Buffalo’s Cade Stensby (left) battles for positioning with St. Francis’ Jared Giving. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)
With the meat of their regular-season schedule behind them, the Buffalo boys’ hockey team is ready to make a run.
Step one of that process came in a 3-0 home win last Thursday, Jan. 5 over St. Francis.
After facing nine teams ranked in the top-20 of either class, last Thursday’s game with the Fighting Saints began a stretch of four-straight games against unranked conference opponents.
“We’d like to go on a little run here and get a couple games above .500,” said Bison head coach Aaron Johnson. Buffalo’s win over St. Francis evened its overall record to 7-7-0. “The early experiences we’ve had so far should bode well for us going into the second half.”
After finishing fourth in the Mississippi 8 a year ago, Buffalo currently sits atop the conference standings at 3-1-0.
“It will be fun playing conference teams now so that we can get to our goal of being conference champions,” Mueller said.
Mueller assisted on the game’s opening goal scored 58 seconds into the game by senior Cade Stensby.
The lead stayed 1-0 until senior Tom Rooney scored at 9:22 of period three. Senior Blake Habisch assisted on both goals. Senior Mateo Johnson added an insurance goal at 11:03 after re-directing a pass from senior Connor Kuhlmann.
It was Johnson’s first career varsity goal. Despite sophomore goalie Nathan Mueller making 15 saves for his third shutout of the season, it was Johnson who received the game puck in the locker room afterwards.
“You can tell by the response from the kids for his goal that they were all excited for him,” Coach Johnson said. “He’s had a tough go. He didn’t skate all summer after he got hurt from motocross. He’s a really good kid and handled his role really well. He’ll get a bigger chance going forward.”
Buffalo outshot St. Francis 34-15 and limited the Fighting Saints to perimeter opportunities most the game.
“It was a disappointment to only beat St. Francis by three,” said sophomore forward Treyton Welch. “But Nathan held us in there with the shutout. We have a young goalie that’s really good.”
Mueller has started and played every minute of every game this season for the Bison. He’s among the conference leaders in goals against average (2.31) and save percentage (.910).
Nobody has seen his progression more so than his older brother.
“He looks more confident and has got used to varsity play,” Nick Mueller said. “He’s helped us out a lot and made it easier for us to do our jobs while he’s doing his.”
Mueller’s impact in goal has also impressed his coaches.
“We’ve been talking about being a good defensive team in the second half of the season and building around Nathan and the type of goalie he is,” Coach Johnson said. “We feel if we limit teams’ chances, we’ll be in every game we play in no matter who the competition is.”
After a busy stretch which saw Buffalo play five games in nine days, a much needed break came this past week with the Bison off for a week prior to Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game against Cambridge-Isanti.
“The unusual thing is we had this past weekend off,” Coach Johnson said. “You don’t get that very often. Our schedule is pretty full and pretty compact. It was nice to step away from the rink for a few days and refresh the body and refresh the mind.”
Buffalo 3, St. Francis 0
(Thursday, Jan. 5 at Buffalo)
Fighting Saints 0 0 0 - 0
Bison 1 0 2 - 3
First period: B -- Cade Stensby (Blake Habisch, Nick Mueller) 0:58.
Second period: No scoring.
Third period: B -- Tom Rooney (Habisch) 9:22; B -- Mateo Johnson (Connor Kuhlmann) 11:03.
Goalies: SF – Nolan Garaghty (loss) 34 shots, 31 saves; B -- Nathan Mueller (win) 15 shots, 15 saves. Shots: SF – 6-4-5 – 15; B – 11-11-12 – 34. Power Plays: SF – 0-3; B – 0-2.