Circle Pines, Min-The Maple Grove Crimson and the Centennial Cougars are two of the hottest teams in Northwest Suburban Conference play and faced off in a pivotal game that had conference and Section 5AA implications. The conference leading Crimson ground out a 1-1 tie with the Cougars at the Centennial Sports Arena Saturday night.
Adam Lovick tied the game for the Cougars with under three minutes to play in the third period as he re-directed a Jake Flynn shot through the five hole of Crimson goalie Ryan Coyne. The goal forced the game into overtime and not surpassingly, three of the last four contests between these two teams have gone to the extra session. "It's been overtime, overtime, overtime with these guys," Cougar coach Erik Aus said. "We have had some very good battles."
Battles indeed as both teams were spent at the end of 59 minutes of play and nothing solved. One on one battles for pucks were the norm and each team used the entire 200 x 100 foot rink to support the puck.
The Cougars were able to ratchet up their game after a sluggish first period that saw several high caliber scoring chances by the Crimson and eventually yielded a Jordan Gross power play goal. He redirected a d-to-d pass from the blue line that started with Trent Bolin feeding Steve Popowitz from right to left who angled a pass to Gross who was going to the net on the picture perfect set up and tap in from the bottom of the right circle.
The goalies were steady and the scoring chances were limited. Maple Grove's Coyne made 30 saves for the game and had great sight lines to the puck as did his counterpart Brett Larsen who turned aside 31 shots Saturday night for the Cougars.
"You had two of the better goaltenders in the conference," Aus said. "Larsen is back on top of his game. He got hurt a little bit earlier in the year." All indications from press row show that Larsen has shaken off any ill effects from his injury woes earlier in the season.
Larsen's club was facing a Crimson team that has allowed just 32 goals against for the season for an amazing 1.52 per game average. "Both teams played awfully hard," Crimson coach Gary Stefano said. "You come in here against a team that is on a big winning streak and yeah, you want to get the victory out of it but you will take the point and tie and you are still undefeated in the conference."
The streak the Stefano is referring to is a steady 7-0-1 run in conference play that dates back to January 8th for the Cougars. Centennial's only loss during that time was a non-conference game to the Moorhead Spuds by a score of 4-3 last week.
The Crimson improved to 12-0-2 in the conference and 16-3-2 overall while the Cougars stand in 4th place at 9-3-1 in the conference and 9-9-2 overall. A case can be made by the Cougars at this point for a #2 seed in the Section 5AA seedings yet they will have to continue to win through the rest of the conference play this year.