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Knights win rematch, clinch M8 title

By Rob Laplante - Sports Editor - Wright County Journal, 02/17/17, 7:15PM CST


Buffalo plays well, but STMA wins third straight title; Bison win at St. Francis

Bison forward Tom Rooney (front) crosses the path of STMA goalie Kyle Hayden. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)

Prior to the National Anthem at each high school hockey game at Buffalo Civic Center, starting lineups from both teams are announced by the rink’s public address announcer.

Last Saturday’s home game with Buffalo hosting St. Michael-Albertville could have gone without any player introductions, given the familiarity both teams already have with each other.

“I think both communities get excited for the boys hockey games,” said Buffalo head coach Aaron Johnson. “Almost every time, it seems like the fans are treated to a good game. Play goes back-and-forth and is fast and physical. Usually both teams are towards the top of the conference standings. You couldn’t ask for a better environment for a high school hockey game.”

“It doesn’t matter if one team is 25-0, or the other is 0-25, these games are always going to be battles,” said STMA head coach Jerr Johnson. “I think both sides would say they’re not scared of either team.”

After silencing the STMA home crowd with a 3-0 road win last Dec. 17 in the first meeting, it was the visitors, once again, making all the noise for most of last Saturday’s rematch – a 4-1 victory for the Knights.

Nobody was more motivated for the rematch more so than STMA senior goaltender Kyle Hayden.

In Buffalo’s 3-0 win, Hayden uncharacteristically allowed two soft goals, by his standards, to aid the Bison win – one of only four losses the Knights (17-4-2) have suffered. STMA’s head coach could tell his goalie was ready for the rematch.

“I’m sure he had this date on his mind all season,” Jerr Johnson said.

He was right.

“This game was circled on our calendar all year, and it was double circled after they beat us the first time,” Hayden said. “We couldn’t wait to come back here.

The first period featured a tight-checking battle until STMA freshman Adam Flamming opened the scoring at the 6:03 mark on a wrist shot high in the slot that eluded the glove of Bison sophomore goalie Nathan Mueller.

Flamming’s goal was his 12th of the season. He was coming off a 4-goal effort in STMA’s previous game, an 11-0 shutout over St. Francis.

Buffalo and STMA ended the first period even at seven shots apiece, with the Knights leading by a goal.

STMA extended the lead to 3-0 after two periods starting with a goal at 1:24 of the period by junior Zach Sjelin.

Midway through the period, STMA senior Nick Putnam was called for a 5-minute boarding major, but 27 seconds into the extended power play, Buffalo senior Cade Stensby was called for an interference call.

Skating 4-on-4, the Knights made it 3-0 on an unassisted goal at 8:37 by junior Garrett Sandberg.

“That was a big turning point in the game for us,” Jerr Johnson said. “But credit to Buffalo – they never gave up. At that point, it can look like a big task, but those guys kept after it.”

Buffalo finished the period outshooting the Knights by four and 34-19 in the game.

After peppering Hayden with chance after chance, senior Blake Habsich scored his team-leading 16th goal of the season at the 7:50 mark. The Bison came close on a number of other Grade-A opportunities, but Hayden closed the door following Habisch’s goal.

With Mueller pulled for an extra attacker, senior Carson Wooters made it 4-1 in the final minute scoring an empty-net goal.

“The big difference in the game was they scored on their opportunities, and we didn’t,” said Mueller, whose numbers rank him second or third to Hayden in most categories among the top goaltenders in the conference. “Kyle played a great game, and had a lot of unbelievable saves.”

Mueller earned one of his conference leading five shutouts against STMA in the first matchup. He says he looked forward to the rematch, particularly playing in front of a packed home crowd.

“A crowd like this really gets your blood flowing and makes things a lot more intense,” Mueller said. “It was a fun game to play in.”

The victory clinched the third straight Mississippi 8 title for STMA (8-1 and 28 conference points). Buffalo and Rogers are tied for second place with 23 points. In all three seasons, Hayden has been the Knights’ main back-stopper in net.

“This means a lot. When we came up as freshmen and sophomores, we never won a conference title,” Hayden said. “To come back here and win it for a third time is pretty meaningful for us.”

With his family having Buffalo ties, Hayden’s father, John, is the assistant principal and activities director at Buffalo Community Middle School. Kyle appreciates the wins over Buffalo even more, particularly when it comes on the ice.

“Boys hockey is the best rivalry of the three sports I play,” said Hayden, a 3-sport athlete in football, hockey, and baseball. “Every game is high competitive. Everybody is laying it on the line, crowds are always packed, and it’s always a lot of fun.”

STMA most likely will receive one of the top-3 seeds and home-ice advantage in a highly competitive Section 8AA. Buffalo will likely fall in the 6-8 range and open on the road.

Despite what the scoreboard read, Aaron Johnson was proud of his team’s performance. Buffalo (12-11 overall) outshot the Knights 11-3 in the final period and 28-18 for the game.

“That was probably our most complete game of the year,” Aaron Johnson said. “Athletics sometimes work out that way where you play real well and come out on the short end. I’m extremely proud of the kids for playing like that and hopefully it’s a springboard for a good finish for us.”



St. Michael-Albertville 4

Buffalo 1

(Saturday, Feb. 11 at Buffalo)

Knights 1  2  1   -   4

Bison    0  0  1   -   1

First period: STMA -- Adam Flammang (Cole Lehmann, Max Helgestad) 6:03.

Second period: STMA -- Zach Sjelin (Garrett Sandberg, Jordan Drobinski) 1:24; STMA -- Sandberg (unassisted) 8:37.

Third period: B -- Blake Habisch (Tom Rooney, Cade Stensby) 7:50; STMA -- Carson Wooters (Sandberg) EN, 16:21.

Goalies: STMA – Kyle Hayden (win) 28 shots, 27 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (loss) 18 shots, 14 saves; Shots: STMA – 8-7-3 – 18; B – 7-10-11 – 28. Power Plays: STMA – 0-3; B – 0-2.


Buffalo, St. Francis

(Tuesday, Feb. 14 at East Bethel)

Bison    1  2  1   -   4

Fighting Saints  0  0  1   -   1

First period: STMA -- Adam Flammang (Cole Lehmann, Max Helgestad) 6:03.

Second period: STMA -- Zach Sjelin (Garrett Sandberg, Jordan Drobinski) 1:24; STMA -- Sandberg (unassisted) 8:37.

Third period: B -- Blake Habisch (Tom Rooney, Cade Stensby) 7:50; STMA -- Carson Wooters (Sandberg) EN, 16:21.

Goalies: B – Nathan Mueller (win) 28 shots, 27 saves; SF – Nathan Mueller (loss) 18 shots, 14 saves; Shots: B – 8-7-3 – 18; STMA – 7-10-11 – 28. Power Plays: B – 0-3; STMA – 0-2.