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home : sports : sports
December 11, 2019

11/29/2019 3:14:00 PM
Croal shines as Vikes shred Storm

North Branch 7, Sauk Rapids-Rice 3
Center Cody Croal, named by the StarTribune as one of the 21 “Players to Watch” in the Metro area this season, lived up to his billing by delivering a hat trick and three assists in the Viking hockey team’s opener, leading them to a 7-3 win over the Sauk Rapids-Rice Storm.  The game was played Friday, November 22 at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids.

After a scoreless first period, the Storm struck first, scoring 90 seconds into the second period for a 1-0 lead.  But Joey Kerchner answered just 18 seconds later for the Vikings, assisted by Croal, to tie the game at 1-1.  Exactly three minutes later, Croal scored his first goal of the game, with assists going to Jordan Axberg and Matt Dekanick to give the Vikings a 2-1 lead.  Dawson Johnson scored a power play goal about three minutes later and Dekanick scored his first career goal at the ten-minute mark to give the Vikings a 4-1 lead.  Croal and Kirchner assisted on both of those goals.  The Storm scored with just under three minutes left in the period to cut the Viking lead to 4-2.

The Vikings took two penalties just seconds apart with a minute to go in the second period and took another just 39 seconds into the third period.  They killed off nearly three minutes of a Sauk Rapids two-man advantage to maintain their two-goal lead.  At the halfway mark of the period, Croal scored to extend the Vikings lead back to three goals, with assists going to Axberg and Jesse Lesmann.  Axberg scored his first career goal just two minutse later to make it 6-2.  The Storm scored a power play goal with four minutes to go in the game, but Croal answered by completing his hat trick with three minutes left, assisted by Dekanick, to make the final score 7-3.
The Vikings outshot the Storm 62-36 for the game.  “With the first game, you never know what to expect,” said Viking head coach Matt Cottingham.  “We are more of an experienced team this season, but we also have some kids who have never played varsity hockey before.  We took quite a few penalties tonight, mostly due to jitters and overzealousness.”  The Vikings were called for eight penalties, including the last five penalties of the game, to just four for the Storm.  But the Vikings killed off all but one of the Storm power play opportunities, which was a key to the win.

Cottingham continued “Playing from the lead, it was nice to run three lines for most of the game and four lines in the third period.  It gave everyone a chance to get their feet wet.  I was glad to see Dawson Johnson get his first goal early this season.  He didn’t score a lot of goals last year, but he put in a lot of work this summer and during practice this fall.  And Croal had six points in this game, which is not unexpected.  If you had told me seven years ago when I started coaching this team that I would have one Division 1 player during my coaching career, I would have taken it.   But we’ve already had Brady Meyer and now it looks like Croal might be that second D1 player.”

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