Goals were sparse but the action plentiful as St. Cloud Apollo outlasted Breck for a 1-0 overtime victory.
Brandon Bissett ended the game with his shot at 5:07 of the extra session. He took a pass from Gino Lucia, whose uncle, Don, coaches the Gopher men’s hockey team. Tanner Breidenbach set the play in motion, corralling a Breck turnover in the Eagles’ end and taking the puck up ice. Bissett’s 18th goal this season tied him for the team lead.
“The goalie bit on Gino’s pass and moved a lot,” Bissett said. “That’s what we work on in practice, those passes that get the goalie moving.”
Neither No. 4 seed Breck (21-8)goalie Stephen Headrick nor his St. Cloud Apollo counterpart Nick Althaus got caught out of position often this season. Breck entered the state tournament as the most-stingiest team, allowing 38 goals – one less than No. 5 seed St. Cloud Apollo (23-4-2). Neither team had won a 1-0 game all season.
“We expected that kind of game,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “I’m an old defenseman but I don’t like 1-0 games.”
Scoring chances, great saves and a little puck luck highlighted the third period. Headrick stopped a Jason Omann’s one-timer from close range. The Eagles faced a Breck power play with less than three minutes remaining but did not concede a goal. The Mustangs later hit a pipe.
Althaus kept the Eagles in the game despite getting outshot by Breck 25-14.
Mahtomedi 6, New Ulm 3
Jack Gunderson joked about having bragging rights for scoring the tournament’s first goal but Mahtomedi teammate Jack Becker paced the Zephyrs’ 6-3 victory with a hat trick.
Becker’s three goals ran his team-leading total to 28 this season. The 6-3, 190-pound junior center led the Zephyrs with 41 points last season.
Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl said a strong performance on the tournament stage Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center befitted one of the state’s best, yet most unheralded players.
“I don’t know if people who don’t see him day in and day out appreciate the little things he does, whether it’s winning draws, slowing things down or rallying his teammates,” Poeschl said.
Becker, who won 21 of his 29 faceoffs, started his big game just nine seconds into the second period.
“I was just pressuring their D-man and he lost the puck,” Becker said. “I got a little breakaway and just shot it.”
On his second goal, Becker made Eagles’ goalie Matt Berkner an unwilling accomplice.
“I tried to bank it off [Berkner] and I got lucky,” Becker said.
The goal gave Mahtomedi (25-2-2) a 4-1 lead and a psychological edge.
“That shorthanded goal was kind of a backbreaker,” said New Ulm forward Ethan Kraus, whose team finished 18-9-2.
Becker’s final goal, a blistering shot from the slot, sealed the outcome.
His efforts eased the burden for a Mahtomedi team Poeschl said “fought it all night long.”
As for bragging rights, Becker said, “As long as we win, I’m happy.”
East Grand Forks 4, New Prague 0
East Grand Forks senior Dixon Bowen’s speed isn’t limited to his obvious physical attributes. Present the Mr. Hockey finalist with an on-ice problem, such as a hot goalie or a far-away empty net, and it doesn’t take him long to process the information and compute a solution.
Such was the case when Bowen scored twice in defending champion East Grand Forks’ 4-0 victory over New Prague (20-9-0).
Bowen, who has committed to play at North Dakota, had his first-period breakaway blast stopped by the blocking glove of standout New Prague Conner Wagner. So when Bowen found himself in alone on Wagner again early in the second, the data told him to do something different.
“I probably learned to deke instead of shoot,” Bowen said about his strategy on his second solo chance against Wagner.
Bowen did, indeed, stickhandle around the attempted poke check of Wagner before depositing the puck high in the net to open the scoring 6:58 into the second period. The goal held up as the winner for the defensively dominant Green Wave (24-4-0), and Bowen sealed the victory with a length-of-the-ice shot with 37 seconds remaining. The empty-net goal came after Bowen and his teammates had misfired on numerous close-range shots at the open net in the closing minute.
“I don’t know about that,” Bowen said when asked if he had learned standing farther from the empty net would give him a better chance to put the puck in it.
Hermantown 8, Spring Lake Park 0
Spring Lake Park ran a gantlet of big-school competition during the regular season, playing 17 Class 2A opponents in all.
Not even that could prepare the Panthers for a Hermantown team senior captain Jacob Nystrom described as “phenomenal.”
“They are just as skilled, they work just as hard as [big-school powers such as Elk River and Blaine],” Nystrom said about the Hawks, state runners-up the past five seasons, who sailed to an 8-0 victory. “Their defense was phenomenal. They blocked shots, they took the body, they made us go wide.”
Top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Hermantown (26-2-1) allowed only 10 shots while getting a hat trick each from the dynamic top-line forward tandem of seniors Ryan Kero and Nate Pionk. In a dizzying display of speed and playmaking, the Hawks captains set each other up for all six of their goals, including three in the first period as the Hawks raced to a 3-0 lead over the Panthers (16-12-1).
“They are very special players, these two guys,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said about Kero and Pionk, the Hawks’ leading scorers with 72 and 69 points, respectively. “These guys have been great all year.”
Kero scored the opening goal on a feed from Pionk (of course) to punctuate a 4-on-1 rush just 3:15 into the first period. The rest of the game mostly stuck to that script, with goals by defensemen Wyatt Aamodt and Ryan Sandelin serving as the exceptions.