White Bear Lake mobs its overtime hero Mike Abrahamson who scored with 3:23 remaining in the sudden-death period to defeat Stillwater on Wednesday, March 2, and send the Bears to the Section 4AA final game. Photo by Adam Crane
Before the season even started, Mike Abrahamson’s status on White Bear Lake’s varsity team was still in question.
The junior played all of his minutes for the Bears junior varsity team a year ago and has never touched the ice during a varsity game.
Even during the beginning of the season, Abrahamson was on the Bears third line, not seeing the ice time teammates Max Birkinbine, Brandon Wahlin and Mac Jansen have received.
Abrahamson just stayed on course, put his head down and continued to work in hopes he could have a significant contribution to his team.
In the Section 4AA semifinal game on Wednesday, March 2 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum against Suburban East Conference rival Stillwater, Abrahamson, now on the Bears top line, put away the overtime game-winning goal to give White Bear Lake a 3-2 victory.
“Rush of butterflies went through my whole body,” Abrahamson said. “I really didn’t know what to do, so I kind of panicked.”
Midway through the season, Bears coach Tim Sager decided to move Abrahamson to the top line, centering experienced veterans Birkinbine and Wahlin.
It has allowed a blend of highly skilled, talented seniors with youth willing to do anything just to be a part of the team.
“He’s sort of a meat and potato guy,” Sager said. “The other guys are good quality hockey players and Mikey’s the grinder.
“Just a JV guy. We didn’t know if he was going to play this year. He just stuck to his guns and it’s very satisfying to see him step up and do that.”
With 3 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first overtime period, Abrahamson had the puck and the Bears season on his stick.
From the slot, he fired a shot to Ponies goalie Blake Cates’ stick side and it beat him to give the Bears their second victory against Stillwater this season.
“Just flourished this year,” Sager said. “Came out of nowhere.
“Had a tremendous year and we needed a guy up there to really mix.”
Going from third to first line has been a smooth transition for Abrahamson. It was just a matter of doing what he was asked for the better of his team and take advantage of the opportunities that come his way to score.
“I feel like I picked up the pace really quick,” Abrahamson said. “I knew I had to work hard and not let up and just stay focused. When I get my chances, I got to bury them when I can.”
He did just that. With the season resting on his left-handed shot, Abrahamson’s shot from the slot beat Cates to his blocker side in overtime.
“Birky (Birkinbine) and Wahlly (Wahlin), they key on those guys,” Sager said. “It was a good play by Wahlin to suck them over and good quick release to the short side.”
It was Abrahamson’s seventh goal of the season and none have come bigger than the one he did to end the Bears biggest conference rival for the second consecutive season in the Section 4AA semifinals.
He has quickly gained the respect of his teammates with his work ethic and although not many, but opportunistic goals.
“It was a great feeling, more relieved, but really happy for Mike,” Bears forward Garen David, who had a shorthanded goal in the second period, said. “He has really put a lot of hard work in and deserved to get a chance like that. We get a chance to play Hill-Murray and he is a big reason why.”
After Abrahamson scored, coincidently near the same corner of the White Bear Lake student section, with his arms raised he pressed himself against the glass and pointed towards the Bears logo that is crested on his chest.
“It was amazing to look up at them and see our colors,” Abrahamson said. “All I wanted to do was celebrate with them and my teammates.”
White Bear Lake will play Hill-Murray in the Section 4AA finals 9 p.m., Friday, March 4 at the State Fairground Coliseum for the second consecutive season.
“It’s White Bear and Hill-Murray on Friday night,” Abrahamson said. “That is all we need to know.”
White Bear Lake senior forward Garen David (No. 9) punches in a shorthanded goal for the Bears past Stillwater goaltender Blake Cates (No. 30) during the second period of the Section 4AA semifinal game on Wednesday, March 2. Photo by Adam Crane
White Bear Lake will advance to play rival Hill-Murray in the section finals for the seventh time since the 1990-2000 season and 10th time during that span in postseason play 9 p.m. Friday, March 4 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
History has not been too good for the Bears in the section playoffs against the Pioneers.
Hill-Murray has an 8-1 record against White Bear Lake during that span and are a perfect 6-0 in section final games. The Pioneers have outscored their rivals 21-8 in those six games.
Knowing a matchup against Hill-Murray was on the horizon if they beat Stillwater, the Bears had their attention focused on the Pioneers right after the game, even minutes after a thrilling overtime victory.
“It’s a nice feather in our caps, but Friday is our big day,” David said. “We will be ready to play.”
On Dec. 23, White Bear Lake hosted Hill-Murray for the first time in its new arena in Vadnais Heights.
The Pioneers played a complete game, shut down and quieted an energetic Bears fan base 3-0.
A year ago, White Bear Lake lost 5-1 in the Section 4AA final to Hill-Murray and obviously are looking for a different outcome.
If it is victorious, it would be the first win in the last 14 tries, where the Pioneers have outscored White Bear Lake 54-24. The last Bears victory against Hill-Murray was on Nov. 23, 2004 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood by a score of 3-2.
“We’re ready for them,” David said. “I know they have had success against us, but we will be ready to play them on Friday.”
White Bear Lake has not been to the state tournament since 2005, when it beat Centennial in the Section 3AA finals. The Bears and Pioneers were part of Section 3AA until the switch to 4AA in the 2007-2008 season.
After Abrahamson sent the Ponies packing in the semifinals for the second consecutive season, he immediately shifted his attention to the Pioneers as well.
“We won a big game against Stillwater and have a chance to go to state,” he said. “We have White Bear-Hill-Murray on Friday night to go to state.”
Stillwater junior goaltender Blake Cates flashes the leather to make one of his 32 saves during the Section 4AA semifinal game against White Bear Lake on Wednesday, March 2. Photo by Adam Crane
Mike Abrahamson scored with 3:23 remaining in overtime giving White Bear Lake a 3-2 victory over Stillwater in the Section 4AA semifinal on Wednesday, March 2.
Stillwater received stellar play from junior goaltender Blake Cates -- who made 32 saves -- as well as the Ponies' special teams as Sam Casey scored a shorthanded goal and Nick Anderson scored a power-play goal.
White Bear Lake scoring was led by junioer defenseman Jack Morrisette and a shorthanded goal by senior forward Garen David. Junior goaltender Jared Schletty made 19 saves for the Bears.
Stillwater ends the season with a record of 17-8-2.
White Bear Lake (20-5-2) will face Hill-Murray at 9 p.m. in the Section 4AA championship game on Friday, March 4, at the State Fairground Coliseum.
1. Mike Abrahamson, White Bear Lake
The junior forward played the unlikely hero netting the game-winner in the overtime frame. Abrahamson scored with 3:23 left in a tense finale to an action-packed game with that goal giving him 11 points (seven goals, four assists) on the year.
2. Garen David, White Bear Lake
David's shorthanded goal wasn't pretty but it put the Bears ahead, 2-1, at the time during the second period. The senior forward crashed the net hard and his efforts were rewarded as the puck snuck past the goal line. Davis was a presence at both ends of the ice and held his ground in a physical game.
3. Blake Cates, Stillwater
Just when it looked like White Bear Lake would score a big goal, Cates answered with an equally big save. The junior goaltender made 32 crucial saves in the Section 4AA semifinal game.