Elk River celebrates a first-period goal by Zach Michaelis Friday night at the Hockey For Life Classic in Prior Lake. The Elks defeated Stillwater 4-1. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine
Joey Foss is one of those players who requires an adjective. And given that Foss, an Elk River junior, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 225 pounds, there’s no need to overthink what that descriptive word should be.
Big Joey Foss. Now that has the proper ring to it.
On a night when Elk River coach Ben Gustafson repeatedly was imploring his team to, “Take the body! Take the body!” and “Step up! Step up!” Foss was fully in his comfort zone leading the Elks to a bone-jarring 4-1 victory over Stillwater on Friday in the second round of the Hockey For Life Classic at Dakotah! Ice Center in Prior Lake.
“They couldn’t do a whole lot when we were playing the body so much,” said Foss, who had a goal and assist to go along with his numerous board-shaking hits and punishing net-front clears. “Let them get frustrated. They were turning over pucks, we were forechecking hard and we got some bounces.”
That pretty much sums up a game in which Elk River (7-4-0) used its size and experience to grind down a previously unbeaten Stillwater team that lists six sophomores and a freshman on its roster.
“We were kind of laughing tonight, saying, ‘You better pull up your big boy pants if you are going back out there, because that is the game,’ ” Stillwater coach Matt Doman said after the Ponies dropped to 6-1-0.
Elk River has long been known as a blue-collar team willing and eager to outhustle and outmuscle its opponents. And while this year’s version of the Elks features one of the state’s most skilled players in ultra-smooth junior Jack Perbix, the grit factor needs to be high for Elk River to have a chance of beating quality opponents.
Gustafson didn’t see a lot of that trademark Elks grit in Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Holy Family Catholic. So the emphasis against Stillwater, as could be heard from throughout the spacious rink, was to slow the Ponies any and every which possible way.
“They’ve got a lot of skill and a lot of speed, and we tried to get under their skin,” Gustafson said. “We tried to get in their face right away and take away their time and space.”
Elk River sophomore Zach Michaelis scored the only goal through two periods, then there was a flurry of pucks in the net to start the third. Connor Bizal scored 25 seconds into the third to put the Elks ahead 2-0, but Stillwater’s Adam Eisele countered 51 seconds later.
Foss restored Elk River’s two-goal lead 3:50 into the third when he launched a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that beat screened Stillwater goaltender Jesse Brown.
Foss, who played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League last fall, has five goals and 13 assists so far this season. He’s been trying to contribute more offensively after scoring a goal and adding four assists in 27 games last season as a sophomore.
“It’s always nice to get our guys back there getting some goals,” Bizal said about Foss’ increased scoring. “He’s been great this season.”
There might be other high school players with more size and strength than Big Joey Foss. Bizal would prefer not to run into any of them. Dealing with Foss every day in practice is rough enough.
“It (is tough) in practice, because he hits everything out there just like he does in a game,” Bizal said. “I’m sure other people think he’s scary.
“It’s always nice to play on a team with a guy like that.”
Stillwater defenseman Logan Huber delivers a high hit on Elk River forward Connor Bizal during a scramble in front of the Ponies' net in the third period Friday night. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine
Senior forward Connor Bizal and junior defenseman Joey Foss each had a goal and an assist as hard-hitting Elk River beat Stillwater 4-1 on Friday in the second round of the Hockey For Life Classic at Dakotah! Ice Center in Prior Lake.
The loss was the first of the season for a young Stillwater team that opened with wins in each of its first six games.
The Ponies (6-1-0), with six sophomores and a freshman in their lineup, kept pace with the Elks (7-4-0) into the opening minutes of the third period, when junior Adam Eisele’s goal cut Elk River’s lead to 2-1.
But a goal on a hard wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle by the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Foss 3:50 into the third put Elk River ahead 3-1. Senior defenseman Taiyo Larson added a shorthanded, empty-net goal with 43 seconds left to complete the scoring.
A goal by Elk River sophomore Zach Michaelis accounted for all of the scoring in the first two periods. Bizal scored 25 seconds into the second period to put the Elks ahead 2-0.
Elk River goaltender Kyle Esperum stopped 21 shots. Stillwater goaltender Jesse Brown made 55 saves.
Stillwater senior defenseman Parker Wylie delivers a hit on Elk River sophomore Jack Ferry. Photo by Drew Herron, SportsEngine
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