Centennial senior forward Andrew Stuart gets the puck past Elk River goalier Kyle Esperum for a second-period goal Saturday. The Cougars defeated the host Elks 6-3 in a Class 2A top-10 battle. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine
Perhaps this is the season Centennial has been waiting for. Senior captain Lucas McGregor certainly believes so.
McGregor and a group of 13 seniors lead a team as deep as any Cougars squad since the school’s state championship season in 2004, and Saturday’s road victory over Northwest Suburban Conference rival Elk River added further merit to such belief.
The Cougars, ranked No. 6 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, improved to 4-0 on the season with a 6-3 win over the No. 9-2A Elks that showcased how adaptable Centennial can be.
“We’ve got 13 seniors, and all of them will do anything to make this team successful,” Centennial coach Ritch Menne said. “Having that kind of depth is significant. It means great leadership in the locker room, and it’s translated onto the ice.”
Centennial scored twice during the first period on power-play goals, and the Cougars never trailed.
Jack Menne led the Cougars attack, scoring a pair of goals and notching two assists. McGregor finished with a goal and two assists, as did Carter Wagner. Will Francis added three assists.
High-powered Elk River, which averaged eight goals per game coming in, saw its offensive production cut by more than half, while Centennial’s three lines rotated and wore down a shorter bench for the Elks, which was evident in the third period especially, when the Elks looked gassed trying to play catch up.
“We’ve got two lines that we could match up against their No. 1, and we tried to wear them down as much as possible,” Menne said.
Centennial scored two goals in each period, and continued to model consistency and scoring from multiple spots on the ice.
Fourteen different Cougars have recorded at least a point so far this season, and three already have double-digit scoring totals through a mere four games. McGregor, Menne and Wagner all have 11 points.
It’s been a strong start to what some believe will be a special season for Centennial.
“Growing up playing together, I think this is the year we’ve all been looking forward to,” McGregor said. “To be senior heavy like we are, and having the players that we do, we are ready to get after it. We’ve been waiting for this season for our entire lives.”
Menne said he’s never coached a group quite like this.
“They’ve skated together since they were little, and this group has always had success, whether it was in squirts or peewees,” he said. “They know how to win and they know how to close games out. They can play any kind of game. If we need to play physical, they will play physical. If we need to play high-tempo, we can play high-tempo. Over the years, they’ve learned how to do that, and it’s not about coaching, it’s that they are winners. They will do anything to make the guy next to them successful. It’s pretty special to watch.”
Elk River forwards Jack Perbix (12) and Carson Simon (17) break the puck out of their zone during the first period. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine
Centennial jumped out to an early lead and kept the pressure on as the Cougars, who are ranked No. 6 in the Class 2A coaches' poll, rolled past host Elk River 6-3 Saturday afternoon.
Jack Menne led Centennial with two goals and a pair of assists. Lucas McGregor and Carter Wagner added a goal and two assists apiece, while Will Francis tallied three assists in the victory that improves Centennial’s record to 4-0 on the season.
Elk River had to fight through seven penalties, five of them in the first period, as the No. 9-2A Elks were slow to warm up after finding themselves with a 2-0 deficit to end the first period.
Midway through the second period, the Elks (3-1) got a pair of power-play goals from Taiyo Larson and Connor Bizal, but could not close the gap.
Goalie Bryce Crowley earned the win between the pipes for Centennial, stopping 30 shots in the victory. Kyle Esperum manned the crease for Elk River, finishing with 22 saves.
Centennial goaltender Bryce Crowley stops a scoring attempt from Elk River forward Connor Bizal during the third period. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine