Lakeville North junior forward Spencer Schneider has played against Lakeville South too many times, seen too many crazy bounces and wild swings of momentum, to take any lead against the Panthers’ archrival for granted.
So with No. 1-seeded Lakeville North leading the No. 3-seeded Cougars by three goals in the third period of Thursday’s Class 2A, Section 1 championship game, Schneider wasn’t about to start daydreaming about state tournament trimmings such as the bright lights of an NHL arena, the stare of TV cameras and the importance of well-coiffed hair.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times, especially in the North-South rivalry,” Schneider said after scoring two goals, including the eventual game-winner in the third period, to boost the Panthers to a 4-3 victory in front of an estimated Rochester Recreation Center crowd of 900. “I mean, one bounce the other way, it’s all downhill and you can’t come back from it.
“So it’s really unpredictable.”
Schneider’s goal with 5.8 seconds left in the second period put Lakeville North (16-10-2) ahead 3-0 and Lakeville South (14-12-2) on the ropes. Remember, though, this is the North-South rivalry, so no team is ever down and out until the clock strikes zero.
Sure enough, Lakeville South senior defenseman Zach Zemlak unleashed two hard shots from the right point for goals in the third period to pull the Cougars to within one and pump energy into a previously flat-lined atmosphere.
“It’s odd to say but you almost expect it,” Lakeville North coach Trent Eigner said about South’s comeback. “In this rivalry it will find its way back to a good game no matter if it is the regular season or whatever.”
In a Lakeville North season full of highs and lows, lineup changes and inconsistency as the norm, Schneider’s play has been as reliable as a Swiss watch. He scored 20 goals in 25 regular season games and has added five more in three playoff games.
“At this level I would like to say there are a ton of great hockey players, but there are very few that can play all aspects of the game,” Eigner said. “And he does that very well. When we need a guy to block a shot, it’s him. When we needed a guy to score a goal late, it’s him. He just kind of has that consistent nature about him.”
Schneider’s goal with 7:07 remaining put Lakeville North ahead 4-2 and momentarily doused the Cougars’ comeback.
“He’s been awesome,” senior forward Blake Brandt said about his longtime linemate Schneider. “You just have to find him in front, and he’ll put it in.”
Lakeville South, which lost to the Panthers twice during the regular season, closed to within 4-3 on a Zachary Bauer goal with 1:22 remaining after pulling goaltender Henry Welsch in favor of an extra skater. The Cougars had a couple quality scoring chances in the final minute but couldn’t convert.
“We just had to play desperate, and I think they did,” Lakeville South coach A.J. Bucchino said. “We made a comeback, but I think we dug ourselves into too big of a hole and it just caught up with us at the end.”
The trip to the state Class 2A tournament is Lakeville North’s first since 2015, when the Panthers capped a magical 31-0-0 season by defeating Duluth East for the program’s first state championship. None of the current Panthers played on that team, leaving a clean slate for this year’s group.
“It feels awesome,” Brand said. “Everyone on this team, it’s their first time going to the state tournament, so it’s going to be a blast.”
Junior forward Spencer Schneider scored twice, including what proved to be the game-winning goal in the third period, as No. 1 seed Lakeville North survived a furious comeback attempt by No. 3 seed Lakeville South to win 4-3 on Thursday in the Class 2A, Section 1 championship game at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Schneider’s clutch scoring (he has five goals in three playoff games and 25 for the season) vaults the Panthers (16-10-2) back to the next week’s state Class 2A tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul after a two-year hiatus.
Schneider scored on a bad-angle shot with 5.8 seconds left in the second period to put Lakeville North seemingly comfortably ahead at 3-0.
Lakeville South rallied on back-to-back goals on shots from the right point by defenseman Zachary Zemlak. His second goal came with 8:45 left and pulled the defending section champion Cougars (14-12-2) to within 3-2.
Schneider briefly doused the South rally when he scored with 7:07 remaining. But the Cougars’ pulled goaltender Henry Welsch in favor of an extra skater with just less than two minutes remaining, and Zachary Bauer scored with 1:22 left to make it 4-3.
Welsch finished with 37 saves for the Cougars. Caleb Mayer made 30 saves for Lakeville North, which beat Lakeville South twice during the regular season.
The MN Hockey Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.