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Minnetonka outslugs Hill-Murray to claim spot in Gold Division final

By Ryan Williamson, SportsEngine, 12/27/17, 10:00AM CST


The Skippers extended their undefeated streak to 11 with a pair of goals in each of the final two periods.

Minnetonka forward Jo Molenaar jumps around a Hill-Murray defender during semifinal play of the Schwan's Cup Dec. 27 at Ridder Arena. Molenaar netted a goal in the Skippers' 4-2 victory. Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine

After Thursday’s win against Hill-Murray, Minnetonka coach Sean Goldsworthy admitted that even he didn’t expect his team to get off to a 10-0-1 start.

“This was our seventh high-end opponent in the past 10 games,” said Goldsworthy, who is in his first season guiding the Skippers. “If you told me we would’ve been undefeated after 10 games, I would’ve told you ‘probably not.’”

Minnetonka continued its early run of success as the Skippers defeated Hill-Murray 4-2 on Wednesday to advance to the Schwan Cup’s Gold Division final.

Of the Skippers’ 10 wins so far, the most impressive might have come on Tuesday. Minnetonka, which is ranked second in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, opened the tournament with a 5-2 win over No. 1-2A Edina. The Skippers came roaring back from 2-1 to defeat their Lake Conference rival.

Minnetonka, however, had little time to celebrate the win with Hill-Murray (5-4-4, 3-1-1) awaiting the Skippers in the semifinals.

“They’re teenagers, so when you play a really emotional game like that against your top rival, there’s probably a little bit of an emotional drain,” Goldsworthy said. “We just had to get them moving. They’re not really used to back-to-backs.”

Early on Wednesday, it appeared Minnetonka hadn’t missed a beat. The Skippers came out flying and put 12 shots on goal in the first period. Unfortunately for Minnetonka, they were all stopped by Hill-Murray sophomore goaltender Remington Keopple. The Pioneers were also held scoreless in the opening frame.

In the second period, the Skippers broke through. Their top line, which features seniors Matt Koethe, Luke Loheit and Joe Molenaar, were responsible for Minnetonka getting out to a 2-0 lead. Molenaar tallied the opening goal while Loheit made it 2-0.

“What it comes down to is that we enjoy playing together,” Molenaar said. “We have built chemistry throughout the season. It’s all about enjoying who you’re playing with.”

While the Skippers’ top line stood out Wednesday, their depth is what allows them to be successful, according to Goldsworthy.

“We preach a lot of zone time,” Goldsworthy said. “We want to apply pressure. We hope they’ll get tired and make mistakes.”

Minnetonka’s tenacity showed in the third period. The Skippers’ power play came through as junior forward Jack Bayless tallied the eventual game-winner.

The Pioneers didn’t fold under Minnetonka’s pressure. Hill-Murray scored early in the third period to make it 2-1 and again to make it 3-2.

This season, the Pioneers have come in with an inexperienced group and have gone up against some of the state’s best, including No. 3-2A St. Thomas Academy.

“Some people think we’re scheduling how we do,” said Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner. “We play everyone that’s anyone. It’s helped us in the past, including last year. We’re prepared for all these different environments.”

The Pioneers haven’t had an ideal start, but they seem to have started hitting their stride in recent weeks. Hill-Murray defeated No. 6-2A Centennial on Tuesday and will have another quality opponent in Eden Prairie in the third-place game.

“They’re really well-coached,” Goldsworthy said. “(Lechner) can turn any group into a really well-skilled team.”

The Skippers also have a daunting task in front of them with the Cadets. Minnetonka prevailed in overtime, 5-4, against St. Thomas Academy in its season opener on Nov. 24. For both teams, it will be survival of the fittest as both teams play their third game in as many days.

“We’re already thinking about St. Thomas (Academy),” Molenaar said. “Every one of these games is a stepping stool for later in the season.”

Skipper Jack Bayless (center) with a one-timer goal giving his team a 3-1 lead. It turned out to be the game-winner in a 4-2 Minnetonka win. Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine

First Report

After a scoreless first period, Minnetonka’s offense came around as the Skippers scored two goals in the second period and two more in the third to defeat Hill-Murray 4-2 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, advancing to Thursday’s Schwan Cup Gold Division championship game.

The Skippers, who are ranked second in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, got going thanks to senior forward Joe Molenaar, who buried a shot in front of the net to get Minnetonka on the board. Molenaar and junior forward Jack Bayless each have a team-high nine goals this season.

Molenaar’s linemate, senior forward Luke Loheit, added his seventh goal of the season later in the period for the Skippers (10-0-1, 1-0-0) to make it 2-0.

Pioneers junior forward Joseph Quast got his team on the board early in the third period to cut the Skippers’ lead in half.

Minnetonka responded with a power-play goal in the third period from Bayless. The Pioneers’ got within 3-2 later in the period as senior defenseman Joey Petronack followed his own shot and scored for Hill-Murray.

However, Hill-Murray (5-4-4, 3-1-1) was unable to find the equalizer as Minnetonka junior goalie Charlie Glockner picked up 23 saves in the win. Pioneers sophomore goalie Remington Keopple was also tested consistently as he made 27 saves in the loss.

With the win, the Skippers advance to Thursday’s Gold Division final against St. Thomas Academy at 6 p.m. at Ridder Arena. The Pioneers will play Eden Prairie in the third-place game, which will take place at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday at Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.

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Edina's Ben Brinkman skates the puck out of his zone. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine

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