Riley Soderstrom celebrates his first period goal for Thief River Falls, which upset No. 4-ranked Breck 7-5 in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Photo by Helen Nelson
As great as the third period was for Thief River Falls, it wasn’t ideal.
The Prowlers’ post-goal celebrations, a stunning five of them in the final period of their 7-5 state tournament quarterfinal victory against two-time defending Class 1A champion Breck, came in at the end of rink nearest the Mustangs’ student section.
So instead of celebrating with their hockey crazed fans, the Prowlers received a cold reception as they were throwing themselves against the Xcel Energy Center glass.
Come to think of it, maybe the third period was ideal for Thief River Falls.
Thief River Falls senior Ryan Crosson, front, scores after scroing one of his two goals in the third period against Breck. Photo by Helen Nelson
Prowlers senior Ryan Crosson, for one, will say it couldn’t have played out any better.
“That was pretty fun, scoring the goals down there and being able to give them a little jab in the ribs with their student section,” said Crosson, who scored twice in the opening 3 minutes, 50 seconds of the third. “I know I was in there a couple of times, looking kids in the eyes and going like this (pulling his shirt away from his chest) and stuff. It’s pretty fun.
“It’s always fun going at the other team’s student sections.”
Even more fun for Thief River Falls is reaching the state semifinals. The Prowlers play No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy at 1p.m. on Friday, March 3, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Prowlers (20-8-1) trailed 4-2 entering the third before rallying for the upset win against No. 4-seeded Breck (20-9-1), the No. 4-ranked Class 1A team in the state.
Ryan Crosson shows his Thief River Falls pride after scoring a goal. Photo by Helen Nelson
Thief River Falls became the third northern team to reach the Class 1A semis, joining Hermantown and Hibbing/Chishom, quarterfinal winners earlier in the day.
“Those teams come down here, they are hockey players,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “They come to play. You have to be ready for them and they showed it tonight.
“They could have folded their tent in the second, but they came out in the third and took control.”
Breck had defeated Warroad, the Prowlers' Section 8A rival, each of the past two years en route to the championship. A northern team hasn’t won the Class 1A title since Hermantown in 2007.
“I was thinking about that earlier in the day,” Crosson said about the north’s success in the tournament this season. “Hibbing and Hermantown made it, you know we’ve got to go, too.
“It’s kind of a northern pride thing.”
-- Loren Nelson, Hockey Hub
Scoring a go-ahead goal in the state tournament would be a thrill for any high school hockey player.
For Thief River Falls' senior defenseman Derek Kayser, it was a dream come true.
“It’s something you dream about as a kid so it really hit home there,’ Kayser said. “Growing up, that’s your dream -- to get that go-ahead goal in the state tournament.”
Kayser notched 14 points in the regular season (three goals, 11 assists) but has contributed two crucial goals for the Prowlers in the postseason.
One of those two goals came during Thief River Falls’ 7-5 victory over No. 3-seeded Breck in the Class 1A quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 9.
Shortly after Breck senior forward Max Oppenheimer returned to the ice following his tripping penalty, Kayser received a pass from Chris Forney and fired a shot on goal.
Thief River Falls senior defeneman Derek Kayser dodges Breck's Wesley Iverson. Photo by Helen Nelson
“Forney got the puck to me and I basically just walked down and had a lot of room,” Kayser said. “I honestly didn’t really look at it too much -- just put it on net and it happened to go in, I guess.
Kayser may not have been looking to score but he had several thoughts running through his mind.
“Coach is always telling me on that side to just go to the net, so I did,” Kayser said. “I was thinking I had to get it up because (Breck goaltender Jack Kenney) is pretty good down low.
“Rebounds are nice but we needed something there.”
Kayser’s goal stood as the game-winning goal for 8:01 and was one of five Thief River Falls’ third period goals that sparked a late-game comeback as well as ignited Thief River Falls’ fans.
“We love them,” Kayser said. “We have a pretty small school, like our senior class has got 150 kids. We’re all close, we all root for each other no matter what the sport is. It’s nice to see them make the trek down here -- I think we had three fan busses and a charter bus.
