White Bear Lake goalie Tyler Steffens
(Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine)
If you ventured to Aldrich Arena on Tuesday night to take in the intense boys’ hockey rivalry that is White Bear Lake vs. Hill-Murray, you didn’t come away disappointed.
The only regular-season meeting between the undefeated Class 2A Section 4 powers featured back-and-forth action, a boisterous crowd that offered “Woooos!!’’ that would make Ric Flair proud, and a thrilling finish in overtime.
But enough about Hill-Murray’s 5-4 triumph in the junior varsity game. That was merely a tasty appetizer, capped by Brendan Bonin’s hat-trick clinching OT goal, for what was to come when the big boys for the Bears and Pioneers hit the ice.
When a stirring third period and overtime finally ended in the varsity game, White Bear Lake, ranked No. 7 in Class 2A by Let’s Play Hockey, emerged with a 3-2 victory over No. 3 Hill-Murray in front of a crowd that nearly filled the 3,200-seat Maplewood arena.
Billy Rose one-timed a pass from linemate Lleyton Roed past Pioneers goalie Remington Keopple 4:13 into overtime for a power-play goal that gave the Bears (6-0-1) the victory. That came after Sam Newpower tied the score 2-2 with 16 seconds left in regulation and the Bears goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
“We’ve been on the other end of this,’’ said Bears coach Tim Sager, whose team edged the Pioneers 3-2 in last season’s section final. “We got a bounce here, and a bounce there. … This is the White Bear and Hill-Murray rivalry right here. The crowd got a good show.’’
That was especially true in the third period, when momentum swung several times during a fast-paced, physical 20 minutes.
Down 1-0 entering the third, Hill-Murray (6-1) clawed back and titled the ice in its favor, forcing the Bears into several icings. Triston Tabucol knotted the score 1-1 by finishing a short breakaway and firing a shot top-shelf over Bears goalie Tyler Steffens at 8:06.
When Rose took an interference penalty at 11:49, the Pioneers pounced 39 seconds later with Charlie Strobel’s power-play goal for a 2-1 lead, putting a charge into the Hill-Murray crowd.
The Pioneers appeared to wear down the Bears late in the third, and White Bear Lake couldn’t get Steffens off the ice for a final push until 35 seconds remained. But Newpower provided the dramatics when he blasted the rebound of a Rose shot past Keopple.
“That’s what you get out of a senior-laden team,’’ Sager said. “This is my most senior-laden team with 12 guys. It was calm on the bench. We knew what we had to do. We had a great look off our faceoff, and Newpower came off the wall and attacked it. We had a good double screen, and Keopple didn’t see the puck. Caught a break.’’
Sager revealed afterward that the Bears were dealing with the flu bug this week, with eight players ailing and only 12 available for practice on Monday. That didn’t stop them against their archrival.
“As the game went on, I kept looking in their eyes to see how much gas they had in the tank,’’ Sager said. “… They showed a lot of guts to suck it up.’’