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home : sports : sports August 22, 2017

2/16/2017 2:24:00 PM
Chisago Lakes-North Branch rivalry renewed tonight with Vikings on a roll

North Branch 4, Highland Park 2
Having played two games in the previous three days, a tired bunch of Viking hockey players trudged into Highland Arena in St. Paul to take on the St. Paul Highland Park Scots Tuesday, February 17.  “We were out of gas,” said Viking head coach Matt Cottingham.  “We were not on our ‘A’ game and didn’t know what was going to happen.”  But the Vikings have matured to the point they can win a game against an opponent they should probably beat even when they are not at their best.  Ryan Byrkit scored with just over six minutes left in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and the Vikings went on to win the game 4-2.

With 30 seconds left in the first period, Brady Meyer passed the puck from deep in the Scot zone to Justin Sachs at the left point.  Sachs skated to the middle along the blue line and his half-slapshot found the five-hole to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead.  It was Sachs’ first varsity goal.  The Scots answered with a goal 30 seconds into the second period, tying the game at 1-1.  Very late in the second period, Cody Moline raced into the Scot zone down the left side with Jacob Richards on the right on a two=on-one.  Moline had a step on the defender and fired the puck toward the far side of the net, hoping Richards could knock in the rebound.  But Moline’s shot went under the goalie’s blocker about a foot off the ice and, with five seconds left in the period, gave the Vikings a 2-1 lead.

Highland Park scored a power play goal at the 8:47 mark of the third period to tie the game at 2-2, and the Vikings could start to feel things slip a little.  But almost exactly two minutes later, Nick Fairbanks won a faceoff in the circle to the right of the Scot goalie and got the puck to Ryan Byrkit.  Byrkit made a move around a defenseman and, from the left side of the faceoff dot in the right circle, shot the puck through traffic and into the back of the net to give the Vikings a 5-2 lead.  Brady Meyer added an empty-netter on a pure hustle play with just over a minute left in the game and the Vikings came away with a 4-2 win.  Conner Lee picked up an assist on Meyer’s goal.
North Branch 9, Cambridge-Isanti 3
Cody Moline had four goals and an assist as the Vikings throttled the Cambridge-Isanti Bluejackets 9-3 last Saturday, February 11 at Chisago Lakes Arena.  The triumph extended the Vikings’ winning streak to a team-record seven games.

The Vikings followed an interesting pattern in this one.  After the Bluejackets scored in the first two minutes of the game, the Vikings scored the next three goals to take a 3-1 lead after one.  Cambridge scored again just a couple of minutes into the second period, and the Vikings answered with three goals to take a 6-2 lead.  You can see where this is going.  The Bluejackets added a goal with just under 30 seconds left in the second period, and the Vikings piled up – you guessed it – three more goals in the third period to win the game 9-3.

The Vikings’ top two lines provided a lot of the scoring punch in this one.  Brady Meyer and Jacob Richards each had a goal and three assists.  Nick Fairbanks had two goals and an assist and Joe Fabini had three assists.  Alec Hink scored the other goal for the Vikings and picking up a single assist apiece were Ryan Byrkit, Jared Kozar and Bryant Meyer.  The Bluejackets actually outshot the Vikings 39-32 for the game and Viking goalie Trevor Mellen stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced.

“Even after they scored first, there was never a doubt we were going to win this one,” said Viking head coach Matt Cottingham.  “Brady and Cody have really picked up their games and it makes everyone else better.  Our top two lines are clicking on all cylinders and it’s fun to watch.”   

Huge implications in the Chisago Lakes-North Branch hockey tussle tonight
Tonight’s game at Chisago Lakes Arena between the Chisago Lakes Wildcats and the North Branch Vikings may be the most meaningful game the two teams have ever played.  The game could have implications for section seeding and the emotional lift for the winner could give them an edge going into next week’s section playoffs.

Right now, the Vikings (15-8-1 overall, 8-3-0 section) are third in the QRF rankings in Section 5A.  The Wildcats (11-13-0 overall, 9-1-0 playoffs) are ranked right behind the Vikings in fourth place.  Monticello is ranked first and a surprising Pine City team is the number two seed, although they are just barely ahead of North Branch.  It’s possible for the winner of the Wildcat-Viking game to sneak past Pine City into the number two spot.

