By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
After dropping the first of back-to-back games, the St. Michael-Albertville hockey team knew the Jan. 24 rematch with Buffalo was a must-win game to keep their Mississippi 8 title hopes alive.
Losing a heartbreaker 5-4 at Buffalo on Jan. 19 could be chalked up as a moral win to a Bison team that has dominated the M-8 over the past several years.
“We’ve been too close the past few years,” said STMA head coach Jerr Johnson. “That’s been our motto the past week. We’re not accepting being close anymore. We’re done looking at the moral victory column and we really believe we have a chance at a conference title.”
STMA junior Connor Spetz played a key role in last Thursday’s rematch, that saw the Knights split the season series with a 5-3 win. Spetz opened the scoring with an unassisted goal at the 12:28 mark of period one. It was one of a number of chances he had to score early in the game.
“I was just trying to throw everything at the net,” Spetz said. “Their goalie seemed a little shaky and I was just looking to get pucks to the net and hope for my teammates to bury the rebounds.”
The Knights took a 2-0 lead early in the second period when senior Nate Fischbach scored a beautiful goal at the 55-second mark. Fischbach beat his man to a loose puck and with Buffalo goalie Mikey Otten caught in no-man’s land, Fischbach swatted at a loose puck on his backhand and it found the open net.
Moments later, Spetz made it 3-0, scoring his second of the game with assists from junior Brett Marshall and senior Daniel Lund. The lead appeared safe until the Knights took a string of four consecutive minor penalties.
Hunter Bruhn converted on one power-play attempt making it 3-1, but senior forward David Anderson made it 4-1 after he cut to the slot and fired a wrister past Otten. It was Anderson’s team leading 10th goal of the season.
As it turned out, Anderson’s goal was the eventual game winner, as Buffalo scored two late goals to end the second period – cutting the deficit to 4-3.
“We didn’t play our best in that second period and we let down a little bit,” Anderson said. “We went back in the locker room and we talked about how this is our last chance for us seniors to win the conference. Obviously this was a big win.”
Buffalo failed to find the equalizer and at the 7:41 mark, Bison forward Jordan Carlson was tagged for a 5-minute major, checking-from-behind. The Knights failed to extend the lead, but with 14 seconds left, junior defenseman Matt Kisch scored into the empty net making it 5-3.
“We didn’t capitalize on the major, but it obviously wasted time,” said Anderson, who is no stranger to the CFB major call. Twice this season he has fell victim to the stiffer rules. “I don’t really have much to say about that.”
The win was the 100th career victory for Johnson as head coach. He came into the season with a career mark of 94-82-6. Although the Buffalo game was the team’s seventh win, Johnson didn’t get official credit for a 5-3 win earlier this year when he was absent against Robbinsdale Armstrong to attend family matters.
“I feel lucky to get to 100. I feel fortunate to have been with some great coaches and great kids,” said Johnson, who is in his 8th season as head coach. “I can’t believe it’s been that many years. It seems like we just started.”
Knights fall 4-1 at Monticello
As big as the Buffalo win was to help their fate in the M-8 standings, things took a downward spiral after dropping a 4-1 decision Jan. 26 at Monticello.
The loss dropped the Knights into a second-place tie in the standings (3-2) with the Moose – one game behind 4-1 Buffalo.
Sophomore Tyler Hayes got things rolling with his 7th goal of the year at the 3:18 mark of the first period. Fischbach assisted on what turned out to be the only goal the Knights would put behind Monticello goalie Darien Jones. Jones stopped 27-of-28 shots for the Moose.
Monticello scored three second-period goals and Colton Jones made it 4-1 in the third period. Senior Matt Borgen made 20 saves for the Knights.
STMA hosted Rogers Tuesday night and this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. they are on the road at Coon Rapids.