January 12, 2012 at 8:52 a.m.
The Wildcats seemed to be in a bit of a funk in their first game after the Roseau tournament and it showed in the results. River Lakes -- a co-op of seven Western Minnesota schools -- scored twice in the second period to break a 1-1 tie and then turned a furious Wildcat power play into another goal late in the third period to salt away a 4-1 win over the Wildcats this past Tuesday, January 3 at Chisago Lakes Arena.
River Lakes scored at 1:50 of the first period to take the early lead. But Bradee Thompson put one in the back of the net just over a minute later, assisted by Trevor Lushanko, to tie the game at 1-1. Two River Lakes goals in the second period put them up 3-1. A River Lakes penalty with just over four minutes left in the game seemed to light a fire under the Wildcats. They cycled the puck well and created a number of scoring chances on the power play. But they didn't quite manage to put the puck in the net. Just as the power play ended, a River Lakes player picked up the puck, skated in on the Wildcats net and scored to put the game away.
"This was a tough one after we played so well in the Roseau tournament the previous week," said Wildcat head coach Josh Liebenow. "They're a talented team and they beat us at our own game. They outplayed and outhustled us. We didn't get any bounces and we didn't get any calls, but that's the game of hockey. In the end, the refs didn't lose the game for us. We lost it ourselves."
St. Francis 4, Chisago Lakes 3
The Wildcats and St. Francis played one of the most entertaining high school hockey games of the year. St. Francis brought a lot of fans with them and you could feel the intensity in the arena from start to finish. The only thing missing was a happy ending for the Wildcats. St. Francis scored four minutes into the third period to break a 3-3 tie and withstood a Wildcat onslaught to beat the Wildcats 4-3 last Friday, January 6 at Chisago Lakes Arena.
The Wildcats got on the board first. Just over six minutes into the first period, the Wildcats won a faceoff at center ice. Lawrence Zaun carried the puck into the St. Francis zone and passed it to Brandon Gillespie in the left circle. Gillespie's shot beat the St. Francis goalie to put the Wildcats up 1-0. St. Francis answered just two minutes later to tie the score at 1-1. But with just over two minutes left in the period, Jacob Speight took a shot from the left side and the St. Francis goalie made a great save at the left edge of the crease. The puck dribbled to the right side of the crease and stopped. Following the shot, Louis Kastenbauer skated across the front of the crease from left to right and poked the puck across the line for his first varsity goal, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. Chris Ritter also picked up an assist on the play.
Five minutes into the second period, Trevor Lushanko scored a power play goal, assisted by Speight, to give the Wildcats a two goal cushion at 3-1. At 10:26, St. Francis started their comeback. Jimmy Mayer picked up a loose puck in front of the Wildcat net and wristed it into the upper left corner to pull the Fighting Saints within one. St. Francis scored again at 11:34 and, just like that, the game was tied 3-3. It looked like the Wildcats would retake the lead a minute later, but their shot hit the pipe. St. Francis got control of the puck and ended up with a two-on-one. They got Wildcat goalie Jake DuBose to commit left, but their shot missed the wide open right side of the net and the score remained knotted at 3-3.
The Wildcats nearly scored at the end of the second period. Brandon Gillespie stole the puck in the St. Francis zone with 14 seconds left, skated into the left corner, circled out and shot from the left circle with five seconds left. The puck was headed for the inside of the left post, but the goalie made a nice save to keep the score tied.
The Wildcats took a tripping penalty at 4:23 of the third period. Just 23 seconds later, St. Francis scored a power play goal to go up 4-3. The Wildcats had two straight power plays midway through the period, but failed to capitalize on either one. The Wildcats kept up the pressure. With 1:15 left in the game, Bradee Thompson passed the puck from his own blue line to Gillespie at the left side of the St. Francis blue line. Gillespie skated to the high slot and passed the puck to Thompson in the lower right circle. Thompson ripped a one-timer that had "goal" written all over it, but it hit the inside of the left post and bounded away. The Wildcats kept up the pressure. They were called for a hand pass with 23 seconds left in the game. The faceoff was moved all the way to the other end of the ice. St. Francis won the faceoff and kept the puck in the Wildcat zone for the last few seconds of the game to skate away with the win.
"That was one hundred percent better than our last game," said Wildcat head coach Josh Liebenow. "But St. Francis got the bounces tonight. Their first goal hit funny off the boards and they got a tap-in. And we didn't get a good bounce when Brady's shot hit the pipe near the end. Even so, that was the most fun game we've played all year. It was back and forth all night. Both teams played well. And the refs let 'em play. It was the best refereed game I've seen all year. The refs called the penalties they should have. We took a dumb penalty that led to a power play goal, so we only have ourselves to blame for that one."
The Wildcats (6-8-1 overall) play back-to-back games against conference foe Irondale. The first one is tonight at 7 p.m. at Chisago Lakes Arena. The second one is this Saturday, January 14 at 2:30 p.m. at the Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine. And next Tuesday, January 17 they'll play Robbinsdale Cooper at New Hope Arena in a game starting at 7 p.m.having a solid season at 8-3.