By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The good news is the St. Michael-Albertville hockey team had a favorable matchup in last Saturday’s Section 7AA playoff play-in game. The bad news is, the team that won the playoff game had to travel Tuesday night to face No. 2 rated Duluth East in the quarterfinal matchup.
With the Knights already defeating Cambridge-Isanti twice on the schedule this season, STMA senior captain Jon Gibbs knew they still had to come prepared.
“We knew this could be their last game too,” Gibbs said. “Coaches told us in pre-game that even though it’s Cambridge, it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row.”
One thing the Bluejackets were saving during the season for this particular matchup was seventh-grade goaltender Jacob Sibell. They had a brief look at Sibell when he made an appearance in relief last month in a 7-4 Knights victory. But in each of the other two meetings the Jackets started Frank Maslow in net.
The 13-year old Sibell came into the playoffs with seven of the Jackets’ eight wins and had a .907 save percentage.
“When we didn’t face him the second time we played them, I thought maybe they were holding him out,” said STMA head coach Jerr Johnson. “You can tell he’s a confident goaltender and he’s got decent size for being a seventh grader.”
The Knights came out peppering the young goalkeeper. In the first period alone, STMA outshot the Jackets 16-4. But the only blemish from Sibell was a rebound he kicked that Gibbs backhanded into a wide open net, giving STMA a 1-0 lead.
“He can definitely play,” said Gibbs afterwards. “He brought his game and was able to save a lot of shots. I think we could have had a couple more on him, but he played a real good game.”
The Knights came out firing away to start the second period, but again Sibell and the Jackets were not budging.
While goals were not coming, the momentum and hits were still in favor of the home team. Gibbs, senior forward David Anderson and junior defenseman Matt Kisch were hitting everything in sight. The momentum eventually led to a 2-0 lead when Anderson took a pass from senior Daniel Lund and made a nice move beating Sibell.
Before the Knights had a chance to celebrate, the Jackets scored 37 seconds later on a goal by Mitch Renstrom. With 2:12 left in the second period, Elliott Simon poked at a loose puck that barely beat senior goalie Matt Borgen, but the game was tied 2-2.
“We got rattled a little when they tied it,” said senior defenseman Aaron Michaelson. “We have 12 seniors and when we came into the locker room and said we didn’t want this to be the last time to put on this sweater.”
Ironically, the Knights were wearing the home gold sweaters for the first time this season.
“Last year we wore them a lot and we played pretty well with them,” Michaelson said. “We wanted to this year and the coaches let us for the playoffs.”
Michaelson – a stay at home defenseman – would score the eventual game winning goal midway through the third period. Michaelson took an Anderson pass and buried his first goal of the season to give STMA a 3-2 lead.
“David passed it to me and I pulled it to the middle,” Michaelson said. “I just pulled it to the middle and there was nobody there. I just shot it and it went it.”
Junior Connor Spetz added the insurance with a nifty goal from center ice into the open net, giving STMA a 4-2 win.
“I thought we played a great game,” Johnson said. “To (Cambridge’s) credit, we went up 2-0 and I thought they could have quit. We were outshooting them and they took it to us for about five minutes and we came out in the third period and proved we were the better team.”
STMA’s playoff game with Duluth East Tuesday night was unavailable at deadline.