January 9, 2020 at 2:22 p.m.
A standing-room only crowd of Viking and Wildcat fans was in attendance at the first matchup of the year between archrivals North Branch and Chisago Lakes. When the Vikings increased their lead to 4-0 midway through the second period, it looked like they might run away with the game. But the Wildcats’ Karston Edson scored before the end of the period. Inspired, the Wildcats dominated the third period and Edson added another goal midway through the final stanza to cut the lead to 4-2. The Vikings were finally able to breathe easier when Joey Kerchner scored an empty netter with 1:55 to go to make the final score North Branch 5, Chisago Lakes 2. The game was played last Friday, January 3 and was a home game for the Wildcats.
Viking Tucker Sachs scored twice in the first period. At the 3:48 mark, he poked at a puck that was sitting in the crease and it went under Wildcat goalie Will Burgen and into the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead for the Vikings. Jordan Axberg was credited with an assist on the play. And with the Vikings skating five-on-three later in the period, Cody Croal fed Kerchner for a shot. Burgen made the save, but Sachs was there to clean up the rebound and doubled the Viking lead to 2-0.
The Vikings added a shorthanded goal two-and-a-half minutes into the second period. Croal blocked a shot from the left point, picked up the puck and was off to the races. He skated down the right side and made a Sports Center Top Ten-worthy behind the back pass to Matt Dekanick, who buried the puck to increase the Viking lead to 3-0. When Kerchner added a power play goal at 10:13 of the second period, assisted by Dawson Johnson, it looked like the game might be turning into a blowout. But just over a minute later, the Wildcats did a nice job of forechecking to hold the puck in the Viking zone. Tucker Bakken took a shot from the right side of the net about eight feet out. The puck rebounded left to Edson a few feet outside of the crease. Edson one-timed the puck as Viking goalie Jake Turek slid across to try to make the save, but Edson’s shot snuck just inside the left post for the first Wildcat goal of the game. Chase Mehlhorn also received an assist on the goal, which was Edson’s first goal of the season.
At 7:29 of the third period, Edson took a pass from Ryan Schmidt in the lower left circle and fired another shot inside the left post to beat Turek and cut the Viking lead to 4-2. But despite continuing to pressure the Vikings – the Wildcats outshot the Vikings 10-3 in the third period – the Wildcats couldn’t get anything else by Turek. Kerchner’s empty-netter, assisted by Sachs, sealed the win.
The Wildcats actually outshot the Vikings 30-20 for the game and goalie Jake Turek came up big for the Vikings, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced. Viking head coach Matt Cottingham said, “Jake is the best goalie in our section, and I think he is one of the top ten Class A goalies in the state.”
“We had to kill off five penalties in this one,” said Cottingham, “and we got into a little trouble in the second period because of that. And while we have the better record so far this year, it doesn’t seem to matter in a rivalry game like this. They are always tight games and a lot of fun for the players, fans and coaches. Special teams played a big role for us in this one, as we killed off all five of our shorthanded situations and scored on two of our five power plays.”
The rematch is Tuesday, February 4 at 7 p.m. at Chisago Lakes Arena. Make sure to get there early to get a good seat.