By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The winless streak was at seven. But 10 was the number the St. Michael-Albertville hockey team had their eyes set on to start the 2013 calendar year.
You have to go back to Dec. 3 – a 4-3 overtime victory against Cambridge-Isanti, when the last time the Knights smelled victory. Prior to last Thursday’s showdown at home with a red-hot St. Cloud Tech team, the Knights turned to an old trick to try and help get them out of their funk.
“Last year we started a mini-game within the game – a race to 10,” said head coach Jerr Johnson, a contest STMA coaches challenge their players to see which team can be the first to collect 10 hits. “We found a lot of success last year when we did that and the guys asked for it again. We tried it a couple times this year, but we kind of got away from it.”
The physical play was noticeable in the opening 17 minutes. Junior Matt Kisch connected on an early open-ice hit. Moments later, sophomore Tyler Hayes and junior Connor Spetz forced turnovers with solid physical play.
“For us to win games, we need to get back to playing physical,” Johnson said. “I kept track on the bench and we won the race to 10 pretty handedly. Tech looked like a smaller team we’ve seen the past few weeks and physically I thought we took it to them.”
While the physical battle was being won by the home team, the battle on the scoreboard was still even after one period of play. Although the shots favored STMA 9-5 after one period, it was the Tigers and Brody Davidson getting on the scoreboard first with a wrist shot in the second period that beat senior goaltender Matt Borgen.
Moments later, the Knights Mike Ryan was ejected from the game and given a 5-minute major for kicking. Hayes followed with a slashing penalty and the potent Tiger power play had a full two minutes of 2-man advantage.
The Tigers and their 29.7-percent power play connected late in the 2-man advantage when Riley Bates shoveled in a rebound past Borgen.
“(Hayes) took a dumb penalty there, but we forgave him,” said senior forward David Anderson. “He worked hard to repay us for that, so that’s good.”
A recent injury to senior Cade Gamrath, who suffered a broken knee cap during a fluke fall into the boards during practice, forced both Hayes and the Knights to shuffle its lines. Gamrath will miss 6-8 weeks and Hayes was inserted to the top line with senior Jon Gibbs and Anderson.
It was their line that turned the momentum for the Knights. An outlet pass from Gibbs hit a streaking Anderson and Anderson beat his defender with speed and deked Tech goalie Austin Althaus beating him on the breakaway.
“Gibbs gave me an assist and it was just me one-on-one,” said Anderson, who scored his third goal of the season. “Our coaches have been stressing drive the net and I drove the net and beat the kid wide and looked back at coaches and they were just smiling.”
On another nice individual effort, senior Zac Borgen took a Tony Bork pass and gained the Tech zone. A couple moves later and the game was tied 2-2. It was Borgen’s fifth goal of the season and fourth goal in as many games.
“I just tried going to the net and it happened to slip through his 5-hole,” said Borgen, who as of Monday, leads the Knights in scoring with 13 points. “I didn’t actually really shoot it. I had it on my forehand coming around and went to my backhand to go in front of the net and it just slipped through his 5-hole.”
Borgen’s line wasn’t finished. At the 7:24 mark of period three, Bork took a pass from Borgen and went in on a two-on-one on. Anticipating a pass, Althaus was caught cheating and Bork fired a low wrist shot short side to give the Knights a 3-2 lead.
After a late flurry, including a shot in the closing minute from Tiger leading scorer Tanner Skaja that clanked off the right post, the Knights eventually held on for the 3-2 win.
“This is huge,” Borgen said. “This was one of the longest losing streaks in school history and it was really nice to get back in 2013 and get back in the win column.”
“It’s a big weight off our chest, that’s for sure,” Anderson said. “This was Knights hockey and hopefully it leads to more wins.”
The Knights (4-7-1) were at Waconia on Tuesday night (results unavailable). Thursday at 7 p.m. they are at St. Francis.