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Bears' 'miracle' wrapped in red, white, blue

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune and Loren Nelson, Hockey Hub editor, 03/05/11, 11:00PM CST


White Bear Lake's stunner over No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray has Team USA flavor

White Bear Lake players chase after teammate Mac Jansen (arms raised) after Jansen scored in double overtime against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

They set up a projector and watched the movie “Miracle.”

Then they hopped on the team bus, drove to St. Paul and lived it.

White Bear Lake was wearing black and orange, but the Bears’  “not this game, not tonight” 5-4 double overtime slaying of No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray on Friday, March 4, played out in vivid hues of red, white and blue.

“I told these guys, let’s make a memory,” White Bear Lake coach Tim Sager said, apparently resisting the temptation to borrow inspirational lines from Herb Brooks, architect of Team USA’s 1980 “Miracle” win over the mighty Soviets in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I told them, ‘Go out and make a memory tonight. ’ ”

White Bear Lake senior co-captain Brandon Wahlin said he had spent the previous two weeks dreaming about beating Hill-Murray.

“Every single night,” Wahlin said.

White Bear Lake senior Brandon Wahlin, left, battls for the puck with Hill-Murray's Blake Heinrich. Photo by Helen Nelson

Reality, he said, trumps anything he could have imagined.

“I couldn’t have thought about it any better than how it happened,” said Wahlin, a senior co-captain and one of the Bears’ goal scorers. “It just feels incredible. Incredible.”

There are so many layers to the rivalry between the public-school Bears and private-school Pioneers that a recap of the recent lopsided history between the neighboring northeast suburban Twin Cities programs barely dents the surface in explaining the magnitude of White Bear Lake’s victory.

But a run through of the numbers is required, so here goes: White Bear Lake had lost 14 straight games to Hill-Murray, including six straight losses to the Pioneers in the playoffs. The Pioneers had outscored the Bears 54-24 during that 14-game stretch.

The Bears’ previous victory over Hill-Murray was on Nov. 23, 2004.

“We were sick of losing to them,” said senior Mac Jansen, who scored the winner 1 minute, 33 seconds into the second overtime, sending the pro-White Bear Lake portion of the near-capacity State Fairgrounds Coliseum crowd into a frenzy.  “It was the greatest feeling in the world to knock them off tonight.”

The Bears were outclassed in the teams’ regular season meeting, a 3-0 Hill-Murray triumph amidst much fanfare at a packed Vadnais Heights Sports Complex, White Bear Lake’s new arena. The score in that game didn’t reflect Hill-Murray’s machine-like domination.

In their previous playoff meeting, last year in the Section 4AA championship game, Hill-Murray won 5-1.

The Bears unveiled a new look against the Pioneers, both on the ice and in the locker room.

White Bear Lake's Max Birkinbine, left, digs for the puck as Hill-Murray goaltender Tim Shaughnessy smothers a rebound. Photo by Helen Nelson

The gameplan included a five-man neutral zone trap that, at times, meant White Bear Lake didn’t send a player into the Pioneers’ zone to forecheck. Instead, the Bears packed the neutral zone and waited for Hill-Murray’s defensemen to skate the puck out of the zone before applying pressure on the puck carrier.

“They threw some of the stuff that Roseville did at us, with the neutral zone traps and stuff,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “It was nothing that we weren’t aware of. We didn’t execute it properly sometimes, and when we did we took it to them, I think.”

The other wrinkle was Sager’s approach in the locker room. Before the game, and again before the second overtime, he popped in a set of yellow-stained false teeth – complete with a gaudy fake gold incisor – before talking to his players.

“The last thing we told them was to have fun,” Sager said while producing the fake teeth from his pocket. “This was my, ‘Have fun.’ “

Wahlin said the Bears appreciated Sager’s approach.

“He came in after warmups and started joking around about that and his gold tooth,” Wahlin said. “We all started cracking up. It was a good time. We just had to stay loose and not get too nervous.

“Because last year we got too nervous. The result was not good.”

A surreal finish to the first overtime saw Ben Bahe, Hill-Murray’s top scorer, with the puck on his stick and open net in front of him. There was 19 seconds on the clock when Bahe took a one-timer backhand shot that slid past the right goalpost.

