Frustration had built to a boiling point for Farmington. The Tigers, in a final, desperate attempt to put a goal on the scoreboard, weren’t just crashing the Stillwater net, they were obliterating it.
Stillwater junior defenseman Jesse Bjugstad had seen enough.
“They were hacking at our goalie, and our coach tells us not to let that happen,” said the 6-2, 170-pound Bjugstad after the Ponies defeated Farmington 4-1 on Thursday in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
Stillwater coach Matt Doman raised his hands and eyebrows in mock “who me?” fashion as Bjugstad explained his late-game roughing penalty (two Farmington players also were penalized for roughing).
The skirmish hammered home a little-publicized fact: Stillwater plays tough defense. The kind of suffocating, in-your-face defense that, ironically, Farmington was best known for heading into the tourney. Yet it was the Tigers who struggled to score. Their lone goal came with nine seconds left, denying the Ponies a third consecutive shutout.
“They’re pretty complete,” Farmington coach Greg May said. “… The defensemen don’t give you too much and they move the puck up the ice pretty well, too.”
The unquestioned leader of what Doman calls his seven-man, defense-by-committee group is Bjugstad, son of former Irondale, University of Minnesota and Minnesota North Star player Scott Bjugstad.
The younger Bjugstad, cousin to former Blaine and University of Minnesota standout Nick Bjugstad — now in the NHL with the Florida Panthers — had two assists Thursday. One was on a fake shot and gorgeous cross-ice pass that set up Noah Cates’ goal 36 seconds into the third period. Bjugstad has four goals and 20 assists this season.
An assistant coach for the Ponies, Scott Bjugstad starred for Irondale when the Knights reached the 1979 state tournament.
“He just told me to kind of put the blinders on and not worry about the crowd too much,” Jesse Bjugstad said of his father’s pre-tourney advice.
Next up for the No. 2-seeded Ponies is No. 3 seed Wayzata, yet another team known for its defensive prowess.
“They play a lot like us,” Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary said after the Trojans’ 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Burnsville.