That’s all White Bear Lake Head Coach Tim Sager wrote on the white board in his team’s dressing room in the second intermission of a tie game against Stillwater in the Section 4AA semifinals on Wednesday, March 3, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The message must have sunk in as the Bears overcame a sluggish start and a significant shots-on-goal deficit to defeat a physical Stillwater team determined on repeating as a section finalist 3-1.
“Our forecheck was real slow for about two periods and (Stillwater) was doing what they wanted to do,” Sager said of the Bears’ effort.
After the second period, Sager made it clear to his team that, “If you’re going to work hard, you’re gonna have a chance. If you’re not, we’re gonna flip the coin.”
White Bear Lake goaltender Jared Schletty turned aside 30 Stillwater shots in perhaps his finest outing of the season. The sparkling effort couldn’t come at a better time for Schletty’s teammates who could only muster 19 shots on Ponies’ netminder Gordon Defiel through a stingy Stillwater defense.
“Jared’s grown up,” Sager said of the progress of his sophomore goalie. “It’s time to get after it and we need one more from him in front of a big crowd on Friday night.”
Senior Justin Hauswirth scored the game-winner at 11:06 of the third period with help from Mac Jansen’s second assist. But the game was far from settled until junior Max Birkenbine’s empty-net goal with just 48 seconds remaining sealed it for the Bears.
The teams traded goals in the first two periods with Ryan Wolter scoring for the Bears at 16:51 of the first period and senior Wilson Housley answering for Stillwater at 3:59 of the second.
Wolter’s goal was especially dazzling as the senior forward fought through a check driving to the net, toe-dragged the puck as he slid across the crease, and had one shot saved before flipping the rebound over a sprawling Defiel.
White Bear Lake Head Coach Tim Sager praised Wolter’s will and determination not only on the goal but throughout the game.
“I thought he was our best forward out on the rink tonight,” Sager said. “I thought he was a man amongst boys.”
Wolter and his fellow seniors are motivated by a final opportunity to extract the Hill-Murray monkey from its considerable grip on their backs. The Bears play their arch rival on Friday, March 5, at the Coliseum, and neither this White Bear Lake senior class nor the preceding four have experienced a victory over the Pioneers. The last to accomplish the feat was the class of 2005, which did so on Nov. 23, 2004.
“It’s always been my dream to beat Hill in the section finals,” Wolter said. “Hopefully it will be my senior year that we get the W.”
While happy to move on to play for a trip to the state tournament, Sager knows the task ahead is a daunting one.
“We’re gonna have to play a lot better than we did tonight to compete with Hill-Murray,” he said.
1. Ryan Wolter, White Bear Lake
Labeled “a man amongst boys” by his coach, the senior forward’s outstanding play went beyond his spectacular goal.
2. Jared Schletty, White Bear Lake
Thirty-save effort made to appear nearly effortless with sound positioning and mechanics. Came up big when called upon but solid from start to finish.
3. Mac Jansen, White Bear Lake
Second straight two-point night in section play. The junior forward is riding a 10-game point streak in which he has accumulated a total of 18 points.
Guess who's next?
White Bear Lake's section semifinal win sets up a renewal of one of Minnesota’s fiercest high school hockey rivalries. The annual battle of east-suburban powers Hill-Murray and White Bear Lake resumes on Friday, March 5, under the concrete canopy of the Coliseum to determine a section champion. One of these teams has reached the state tournament 33 times in the past 36 years (34 if White Bear Mariner’s 1982 state tournament appearance is factored in).