As the play continued, Bahe bent over in agony, clutching his helmet as if he couldn't believe what had just happened.

Hill-Murray's Blake Heinrich sends White Bear Lake's Mike Abrahamson sprawling during an open-ice collision. Photo by Helen Nelson

“My late father always said, ‘In a big game, I’d rather be lucky than good,’ ” Sager said,  “and we got some luck.”

Jansen’s goal, which he scored into an open net after a rebound popped on his stick, touched off chaos on the ice in and in the stands. Jansen raced full speed to the far end of the rink, where teammates -- tossing gloves and sticks high into the air -- finally cornered him.

At the other end of ice, Hill-Murray players were also in a state of disarray. Some lay crumpled on the ice, heads buried in their hands. Other slowly trickled out of the bench, kneeling or propping their heads on their sticks as they waited to shake hands with the Bears.

Hill-Murray (23-4-1) had won its last 14 regular season games and two more in the section playoffs -- by a combined score of 22-1 -- before facing the Bears (21-5-2).

“I think they are pretty stunned,” Wahlin said. “I think they came in here with the mentality that they were going to kill us like they do every year.

“But we were not going to let that happen this year. We were not going to leave this arena without a W. That was our mentality.”

-- Loren Nelson, Hockey Hub

Highlights of White Bear Lake's Section 4AA title game win

Postgame Interview with White Bear Lake coach Tim Sager

Statstics, Summary

Photo Gallery

Game Recap

Mac Jansen

Mac Jansen scored the game-winner early in the second overtime as White Bear Lake shocked top-ranked Hill-Murray 5-4 in the Section 4AA championship game Friday at the State Fair Coliseum.

With the stunning upset, the Bears erased three losing streaks in the rivalry. White Bear Lake broke a 14-game overall losing streak to the Pioneers, a six-game losing streak in all playoff meetings and a six-game losing streak in section final games.

Trailing 4-1 in the third period, Hill-Murray scored three goals to force overtime.

White Bear Lake roared to life just 31 seconds into the first period on Max Birkinbine’s unassisted goal. Then Sam Basich put Hill-Murray in a 2-0 hole with a goal at 6:12. A third goal would have been added 19 seconds later, but officials waved it off because the net was off its moorings.

Leading 2-0 into the second period, White Bear Lake continued to capitalize on its chances. The Bears scored on their first power play of the game when Brandon Wahlin found the back of the net at 10:40.

Exactly one minute later, Hill-Murray’s Loren French scored the Pioneers’ first goal of the evening. White Bear Lake took its 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

In a game where the next goal was crucial, White Bear Lake made it happen. Garen David buried the puck at 5:46 for a 4-1 lead.

But Hill-Murray wasn’t finished. Andy Faust scored at 7:30 to cut the Bears’ lead to 4-2. Then Ryan Holler ripped a shot past goaltender Jared Schletty at 10:29, drawing the Pioneers within a goal at 4-3. Bears coach Tim Sager responded with a timeout to settle his boys.

Things further unraveled for White Bear Lake. A Bears penalty gave Hill-Murray the break it needed, and Kevin Schulze responded by scoring a power-play goal at 13:09 to cap a furious comeback, tie the score 4-4 and ultimately force overtime.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune

Three Stars

1. Mac Jansen, White Bear Lake
The senior forward scored one of the biggest goals in Bears history when he found an open net from a tough angle to the left of the goal 1:33 into the second overtime to stun No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray. Jansen raced full speed down the ice after he scored, setting off a roof-raising roar from the Bears’ cheering section.

2. Brandon Wahlin, White Bear Lake
Shift after shift, the senior was all over the ice, forechecking with abandon, backchecking with abandon, killing penalties, blocking shots and creating scoring chances out of thin air. He scored a goal, but more importantly served as the Bears’ inspirational leader, offering calming words of encouragement when Hill-Murray made its third-period comeback.

3. Loren French, Hill-Murray
The senior forward scored a goal, registered an assist, drew a penalty and helped ignite the Pioneers’ third-period comeback with his relentless hustle in the offensive zone.

-- Loren Nelson, Hockey Hub

White Bear Lake senior Brandon Wahlin (20) gets a hug from Jared Schletty during the Bears' win double-overtime win over Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

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