go up 2-1 in the first period when Devin Cates had the puck and was staring at an open net. Hill-Murray’s Zach Mills managed to get a piece of the puck with his stick, deflecting it wide at the last second.
Senior goaltender John Dugas had a solid performance, turning aside 13 shots. Colton Anderson finished with 31 saves, including 13 in the first period.
1. Willie Brown, Hill-Murray
So obvious. All three of Brown’s goals were crucial to the Pioneers’ victory, as this game was tight until a couple of empty netters in garbage time. The slick stickhandling Brown’s first goal was right out of an outdoor shinny game, as he juked a Stillwater defenseman in front of the goal and then deftly slid a backhand shot into the net.
2. Joey Anderson, Hill-Murray
Yes, Anderson is an eighth-grader. An eighth-grader! That can’t be reinforced enough, because Anderson was an absolute force with his physical play and slick passing that helped set up two of Brown’s goals. Anderson appeared to have scored on a second period breakway – the goal judge flicked on the red light – but after an officials’ conference it was ruled the puck never crossed the line.
3. Nick Anderson, Stillwater
The senior forward scored twice and was buzzing the Hill-Murray net all night. Anderson was involved in most of the Ponies’ best scoring chances and also wasn’t afraid to routinely throw his body into the nearest Pioneer.
Hill-Murray eighth grader Joey Anderson had two assists in Tuesday's win over Stillwater. Photo by Katherine Matthews