One step forward and two steps back.
For the Buffalo boys’ hockey team, a 3-2 road win Tuesday night at Champlin Park came on the tail end of a 3-game road trip that started with two key losses to section opponents.
With three games in six days, Buffalo began the road trip losing a 3-2 contest last Thursday, Feb. 2 at Rogers.
Jake Moss scored a pair of third-period goals giving the Royals a 3-1 lead. Senior Luke Ramsey closed the gap to 3-2 at 6:10 of the period, but the Bison could never get the equalizer. Senior Cade Stensby scored a first-period goal for Buffalo, who was outshot 35-20 in the contest. Sophomore goalie Nathan Mueller made 32 saves in defeat.
“We didn’t have a very good game against Rogers,” said Bison senior Connor Kuhlmann. “It was an even game on the scoreboard until they got a couple lucky bounces in the third period.”
The loss was a double whammy for Buffalo, as it came against a team behind them in both the section and conference standings.
“It would have been nice to sweep Rogers,” said Bison head coach Aaron Johnson. Buffalo defeated the Royals 5-2 at home last Dec. 20.
That loss, coupled with a 4-1 road defeat last Saturday at Brainerd, likely moved Buffalo out of home-ice contention for the section playoffs. Like the Bison, the Warriors came into the contest a bubble team for home ice in Section 8AA.
“Right now I see us with a pretty good hold on the six spot in the section,” Johnson said. “But that could change. There’s still some hockey left to be played.”
The Brainerd loss looked more lopsided on the scoreboard than it appeared. Buffalo outshot the Warriors 23-19. The teams skated to the locker room tied 1-1 after one period. Sophomore Ben Klein scored what turned out to be Buffalo’s only goal with assists from seniors Mateo Johnson and Stone Goodmanson.
Gavin Andres scored the eventual game-winner at 12:09 of period two for Brainerd. The Warriors tacked on two insurance goals in period three.
Knowing Buffalo was neck-and-neck with them in the section standings, Brainerd head coach Dave Aus knew it was an important game.
“They're all important now,” Aus said. “We felt if we won that we would be a four seed. We played very well. But I was real impressed with Buffalo’s goalie and (senior forward) Blake Habisch.”
Habisch was held off the scoresheet for only the sixth time this season. Mueller made 15 saves on 19 shots, but many were highly contested.
Connor Kuhlmann fights for body position. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngin
Bison forward Blake Habisch scores with 5.8 seconds left in the second period of Tuesday’s 3-2 road win at Champlin Park. Habisch netted two goals and Connor Kuhlmann scored the game winner. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)
“There were a couple things we would have liked to clean up from that game,” Johnson said. “We had a few breakdowns, and they have some talented players that buried their chances. Overall, we felt our effort was pretty good.”
The two losses dropped Buffalo’s section record to 3-4 and moved them sixth into the section standings.
“Unfortunately, home ice really isn’t within our reach anymore,” Johnson said. “But like I said before, hockey is still left to be played, so that could change.”
Buffalo’s win Tuesday at Champlin Park came against a non-conference and non-section opponent. But trailing 1-0 after one period, Habisch rallied Buffalo to a 2-1 lead scoring a shorthanded goal 2:59 into the second period, and later adding an even strength tally with 5.8 seconds left.
The lead stood until Champlin Park’s Brady Swanstrom scored his second of the game on a breakaway with 3:16 left in regulation. But a nice individual effort by Kuhlmann gave Buffalo a 3-2 advantage with 1:57 left.
Kuhlmann went wide on his defender before cutting towards the slot. As he was falling, he fired a shot that beat Rebel goalie Avery Neisen going against the grain.
It was Kuhlmann’s fourth goal and 12 point. He recently was promoted to Buffalo’s top line with senior Tom Rooney and Habisch. Rooney added two assists in the game.
“Those guys are some good fast players, so usually I try to be the first man on the puck,” Kuhlmann said. “We came out kind of slow in the first period. Coach wasn’t too happy. We knew this was a team that we needed to beat.”
Mueller made 29 saves on 31 shots for the win.
Next up is a 7 p.m. home game on Saturday, Feb. 11 against St. Michael-Albertville. Like Rogers, the game will have huge implications on both the conference and section standings. STMA is 3-2-1 in the Section 8AA and 6-1 in the Mississippi 8, with their lone conference loss coming in a 3-0 home defeat last Dec. 17 to the Bison.
“When you have 12 seniors, and possibly their last time they will play St. Michael, you know we should have a focused group,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a tough one, and they are going to want to get us back for going into their place and winning. These are the games you love to play and coach in, against big rivals and two pretty good teams. It will be a fun environment.”
Rogers 3, Buffalo 2
(Thursday, Feb. 2 at Rogers)
Bison 0 1 1 - 2
Royals 0 1 2 - 3
First period: No scoring.
Second period: R -- Jordan Fischer (Jake Moss) 1:18; B -- Cade Stensby (Blake Habisch) 4:52.
Third period: R -- Moss (Sam Libke, Fischer) 5:09; R -- Moss (Mitchell Becker, Justin Grudem) 5:35; B -- Luke Ramsey (Jon Pearson) 6:10.
Goalies: B – Nathan Mueller (loss) 35 shots, 32 saves; R – Jonnny Preusse (win) 20 shots, 18 saves; Shots: B – 4-5-11 – 20; R – 9-15-11 – 35. Power Plays: B – 0-1; R – 0-2.
Brainerd 4, Buffalo 1
(Saturday, Feb. 4 at Brainerd)
Bison 1 0 0 - 1
Warriors 1 1 2 - 4
First period: BR -- Jack Evans (Joe Klang) 4:07; BU -- Ben Klein (Mateo Johnson, Stone Goodmanson) 10:25.
Second period: BR -- Gavin Andres (Mason Kruse) 12:09.
Third period: BR -- Evans (Nick Hastings, Riley Andres) 2:55; BR -- Nick Karsnia (Justin Marthaler, Jared Erickson) 8:34.
Goalies: B – Nathan Mueller (loss) 19 shots, 15 saves; R – Jimmy Engen (win) 23 shots, 22 saves; Shots: BU – 7-3-13 – 23; BR – 5-6-8 – 19. Power Plays: BU – 1-2; BR – 0-0.
Buffalo 3, Champlin Park 2
(Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Champlin)
Bison 0 2 1 - 3
Rebels 1 0 1 - 2
First period: CP -- Brady Swanstrom (unassisted) 14:12.
Second period: B -- Blake Habisch (Tom Rooney) SH, 2:59; B -- Habisch (Joe McNamara, Rooney) 16:55.
Third period: CP -- Swanstrom (Sam Schuster) 13:44; B -- Connor Kuhlmann (Luke Ramsey, Joe McNamara) 15:03.
Goalies: B – Nathan Mueller (win) 31 shots, 29 saves; CP – Avery Neisen (loss) 22 shots, 19 saves; Shots: B – 5-10-7 – 22; CP – 12-10-9 – 31. Power Plays: B – 0-1; CP – 0-3.