The Vikings are on a roll.  They have won a school-record eight in a row, including a 7-2 win over Princeton and two comfortable wins over AA Cambridge-Isanti.  The Wildcats are 3-2 in their last five games.  They beat Pine City 3-2, lost 4-3 to Monticello and, most recently, beat Princeton 5-3.  But they lost an overtime game to Cambridge-Isanti 3-2, while the Vikings seemed to have little trouble in two game with Cambridge-Isanti.

The Vikings have been getting solid play from goalie Trevor Mellen all year.  The Wildcats have been switching off between Brooks Stangl and Jesse Carlson all season.  Carlson and Stangl have a combined save percentage of 87.0 percent, while Mellen is at 91.5 percent.  Brady Meyer leads the Vikings with 53 points on 31 goals and 22 assists and the red-hot Cody Moline is right behind with 47 points on 24 goals and 23 assists.  Andrue Telstad leads the Wildcats with 35 points on 20 goals and 15 assists.

Barring something unforeseen, the Vikings and the Wildcats will both be seeded in the top four in Section 5A and will play home games next Thursday.  And they could meet again in the section semifinals or the section final.

In anticipation of season-ending clash on ice, North Branch senior shares his views on heated rivalry with Chisago Lakes
Editors’ Note: This commentary was submitted by a North Branch senior defenseman. It was originally written for his College English class.


Rivalry. That word might trigger a sort of tingle that shoots down your spine. Instantly you have that person, grade, team, school, or state spark into your mind like the strike of a match in the darkness. For some, the term is foreign , irrelevant to their existence on earth. For others, it's a way of life, they feed off it, they need it to survive, it drives them, it runs deep in their bloodlines and they don’t know any other way. Then there's the happy medium, the rivalry that is entertaining, fun and intense all in the same. It is usually temporary, it might just last through high school or maybe just a game day as a fan, it could even be just a week against a fellow class. That is where I stand, but the rapid growth of my biggest rivalry is what I have been experiencing as I close in on my senior year hockey season.  

Ever since I can remember, it has been green and gold versus red and white, east versus west, in some eyes, David versus Goliath. In my eyes, Chisago Lakes has always been a rival. Coming up from youth hockey all the way into varsity hockey, they have been the number one team to beat. Not just for the “W” in the books, or the personal satisfaction, but for my town, and school. I can remember the days my brother played the Wildcats in high school, everyone knew they were the underdogs, but that didn't slow them down, they were going out with a fight either way. Hard nosed and gritty, the attitude of North Branch hockey, the reputation his class created. That reputation was never a good one, it made us look like sore losers, unsportsmanlike, and disrespectful; quite frankly, we were, but a lot has changed these past few years.

The hockey boys of 2017 have since turned the program around. Coming into the high school level in just eighth grade, we have come a long way. In our first few seasons, our losses to Chisago were in the double digits. They were a solid team, making it to state my freshman year, and the section finals  my sophomore year. Last season is where my view about this rivalry turned around. After beating Chisago, something sparked in me, something sparked in the team. We took our level of play to new heights, realizing what our potential was. Not only has every game against Chisago been a different feeling in the gut, like the feeling you get in your stomach and heart before your big final, making all those other quizzes seem so irrelevant; but beating them has since changed how I view every other team. Beating the Wildcats was 80% mental, for me, and the rest of team. Once we overcame them, playing up to the level of teams that have always been better than us wasn’t so hard.

For me, the rivalry has become so much more, it’s a chance to prove how far North Branch hockey has come, a chance to make a statement, a chance to make our town and school proud to wear red and white on and in every field, track, course, rink and classroom. The growth of this rivalry for me has gained intensity and passion, it has become more than just a game, but instead, a battle between borders. Putting on that jersey to take on the boys from the east is now a real respected competition, both towns being skilled opponents. Passions surge, and emotions run high; for players, the will to win runs deep into the roots of the rink itself, a battle over territory, schools and pride. I have yet to like them, but for that reason I love them, they fuel an urge inside me that is unexplainable, it is a sort of high, the feeling of wanting to beat them as bad as I want to breath. They are a rivalry that will be short lived but forever remembered.

North Branch is my place of origin, it will forever stay in my blood and shape who I am. This     is my town, where I can make my mark. Stretching beyond that, my teammates are my brothers, the people and students of North Branch are our people, during those gloryful short months of the brutal Minnesota winters, their hopes and pride to be a Viking turn into our responsibility. Out on the cold, hard surface, we wear our hearts on our sleeves, giving this town our everything and in return getting it back,  together as a school and community, working to build something as permanent as the town itself, building a symbol for all it means to live here.

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