By Bob San
After taking their lumps during a brutal early season schedule, the Maple Grove Crimson seem to have found their groove. And that’s bad news for the Osseo Orioles, who fell at Maple Grove 8-0 Jan. 3.
Osseo goalie Connor Dahlberg was a busy man as the Crimson out shot Osseo 39-9. Sam Valerius scored two goals and Chris Freemark, Drake Thomsen, Parker Dean, Nate Erickson, Jake Abernathy and Charlie Thomsen each scored once. Joe Franta had four assists and Josh Passolt two. Sophomore goalie Calvin McKenney got the win to improve to 4-0.
“In those first seven games every team we played was rated near the top,” Crimson coach Gary Stefano said. “It was tough. But getting through those game we felt better about ourselves because we tried to move people around and learn some things.”
The Crimson turned things around in the St. Louis Park Holiday Tournament. They lost to Elk River in the first game, then beat Lakeview North and Bloomington Jefferson for the consolation title. They followed with the 8-0 win over Osseo and a 7-0 rout of Coon Rapids last Saturday.
One of the keys to Maple Grove’s improvement is the insertion of sophomore Josh Passolt between juniors Valerius and Erickson, the team’s most experienced goal scorers. The trio skated together in the holiday tournament and the result has been very positive.
“We tried different guys between Valerius and Erickson but in the last four games we put Passolt between those two guys,” Stefano said. “It’s been a good line. They have connected well. Josh is a great playmaker and we need him between those two guys and it has worked out pretty good.”
Passolt leads the team with 15 points while Valerius and Erickson both have 14.
Stefano has not decided on the other line combinations because the Crimson have been hit with a rash of injuries and illness but he has been using seven forwards and they all have contributed.
“At the end we should end up with three pretty good lines,” Stefano said.
Another change Stefano made was that he decided to rotate goalies McKenney and senior John Danielson.
“We are rotating those guys until somebody steps up,” Stefano said.
The defense has been solid with the brother combinations of Joe and Sam Franta and Drake and Charlie Thomsen.
So after a slow start, the defending conference and section champion Crimson are slowly molding into a very competitive team. People who wrote off Maple Grove early in the season should take note because the young Crimson will only get better.
“We are still trying to put things together and we are getting there,” Stefano said. “We have won four games in a row and last week we had two shutouts and we scored 15 goals and scoring was one of our question marks when the season began. Our goal since the beginning of the year is we expect to be back at that final game (section championship). Right now, it looks like teams that are playing well are Centennial, Blaine and us. It will be wide open at the end. We are right in there in the race for the conference championship. Our goal now is to keep plugging away and finding ourselves and hopefully we are there at the end of the year. We are seeing some good signs in the last four games.”
Drake Thomsen and Passolt each scored two goals to lead MG to an 7-0 romp over Coon Rapids Jan. 4. Brad Levesque, Jake Abernathy and Sam Franta all netted one. John Danielson got the shutout win.
The Crimson are 9-7 overall and 5-2 in the conference. They next visit Andover Thursday, Jan. 10 and host Champlin Park Saturday, Jan. 12.
After the Maple Grove game, the Orioles lost to Centennial 6-1. Josh Stromberg scored Osseo’s lone goal and Alex Otto made 33 saves in goal.
The Orioles are led in scoring by Drake Simpson, Drew Lofgren and Mason Hautula.
The Orioles next travel to Brainerd Friday, Jan. 11 and host Elk River Saturday, Jan. 12.
Contact Bob San at email@example.com