By Rob LaPlante
The St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey team prepares for their holiday tournament at Thief River Falls trying to shake off a four game winless streak.
A 6-2 home loss to Delano on Dec. 20 was its third straight loss and fourth straight without a win. Senior captain’s Jon Gibbs and Cade Gamrath explain that of the four consecutive winless outings, it was the loss to the Tigers that bothers them the most.
“We always talk about what Knights hockey is and one of the major points is blocking shots,” Gamrath said. “We’re not lying down right now and blocking those shots. More shots, means more goals.”
Both teams fired a lot of shots in the opening period of last Thursday’s game. Delano scored three times on 15 shots and the Knights answered with two goals on 13 shots.
The Tigers have scored 39 goals in their first nine games and boast one of the top scoring lines in the state in Justin Oja, Adam McLain and Eric Ylitalo. The trio is responsible for 26 of their team’s 39 goals and Oja got them on the board first at the 4:56 mark.
Nate Meyers made it 2-0 and STMA closed the gap to 2-1 when senior David Anderson scored off a rebound. Gibbs and junior Connor Spetz assisted. McLain made it 3-1 at 12:44 when he fired a wrist shot beating senior goalie Matt Borgen. The Knights responded again on a soft wrist shot from junior Matt Kisch that bounced off Delano goalie Aaron Grangroth’s glove hand. Anderson and Gibbs assisted on the goal that made it 3-2.
“We thought we were still in the game,” Gibbs said. “We scored four goals in the third period against Armstrong and felt like we could still get the win.”
After the Knights failed to convert a 4-on-3 advantage to start the second period, Anderson was called for a 5-minute major for checking from behind and was given a game disqualification.
“That’s a tough call. I understand where the ref’s are coming from and I know how important it is in our game to protect each other,” said head coach Jerr Johnson. “The guy turned right when David hit him and he didn’t go face first into the boards. I’m glad it wasn’t a cheap hit, but from the referee’s angle I could see where he could take it as that.”
The Knights successfully killed off the major. Although the score remained 3-2 into the second intermission, STMA never seemed to find their game after that.
“We killed that penalty off, but the hard part was it took a lot out of our gas tanks,” Johnson said. “Not having David, who was having a good night really came back to haunt us.”
The Tigers top line would strike often in period three. McLain scored a power play goal at the 1:53 mark, firing a wrist shot high glove side past Borgen. He later struck for his third goal of the game just four minutes later. Ylitalo closed out the scoring at 9:19 with his team leading 14th goal of the season.
“I only had three goals all season and Ylitalo is fifth in goals in the state, so I’ve been kind of slacking,” said McLain, who finished the night with five points. “We have a great line and things have been going good all year for us. In my three years, it’s always been tough games against St. Michael. The games are always a battle.”
“They were winning a lot of the loose puck battles,” said Gibbs, explaining the success of the Tigers’ top line. “They were able to play mistake free hockey and capitalized on their opportunities.”
The Knights (3-4-1 overall) travel north to Thief River Falls for a weekend holiday tournament which sees them play Chanhassen, Fargo North and Irondale at the prestigious Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Both captains are fired up to play at the mini-Ralph.
“I played there my Bantam-A season and it’s an awesome rink, an awesome facility,” Gamrath said. “We’ve been looking forward to this since last season.”
“It’s very exciting,” said Gibbs, with a grin. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s probably the greatest high school rink in the nation. It will be great to play in that atmosphere against those teams in that arena.”