“Our two fan busses were full so we just started putting them on the pep band bus and I guess it was nice hearing that when we’re down here. All the parents are crazy -- they want it just as much as we do. ”
While some of those fans will be heading back up to Thief River Falls for work and school on Thursday, March 10, don’t count on a quiet game at 1 p.m., Friday, March 11.
Kayser predicts the Prowlers’ cheering section will only grow for the Class 1A semifinal game against top-ranked St. Thomas Academy.
“We don’t have school Friday,” Kayser said. “We didn’t get it off but we already had it off. We really wanted this win because we know Thief River is gonna come down. Some guy came up to us and said, ‘Thief River is gonna have a population of zero on Friday,’ I think that’s going to be true.
“We’re going to have a lot of fans.”
-- Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub
Breck backup goaltender Cooper Stainbrook talks with teammate Ben Gleekel on the bench. Photo by Helen Nelson
When it became apparent that Breck’s coaching staff was going to continue to roll with junior Jack Kenney as the starting goaltender for the state tournament, senior backup Max McCormick took a step back and assessed the situation.
“I’ve been a backup since my freshman year, and this year I guess you could say I was the favorite but things didn’t quite work out how I wanted them to,” he said. “It was a tough time. The coach decided to go another way, and I began to think what was in the best interest for me and for the team.”
So as the two-time defending state champion Mustangs prepared to take on Thief River Falls in the Class 1A semifinals this week, McCormick came to coach Les Larson and told him he’d like to give up his bench spot to classmate and friend Cooper Stainbrook, the third-string goaltender.
“All three are great kids,” Larson said. “It was always a competition between the three of them, and [Kenney] won out. Years from now they’ll all cherish these experiences.”
Though he’s been with the Breck program since seventh grade and the Mustangs have been to state three consecutive seasons, Stainbrook never dressed for the state tournament.
“It was cool of Max to do,” Stainbrook said. “It’s given me an opportunity to have a great experience.”
Larson stressed McCormick is still part of the team; he will be in the locker room for each game and stay in the team hotel.
He’s simply sharing the spotlight of playing on the greatest stage in boys’ hockey. A gesture he believes is the right thing to do.
“I loved every minute of it,” McCormick said of his time as backup the past two years at state. “He’s a great goalie and a great guy … It just didn’t seem right to leave Cooper empty-handed.”
-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune
Four games - and two seeds - are down in the Class 1A boys' hockey tournament.
Thief River Falls outlasted No. 4 Breck 7-5 in the last - and most competitive - quarterfinal Wednesday.
Thief River Falls opened the scoring and led 2-1 after the first period. But Conor Andrle scored twice for Breck in the second period, and Grant Opperman's goal late in the period gave the Mustangs a two-goal cushion heading into the third.
But Thief River Falls came back with a flurry. Ryan Crosson's short-handed goal tied it four minutes into the third period, and with 9:18 left in regulation Derek Kayser's gave the Prowlers the lead for good. Micah Ranum's goal on a gorgeous feed from Brady Meunier with 2:15 left in regulation proved to be a valuable insurance goal when Breck drew within one goal again a minute later. An empty-netter with 20.2 seconds left provided the final margin.
"We didn't show up," Breck head coach Les Larson said.
-- Michael Rand, Star Tribune
1. Ryan Crosson, Thief River Falls
Number 66 never looked so good. Trailing 4-2 entering the third period, Crosson scored twice for the Prowlers to bring them back into a tie. His short-handed tally at the 3:50 mark brought the Thief River Falls bench -- and the crowd -- to its feet and provided the momentum for the team's rally.
2. Derek Kayser, Thief River Falls
Not known as a scorer, the defenseman scored the biggest goal of his career midway through the third. His seeing-eye goal from the point gave Thief River Falls a 5-4 lead -- one it would not relinquish.
3. Conor Andrle, Breck
Andrle tallied two goals in the second period, erasing a 2-1 Thief River Falls and briefly giving the Mustangs a 3-2 lead.
-- Tim Kolehmainen,
Breakdown Sports USA
|Tim Kolehmainen||Thief River Falls|
|Jordan Doffing||Thief River Falls|
|Justin Magill||Thief River Falls|