Buffalo's Ryan Nelson (left) fires a shot past Bemidji defender Nick Mannausau (right) during last Saturday's 4-1 home loss to the Lumberjacks. Nelson was moved to the Bison's top line in the game. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)
Being shorthanded in hockey can create a number of challenges throughout a game.
For one contest, the Bison boys' hockey squad played shorthanded seemingly the entire night in a 4-1 home loss last Saturday to Bemidji.
Minus two injured regulars in center Tyler Braccini and defenseman Joe McNamara, the Bison were forced to dig into their junior varsity roster as the list of absent players grew when winger Treyton Welch and defenseman Cal James also missed Saturday's game.
Welch was in Texas to participate for Team USA Football's U.S. Under-18 National Team in the International Bowl played Wednesday, Jan. 18 against Team Canada at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. James was in Arizona participating in a baseball camp. Both players are juniors pursuing Division-I status in their respective sports.
Bison Head Coach Aaron Johnson had mixed emotions after suffering a key loss that most likely will drop them behind Bemidji in the Section 8AA standings.
"We would love to have those guys here to help our team," Johnson said. "But, I was a three-sport athlete myself in high school, and I had great support from my coaches in letting me pursue my passion of playing college hockey. I think I have to do the same thing with our kids. Treyton's passion is to play college football and Cal's goal is to play college baseball. This is an opportunity for them, and we have to be supportive of them. We'll be excited to get them back – that's for sure. They are a big part of our hockey program."
Like his coach, Jake Braccini is also pursuing hockey in his future. Braccini, a Gopher commit, upped his team-leading goal total to 14 when he scored the Bison's lone goal against Bemidji.
Braccini's shot from the right faceoff circle deflected off a Bemidji defender, and past a stunned Matt Fitzgerald, who was in goal.
"I was just trying to fight towards the net for a rebound when I released the shot," Braccini said. "That goal gave us an extra step, it's just too bad we couldn't hold that momentum."
At the time, it tied the game 1-1, and settled things down for a Bison squad that clearly looked overmatched in the first period, despite trailing the Lumberjacks only 1-0 after 17 minutes.
Ryan Nelson assisted on the goal with the faceoff win.
"We were a little nervous in the first period, and we weren't sure what to expect with all the new guys in the lineup," Nelson said. "We got a couple early power plays to get us going that second period and got a lucky bounce on our goal. We just had a couple unlucky bounces go against us later in the game."
Nelson was moved to Buffalo's top line with Tyler Braccini missing his third straight game due to concussion-like symptoms.
"It's definitely really tiring, but it's a lot more fun," said Nelson, on moving from the second line to the first. "You got the coaches trust in you, but you still have to keep working and step up for your team."
Filling in on Buffalo's second line were Jordan Zelenak, Devin Huebner, and Michael Tweten.
Although they didn't score, that line produced some of the best scoring chances, particularly in the second and third periods.
"Props to those guys that came up from JV this game and did their jobs," Braccini said. "It's tough when you don't have some of your core guys, but Huebner, Zelenak and Tweten were some of our best guys tonight."
After a seven-minute stretch where Buffalo appeared to find some life, the air quickly was released when Hunter Olson gave Bemidji a 2-1 lead at 7:37 of period two. Shortly after, the Lumberjacks led 3-1 on a pretty pass from Zak Justice to Joe Leitner, who had a slam dunk as Buffalo goalie Nathan Mueller had no chance on a 2-on-1 executed to perfection.
With McNamara and James both being defensemen, Buffalo relied heavily on Joe Carothers and Ben Lindvall from the blueline, as well as Noah Mueller, Ben Symanietz, and Garrett Kothrade.
At times, Buffalo's blueline played well, but other times they struggled getting the puck out of the zone. The Bison were called for three icings in the opening five minutes of the game.
"I thought they played hard, and this was a great experience for our team. Some guys got some ice time that will maybe help their growth in the long run," Johnson said. "But, I think the most noticeable thing today was missing our top-two defensemen. The minutes they play against other teams' top lines is hard to replace. We also need three lines to play Section 8AA hockey."
Victory over Osseo
Buffalo ended a mini two-game losing streak with a 4-2 home win Tuesday night over Osseo.
Tyler Braccini recorded a goal and an assist in his return to the lineup -- a much-needed boost to Buffalo's scoring depth.
Jake Braccini also had a goal and an assist. He opened the scoring at 10:16 of period one, and assisted on Tyler's goal to start the second period. Nelson made it 3-0 and Carothers tallied his first career varsity goal making it 4-0. Zelenak added two assists.
Bemidji 4, Buffalo 1
(Saturday, Jan. 13 at Buffalo)
Lumberjacks1 2 1 - 4
Bison0 1 0 - 1
First period: BE -- Zak Justice (Joe Leitner) 15:52.
Second period: B -- Jake Braccini (Ryan Nelson) 4:53; BE -- Hunter Olson (Ryan Pogue) 7:37; BE -- Leitner (Justice, Andrew Dondelinger) 11:24.
Third period: BE -- Casey McNamara (Olson, Pogue) 4:26.
Goalies: BE – Matt Fitzgerald (win) 14 shots, 13 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (loss) 25 shots, 21 saves. Shots: BE – 8-6-11 – 25; B – 2-8-4 – 14. Power Plays: BE – 0-1; B – 0-3.
Buffalo 4, Osseo 2
(Tuesday, Jan. 16 at Buffalo)
Orioles0 2 0 - 2
Bison1 3 0 - 4
First period: B -- Jake Braccini (Tyler Braccini, Ben Klein) 10:16.
Second period: B -- Tyler Braccini (J. Braccini) 2:16; B -- Ryan Nelson (Jordan Zelenak) 2:54; B -- Joe Carothers (Zelenak) 6:21; O -- Mitchell Maier (Cade Wessman, Cody Fischbach) 11:47, PP; O -- Jackson Dwyer (Ty Hill) 12:52.
Third period: No scoring.
Goalies: O – Cooper Olson (loss) 29 shots, 25 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (win) 16 shots, 14 saves. Shots: O – 4-9-3 – 16; B – 9-10-10 – 29. Power Plays: O – 1-2; B – 0-3.