Buffalo junior forward Gunnar Goodmanson prepares to unleash the first of three goals.
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Even with four weeks remaining on the schedule, both sides knew the importance coming into last Saturday’s Buffalo at Rogers boys’ hockey matchup.
Both teams came into the game undefeated in the Mississippi 8, and it was an opportunity for both teams to play a rare four-point game. With the expansion of the league, and the Royals moving up to Class AA late in the summer, Buffalo and Rogers were only scheduled to face-off once this season. All other teams facing twice are traditional two-point games.
“There’s not a lot you need to say to the kids going into a game like this. They knew it was Rogers, and it’s a big rival,” said Bison head coach Aaron Johnson. “The winner was probably going to be in the driver seat for the conference championship.”
Buffalo junior Gunnar Goodmanson did his best to try and steer his team’s ship. After the Royals took a 1-0 first-period lead, Goodmanson scored three consecutive goals for a natural hat trick to give the road team a 3-1 edge. Chants from the Bison crowd of “Mr. Hockey” rained from the stands.
Rogers senior defenseman Travis Brown, a Mr. Hockey potential candidate himself, played a key role picking up two primary assists later in the game, as the Royals scored four unanswered goals to win 5-3.
“I haven’t really heard of him (Goodmanson) much until this year,” said Brown, who leads the Royals in scoring with 21 points as a defenseman, and is a Division-I recruit of Michigan Tech. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s quick and really strong, and moves his feet well. I really like him.”
With Goodmanson, and junior linemates Jake Ramsey and Jerame Schuetzle carrying the load early, the Royals cut the lead to 3-2 on a Brown shot that Bison senior goalie Mikey Otten saved, but the rebound deflected into the crease and Royal forward Nolan Walker shoved it into the open net.
The game changed midway through the second period when the Royals converted on a pair of power-play attempts. Alex Lorman tied the game 3-3, and six minutes later Nate Weber scored the eventual game-winning goal with 2:05 left in the period.
“We had to kill a lot of penalties the second half of that game,” Johnson said. “We played a great first period, but once the penalties started coming, it’s hard to get back to that game like we had in the first.”
Penalties nearly cost the Bison in their previous game, a 3-2 overtime win over Chisago Lakes. Buffalo was flagged for nine minors in that game, but rallied late to steal a win.
Rogers put the game out of reach for good when Dustin Schoepke took a Brown lead pass that sent him alone on the goal, and the Royals forward buried it for the two-goal cushion.
Three minors and a costly checking-from-behind major called on senior Loren Lindvall were the difference late in the game.
“I liked our energy at the start of the game,” said Royals head coach Justin Strunk. “Goodmanson kind of took over for a while and he’s one of those special players that will make you pay. We refocused after the first period and re-mentioned to look out for number nine.
“It’s a four-point game. We knew that we were two of the top teams in the conference, and a lot was riding on this game.”
Strunk got first-year bragging rights of the matchup of two rookie head coaches, who had a history dating back to their high school days of playing against each other when Strunk was at Robbinsdale Cooper, and Johnson was at Robbinsdale Armstrong.
The Bison’s 10 points in the standings still have them in first place. The Royals are four points back with six, but have played three less conference games than Buffalo.
Brown said the four-points made for a huge swing game, and to steal a game from their arch rivals felt good.
“Absolutely,” said Brown, when asked if he likes playing in this rivalry. “It’s packed with rowdy crowds. Every game is like that with Buffalo, though.”
The Bison next are in action Thursday, January 16 with a 7 p.m. road match at Cambridge-Isanti. The Bison shutout the Bluejackets 7-0 on Dec. 14, but possess the talents of eighth-grade goalie Jacob Sibell.