Cole O'Connell (11) leads the celebratory parade back to the Moorhead bench after scoring his third goal in a 6-1 victory over Holy Family at the Holiday Hockey Classic at St. Louis Park. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
The passing was tic-tac-toe. The defense smothering. The goaltending superb.
Just the sort of precision play that was expected when Holy Family Catholic – with just one loss, a No. 6 state Class 2A ranking and its best team in program history – squared of against Moorhead.
Here’s the twist, and it’s a doozy: It was the Spuds – winners of just one of their previous four games and lugging a No. 17 state ranking – who ran the Hockey 101 clinic. They played all facets of the game at a razor-sharp level in their stunning 6-1 rout of the Fire on Wednesday in the opening round of the Sports Authority Holiday Classic at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
To hear Moorhead’s Cole O’Connell tell it, there was nothing extraordinary about the way the Spuds played.
“We just got a bunch of pucks on net and played as hard as we could,” said O’Connell, a junior forward who scored three goals and assisted on another. “Hopefully this is a change from our bad to our good season now. This should give us a lot of confidence.”
O’Connell now has a team-leading 12 goals in nine games, joining fellow juniors Carter Randklev and Jack Stetz on a dynamic top line that fueled the Spuds to victory. O’Connell, who also plays football and baseball, was on the finishing end of a couple gorgeous passing plays that made the normally stalwart Holy Family Catholic defense, not to mention top-caliber goaltender Jared Moe, look as leaky as a termite-riddled dinghy.
The first of O’Connell’s goals came when Stetz blasted a shot off the goalpost, only to have the puck carom directly onto O’Connell’s stick and into the net.
“He’s always in the right place at the right time,” Randklev said about O’Connell, his longtime linemate. “He’s always calling for pucks, he’s a very smart player who sees the ice well.”
Next, the trio combined on a three-way passing play that left O’Connell with nothing more to do than deposit the puck into an empty net. O’Connell’s goal-scoring finale came on a wicked shot that sent Moe’s water bottle flying.
“Part of it is he does a nice job of getting the puck to the net,” Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said about O’Connell’s scoring prowess. “He has a nice release.”
It doesn’t hurt that O’Connell, or OC as he is called by his teammates, has the dynamic Randklev feeding him the puck. Last season Randklev shared the Spuds’ team lead with 19 assists in 27 games.
And then there’s Stetz, who at 6-foot-2 towers over his more diminutive linemates (Randklev is 5-7, O’Connell is 5-9). Stetz, who finished with three assists, was on the receiving end of a massive hit by Holy Family Catholic defenseman Matt Anderson. The hit sent Stetz flying into the glass, then over the boards at the Fire bench. Seemingly unphased, Stetz popped up and hopped back onto the ice as if nothing had happened.
“We’ll be talking about that one for a little while,” Randklev said.
The hit by Anderson, a likely Mr. Hockey finalist who has committed to play at Minnesota-Duluth, was one of the few highlights for the Fire’s defense.
“We just weren’t connecting on passes, we had defensemen that were turning the puck over,” Holy Family Catholic coach Noel Rahn said. “We’ve got a really good D corps, but we were just making mistakes that we haven’t seen all year.”
Junior forward Cole O’Connell scored three goals Wednesday night to lead Moorhead to a stunningly lopsided 6-1 upset victory over Holy Family Catholic in the opening round of the Sports Authority Holiday Classic at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
Holy Family Catholic (7-2, 3-0) entered the night ranked No. 6 in Class 2A in the latest coaches’ poll. Moorhead (6-2-1, 1-1), meanwhile, had dropped all the way to No. 17 after a tough recent stretch that included losses to Brainerd and Roseau, and a tie with Alexandria.
Third-line forward Josh Holtgrewe set the tone for the evening when he scored his first goal of the season on his first shift of the season. Holtgrewe, a standout soccer player, injured his ankle during the soccer playoffs last fall and returned to the lineup in time to kick-start the Spuds’ offense.
Moorhead’s all-junior top line of O’Connell, Carter Randklev and Jack Stetz took over from there, as the junior trio combined for four of Moorhead’s final five goals. O’Connell finished with four points, Randklev had three (a goal and two assists) and Stetz three (three assists).
Spuds junior goaltender Lance Leonard made 25 saves.
Holy Family Catholic’s Joe Simon opened the scoring 2 minutes, 47 seconds into the opening period, but the Fire managed just a combined 15 shots in the final two periods after registering 11 in the first. Fire goaltender Jared Moe stopped 23 shots.
Moorhead's Carter Randklev (6) puts his hand up in frustration after losing control of the puck on a breakaway just before he could get off a shot on Holy Family goalie Jared Moe. Randklev scored earlier in the game. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
Moorhead's Cole O'Connell notched a hat trick against Holy Family. Photo by Mark Hvidsten
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