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March 20, 2019

2/14/2019 3:28:00 PM
NB survives shootout with Princeton

North Branch 6, Princeton 5 (O.T.)
The game between the Vikings boys’ hockey team and the Princeton Tigers last Saturday at Chisago Lakes Arena was crazy – including a hat trick by Joey Kirchner, five straight goals by the Vikings, three straight goals by Princeton in the third period – including the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left – and an overtime goal by Cody Croal to give the Vikings a 6-5 win,  The win over a section team may have helped the Vikings get closer to the number two seed for the upcoming Section 5A playoffs.  The game was a lot of fun.

“It was fun for the fans,” said Viking head coach Matt Cottingham, implying that the Viking players and coaches didn’t find the huge scoring swings and late tying goal to be much fun.

The fun started almost immediately.  The Vikings came out a little slow – not uncommon for them in the first period – and the Tigers scored on their first shift of the game.  Princeton scored again exactly six minutes later to go up 2-0.  “We then decided to play the way we know how to play,” said Cottingham.

Just six minutes later, near the end of a power play, the Vikings got on the scoreboard.  With Jake Richards setting a screen in front of the Tiger net, Croal skated the puck to the slot.  He passed the puck to Kirchner on the left side of the net and Kirchner one=timed it past the goalie and into the back of the net to cut the Princeton lead to 2-1.  Just 38 seconds later, Tucker Sachs made a nice pass to Kirchner in the offensive zone and Kirchner put it away to tie the game 2-2.

Early in the second period, the Tigers were scrambling on a penalty kill. Croal found Kirchner alone in the slot and Kirchner put a shot about 18 inches off the ice that somehow made it by the goalie to complete a pure hat trick and give the Vikings a 3-2 lead at 4:10 of the second period.  It was Kirchner’s second hat trick of the season – the first one came in a 5-3 win over Chisago Lakes in early January.

Exactly three minutes later, the Vikings added to their lead.  The Vikings’ aggressive forecheck held the puck in the Princeton zone for nearly 30 seconds.  Alex Langevin ended up with the puck in front of the net and took a shot.  Ben Huth put away the rebound and the Vikings now led by two.  Kade Koecher picked up the other assist.  “That was just the second goal from out third line this year,” said Cottingham, ”and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”  The Vikings scored another goal resulting from a good forecheck at 12:33 of the period.  Matt Courtright got the puck to Richards and Richards found the back of the net.  The Vikings led 5-2 after two periods and seemed to be on their way to an easy victory.

But it was not easy.  The Tigers came out in the third period and attacked.  They scored a little over four minutes into the period to cut the lead to 5-3 and scored a power play goal at 12:43 to pull within a goal.  But with time winding down, it looked like the Vikings would hang on for the win.  With about 30 seconds left in the game, the Vikings tried to pin the puck along the right half wall about ten feet inside the Viking blue line instead of knocking the puck over the blue line and out of the zone.  With no Vikings in the middle of the ice, the puck squirted to a wide-open Princeton player.  He passed to a teammate at the back door who crammed it in the net with 11 seconds left in the period to tie the game and send it into overtime.

What happened to the Vikings n the third period, which is usually their strongest period?  Cottingham said “We stopped attacking the puck.  We were just playing to protect the lead.  You could feel the momentum shifting to Princeton.  But despite that, we knew we had a great chance to rectify things in overtime.  We had been in five overtime games to that point in the season, and we had won three and tied two.”

Just over two-and-a-half minutes into overtime, Richards made a nice pass to Croal in the defensive zone and Croal and Courtright took off on a two-on-one.  Croal moved the puck over to Courtright and the defenseman moved toward Courtright.  Courtright passed it back to Croal on the back door and he put it away for the game winner at 2:51.  It was the second time this season that the Vikings had beaten Princeton in overtime.
Hockey Hullaballoo
The Vikings (14-7-2) have just two games left in the regular season.  Tomorrow night, they head to Dodge County Ice Arena in Kasson to take on the Dodge County Wildcats at 7 p.m.  And on Saturday, they will finish out the regular season at home with a matchup against the Northern Lakes Lightning at 7 p.m.

Since the Vikings will be seeded fifth or higher, they will avoid the play-in games on Tuesday, February 19.  They will open their playoff run at home on Thursday, February 21.  Since they share an arena with Chisago Lakes, who will also likely have a high seed, the game times have yet to be determined.

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