A victorious bunch was creating a chorus of cheers from inside the White Bear Lake locker room.
The Bears were happy they beat Forest Lake in an early season Suburban East Conference battle. But there was something a little more special in White Bear Lake's 7-3 win that kept it undefeated in conference play.
For almost two years, junior forward Mike Abrahamson has been one of the grinders for the highly skilled Bears team. On the third line, he knows he has to make the most of his scoring chances when they come his way.
On Thursday, he did just that and scored his first and second career varsity goals -- the cause of much of the Bears' celebration after the game.
Before Abrahamson could speak to the media, Bears coach Tim Sager said he had to hand out some game pucks.
After handing Forest Lake a 2-0 lead and forcing Sager to replace starting goalie Michael Jordan for Jared Schletty, Abrahamson got the message.
With 2:41 left in the opening period, Abrahamson put his head down, went to the net and chipped a shot past Rangers goalie Paige Skoog on a nice pass by Ben Wilke in the corner.
“Getting that first one in was great,” Abrahamson said. “I didn’t get a chance to play on varsity that much last season, so I know I have to get them when I can. Being able to knock that one in and get us on the board was huge.”
It was just the beginning for a third line that has been waiting to contribute on the score sheet and take pressure off the likes of Brandon Wahlin, Max Birkinbine and Mac Jansen.
“It is so important to give those guys a break,” he said. “They are your goal scoring lines and you can’t expect them to always bail you out. Got to give them a rest and maybe slip in a goal or two yourself.”
Early in the second, Wahlin tied the game at 2 when he took the puck from the corner, walked to the slot and fired a shot past Skoog in the top shelf. It was one of the few pretty goals the Bears scored all night.
Then it was time for Abrahamson’s line to get back to work. And he did not wait long.
Fighting, clawing and scrapping in front of the net, Abrahamson was able to muscle the puck into the net while falling on his stomach.
“Was not expecting to score more than one,” he said. “After the first one, our line talked about going out and getting a second one. I was able to get two and our line had three, so it was big for us to get involved like that.”
Skoog was not in the best position to stop Abrahamson’s second goal of the night because of White Bear Lakes’ relentless work ethic in the Rangers' zone.
“Forecheck was just lights out today,” Abrahamson said. “When we got chances, we buried them.”
There were not many highlight-reel goals for White Bear Lake, but the ones it got count just the same.
With defensemen as strong as they are in the prep game today, players have to be willing to score the ugly ones to help their squad in any way possible.
“High school hockey, defense is good and you are not going to be able to dangle,” Abrahamson said. “Have to put your head down and go to the net.”
Thursday night was a relief for Sager. He did not have to keep putting his scoring lines out one after another to keep pace with an aggressive Rangers team in the first.
Sager had the luxury and the best seat in the house of what a complete team can do to its opposition. Roll one line out after another and not get too many grey hairs over it.
“That third line did a great job for us,” Sager said. “When you get three goals from that line, it can only mean good things.”
Before the opening faceoff, Abrahamson and his linemates told one another that it is their turn to step up and help White Bear Lake stretch its lead in the conference.
“We said tonight we are going to bare down,” he said. “We wanted to get out there and help our guys, who have carried us for most of the season. We were able to do that.”
Last season Forest Lake snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Bears with a 2-1 win on Jan. 23, 2010.
Two weeks later, White Bear Lake won another close contest, 6-5 to split the season series.
White Bear Lake has had a headlock on the Rangers for quite some time now and flexed its muscle once again on Jan. 13 at the Vadnais Heights Sports Complex with an impressive 7-3 win.
Since the 2005-06 season, the Bears and Rangers have played 11 times. White Bear Lake is 10-1-0 during that stretch.
In those 11 matchups, White Bear Lake has scored five or more goals eight times, while Forest Lake has only cracked the two-goal barrier twice.
The Bears have outscored Forest Lake 50-20 over the past 11 meetings.
There are few teams in the SEC that has had success against the Bears since the conference was originated in 2001. This year, the teams that were expected to contend for the SEC crown with White Bear Lake have fell victim to the Bears scoring prowess.
Totaling seven SEC games this season, White Bear Lake has 37 goals, averaging 5.29 a game.
Two of the Bears home-run hitters in that department are Brandon Wahlin, who has 16 total goals this season, including nine in SEC play, and Mac Jansen, who has done even better in conference play with 12 goals among his 14 this season.
In a two-game stretch, Jansen had consecutive hat tricks, one being a four-goal game against Cretin-Derham Hall in what was a 7-1 victory against one of the three teams that tied for the SEC championship a year ago.
Wahlin had a four-goal game himself in an 8-1 win over Woodbury, another of the SEC tri-champions in 2009-10.
In a game against rival Stillwater, White Bear Lake disposed of the Ponies 5-1, its closest competition in the SEC.
On top of the offensive output, the Bears have been strong in their own zone, too. They are allowing just 1.72 goals a game.
The Bears have allowed three goals just twice. Goalie Jared Schletty has been solid between the pipes, posting a 1.68 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and, more importantly, a 5-0-1 record in SEC play, including a relief win against Forest Lake, when the Rangers scored two quick goals on Michael Jordan.
“Jared came in and played extremely well,” Sager said. “Things didn’t go well for Mike in net. Jared came in and closed the door.”
The SEC is one of the more difficult conferences to predict with what up-and-coming programs such as Forest Lake have done in the past few seasons, but the Bears are proving the have the ability to grab the lead and never let it go.
Mike Abrahamson scored two goals in a Bears 7-3 conference win against Forest Lake at the Vadnais Height Sports Complex.
Lucas Kohls scored just 27 seconds into the game for the Rangers and Jake Myers tallied another just four minutes later to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
It appeared to have woken a sleeping giant as the Bears came out of hibernation and scored seven unanswered goals.
Seven players had multi-point nights for the Bears, but nobody recorded more than two points.
It was a complete team effort, where every player had to step up and play for each other.
Jared Schletty had to come in relief of Michael Jordan in goal. Schletty closed the door until the end when Forest Lake scored a late power play goal, but the game was already decided at that point.
Rangers goalie Paige Skoog was under intense pressure from the midpoint of the first period on.
The Bears kept buzzing around the front of the net and forced Skoog out of position and had some tap-in goals in the third period.
White Bear Lake improved to 8-4-1 (6-0-1 SEC) and will play Roseville on Saturday on the road in another key conference game. The Rangers drop to 5-6-2 (3-3-2) and will travel to Cretin-Derham Hall on Saturday
1. Mike Abrahamson, White Bear Lake
The junior scored his first and second career varsity goals against Forest Lake. They could not have came at better times either. He tallied the first goal for the Bears after the Rangers had a 2-0 lead before fans could even get settled into the arena. Abrahamson scored early in the second period and the Bears did not look back after that.
2. Jared Schletty, White Bear Lake
He was not the announced starting goalie, but he did have to come in and essentially play a full game. In relief of Michael Jordan, Schletty came in early in the first period and calmed the storm after Forest Lake put up a 2-0 lead. Schletty shut down the Rangers until a late power play goal in the third. The junior was cool, calm, collective and showed how important it is for goalies to be mentally prepared, starting or not.
3. Brandon Wahlin, White Bear Lake
A goal and an assist seem to be an average day of work for the senior. On Thursday, he continued to be a thorn in the side of his opposition, creating scoring chances, backchecking and of course, putting some ink on the score sheet.