By Rob LaPlante
When St. Michael-Albertville head coach Jerr Johnson listed the top teams in Section 7AA a week ago, the obvious powers like Duluth East, Grand Rapids, Cloquet, Elk River and Andover were named.
One team Johnson excluded from that list – mainly because of too many teams to list off, was STMA’s opening night opponent – Forest Lake.
Any doubt the Rangers weren’t a top team in the section were quickly erased last Tuesday after Forest Lake built a 4-0 first-period lead and cruised to a 7-2 victory.
“We had a tough start,” Johnson said. “We had some guys with some pretty big eyes to start and made some mistakes we don’t typically make.”
Forest Lake’s Kyle Parker was responsible for most the early damage. He scored a pair of power-play goals and assisted on another in the opening period.
The score would go to 5-0, before Connor Spetz erased the goose egg. Spetz scored a power play goal, slamming home a rebound off the boards that was shot by senior forward Zac Borgen.
A neck injury forced Spetz to miss most of last season and STMA’s junior captain said he is healthy this year and looking to have a breakout season.
“Oh yeah, I love it,” said Spetz, when asked about being this year’s go-to guy. “I love being that guy they need to put on the ice in the crucial moments when you need to get a goal.”
Spetz scored both goals in the loss. His second goal was unassisted, coming early in the third period.
“We thought we could beat them,” Spetz said. “We dug ourselves in a hole, but I thought we played better in the second and third periods.”
With the Knights dropping the first of a five game home stand, STMA was looking to pick up its first win last Thursday night against a Robbinsdale Cooper team they defeated 8-0 a year ago.
Much like the Forest Lake game, the Knights came out sluggish and an early penalty eventually turned into a 1-0 Hawks lead when Alex Stagler took a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle, squeezing through the pads of STMA senior goalie Matt Borgen.
“We didn’t win the first shift and it continued into the second and third shifts and then the penalty,” Johnson said. “Matt looked like he struggled on the first one, but he didn’t have much help. He made some great saves after that first goal and we were pleased the way he rebounded.”
Thanks to a power play goal from junior center Brett Marshall, the Knights skated to the locker room tied 1-1 after the first period.
The second period belonged to the Knights. STMA senior forward Mike Ryan scored the first of two goals on the night at the 5:06 mark. Just 32 seconds later, Zac Borgen made it 3-1 and at 14:42 senior forward Cade Gamrath scored with senior Dan Lund and Spetz earning the helpers.
It was the first career varsity goals for both Ryan and Borgen and Ryan said he was thrilled to help out on the score sheet, especially with senior forward David Anderson (pneumonia) out of the lineup and senior captain Jon Gibbs leaving the game in the second period with an ankle injury.
“We were in a slump and we needed something to spark us,” Ryan said. “Someone needed to take the initiative and I tried to go out there and work my butt off and happened to put one in the back of the net.”
Ryan would score his second of the game in the third period with assists from senior’s Aaron Michaelson and Tony Bork. The final score of the game came from another newcomer to the score sheet. Sophomore Tyler Hayes buried a rebound with assists from senior Nate Fischbach and Marshall.
“The coaches are giving us all equal playing time,” Ryan said. “Hard work is what’s going to get you out there and if you’re doing the right things, they are going to put you on the ice for that.”
“We had some guys really step up their game in the second and third period,” Johnson said. “Ryan in particular, is always one of the hardest workers and it was great to see him rewarded on the scoreboard.”
The Knights hosted Robbinsdale Armstrong Tuesday night and Thursday at 7 p.m. they host Mississippi 8 rival Cambridge-Isanti. The home stand closes Saturday at 3 p.m. against Sartell-Sauk Rapids.