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High school hockey games have a tendency to get a bit whacky at this team of year. Especially, it seems, in the closing minutes when the final outcome is no longer in doubt.
There’s no fun, catchy “March Madness” nickname for the late-game section playoff shenanigans that have resulted in the throwing of haymakers, the clearing of benches and the leveling of suspensions.
The February Follies continued on Saturday afternoon at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina when Holy Family Catholic goaltender Conan Hayton was slammed into by Prior Lake’s Preston Underhill in the closing minutes of a runaway 5-2 Fire victory in a Class 2A, Section 2 semifinal.
With 2:39 remaining, Hayton had steered a shot into the corner when a hard-charging Underhill delivered a high hit that knocked Hayton’s goalie mask into the air and the helmetless and off-balance Hayton into the crossbar and then down to the ice.
“Luckily he just got the wind knocked out of him and needed some time to gather his thoughts,” Holy Family Catholic coach Noel Rahn said about Hayton, who was motionless on the ice for several minutes. “Not how you want a game to end.”
Hayton was deemed healthy enough to finish the game, Underhill received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for charging, and the final minutes were played incident-free.
“Obviously we didn’t want anything like that to happen,” Prior Lake coach Joe Pankratz said. “I told our guys, ‘Just stay out of anything. If you lose, lose with class.’ ”
Hayton, a senior playing his first season for the Fire after moving from Colorado, has seen action in all 27 games this season – sitting out only one period. His backup is untested freshman Dylan Hallwill.
“He’s played 99 percent of all our minutes,” Rahn said about Hayton. “Without him, it would be a disaster.”
The late-game incident overshadowed an otherwise workmanlike dismantling of the inexperienced and No. 3-seeded Lakers (11-16-0) by the No. 2-seeded Fire, a veteran team that is ranked No. 7 in the state in Class 2A in the latest coaches’ poll and advanced to the section championship game for the second straight season.
Senior Ben Almquist, a Mr. Hockey finalist, scored twice and added an assist, and his linemate, senior sophomore Garrett Pinoniemi, also chipped in a goal for the Fire (23-3-1). Meanwhile, the all-senior forward trio of twin brothers Joe and John Simon and Joe Hankinson combined for a goal and four assists.
Joe Simon is listed on the Holy Family Catholic roster as a defenseman, and he was announced as a starting defenseman in the pregame ceremonies. However, he played wing on a line with his brother at center and Hankinson at the other wing, as they have done most of the season.
“I was gonna play D in case anything became extreme and the score wasn’t the way we expected it to be,” Joe Simon said. “But everything went pretty smoothly, and so I was able to stay with my line at forward.”
Joe Simon has been something of a Swiss Army knife for the Fire this season, filling in at defense whenever the need arised. An injury that kept regular Fire defenseman Nikolai Charchenko out of the lineup on Saturday (he’s expected to return for Wednesday’s section final) put Simon on notice that his services could be needed at the blue line. But with the Fire comfortably ahead for most of the game, there was no need for any lineup shuffling.
“There’s less stress at forward, just going hard,” Simon said about which position he liked best. “They are both pretty fun. Scoring goals at forward is probably the most fun part, so forward.”
As for the final minutes and the hard hit on Hayton, the finish was setting up to be a repeat of a section semifinal at Braemar a few years ago, when Eden Prairie and Benilde-St. Margaret’s ended their matchup in a brawl.
“I was mad; obviously, it was really frustrating,” Simon said. “But I wasn’t too worried.
“Conan is pretty committed to the team. So I think no matter how hard he got hit, he was like, ‘I can’t be out for the next game.’ So he was going to get up and he was going to be ready to play the next game no matter how bad it is.”
Ben Almquist scored twice and added an assist, and goaltender Conan Hayton made 14 saves and survived a scary late-game collision as No. 2 seed Holy Family Catholic beat No. 3-seeded Prior Lake 5-2 on Saturday afternoon in a Class 2A, Section 2 semifinal at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina.
The Fire (23-3-1), ranked No. 7 in Class 2A in the latest state coaches' poll, have never reached the state tournament. They advance to Wednesday’s section final at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis against either Chaska or Minnetonka. Holy Family Catholic lost to Eden Prairie in last year’s section title game.
Hayton was in the midst of finishing out a solid and only moderately busy afternoon when a hard-charging Preston Underhill slammed into him near the left side of the goal. Hayton’s goalie mask flew off as part of the collision, and the senior goaltender slumped to the ice and stayed there for several minutes while being evaluated by a trainer.
Hayton, who has been in goal for the Fire for all but one period this season, eventually popped his facemask back on and closed the game out.
The Fire got first-period goals from Almquist and Joe Hankinson, and they extended their lead to 3-0 in the opening minute of the second on another Almquist goal.
Prior Lake (11-16-0) pulled to within 3-1 on a power-play goal by leading scorer Jackson Jutting. Holy Family Catholic responded with a goal late in the second period by Jack Haley and added another in the opening minute of the third by Garrett Pinoniemi to take a 5-1 lead.
Hayton finished with 14 saves. Prior Lake goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 32 of 37 shots.
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