Duluth pays off quest for close sports action

John Gilbert

 

St. Cloud Cathedral's C.J. Zins was stopped in a spray of ice chips by Hermantown goaltender Jacob Backstrom in a fierce 5-5 deadlock. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
St. Cloud Cathedral's C.J. Zins was stopped in a spray of ice chips by Hermantown goaltender Jacob Backstrom in a fierce 5-5 deadlock. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Ashton Bell, who scored UMD's first goal in the 2-0 Cup final, had her shot deflected wide by Bemidji State goalie Lauren Bench as Anna Klein, left, and Sydney Brodt, right, sought the rebound. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Ashton Bell, who scored UMD's first goal in the 2-0 Cup final, had her shot deflected wide by Bemidji State goalie Lauren Bench as Anna Klein, left, and Sydney Brodt, right, sought the rebound. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Gabbie Hughes cut loose with a shot in Sunday's Minnesota Cup final, but Bemidji goalie Lauren Bench covered. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
UMD's Gabbie Hughes cut loose with a shot in Sunday's Minnesota Cup final, but Bemidji goalie Lauren Bench covered. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Defenseman Ashton Bell was first to reach UMD goalie Maddie Rooney after she stopped all 38 Bemidji shots for a 2-0 shutout. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Defenseman Ashton Bell was first to reach UMD goalie Maddie Rooney after she stopped all 38 Bemidji shots for a 2-0 shutout. Photo Credit: John Gilbert

My quest, as it often is, was to hustle around Duluth for several days, in search of a great hockey or basketball game. it could be anywhere, and it could be high school or college, and the only problem is that I found plenty of surprises.

First, I had to pass up a basketball doubleheader with Bemidji State playing men’s and women’s at Romano Gym, because the lure of last Friday night was the potential precursor to the state Class A boys hockey tournament final. Last year, you recall that a colorful Greenway team upset powerful Hermantown in overtime in the 7A final at AMSOIL Arena. The Raiders made their presence felt at the state tournament, too, before their two-line attack ran out of breath in a state title game, and St. Cloud Cathedral inflicted a 5-2 ending to the Cinderella story.

This year, Hermantown has reloaded and has what would be considered the No. 1 team in the state except for one thing: St. Cloud Cathedral. With virtually everybody back, the No. 1 Crusaders came to Duluth to face No. 2 Hermantown in what had to be a classic. And it was.

Just before game time, we learned that Jack White, Cathedral’s top player, was out with an injury. White is committed to UMD, and it would have been fun to see him go against the Hawks Blake Biondi, also committed to the Bulldogs. The game was greatly affected by officials who seemed more aggressive than any of the players, calling penalties on almost every touch. Hermantown ended up two men short to start the game, and Jon Bell scored for a 1-0 Crusaders start.

Hermantown struck back at 9:43, when sophomore Beau Janzig scored on a rebound, and three minutes later, junior Aydyn Dowd circled to the slot and scored for a 2-1 Hermantown lead. Three minutes after that, both sides were down a man when Zach Kilen scored off Biondi’s assist, and 45 seconds after that, Biondi drilled one from center point on a power play, putting the Hawks ahead 4-1.

A guy standing near me said there were a lot of Double-A teams that couldn’t play with Hermantown, and midway through the second period the Hawks went up 5-1. That was near the time when the proud Crusaders proved they were not about to give up. Before the second period ended, defenseman Reid Bogenholm broke almost through the Hawks defense, and when he couldn’t quite make it, he sprawled to the ice. But he kept his focus clearly on the puck, and as he hit the ice, he snapped a shot between Hermantown goalie Jacob Backstrom’s legs.

Didn’t seem too dangerous, at 5-2, but it inspired the Crusaders to score two more goals in the first 2:47 of the third period, closing the gap to 5-4 and putting the visitors in command of the momentum. With less than two minutes to go, Blake Perbix scored to tie the game 5-5. The teams continued to battle on into overtime, and both had good chances to win it. But maybe it’s appropriate to end in a draw. If it is indeed the precursor of the state final, what could be better than to have them both armed with that 5-5 tie to start January?

That took care of Friday night, and my weekly quest had been satisfied already. On Saturday, I watched Minneapolis beat Marshall 4-1 at Mars-Lakeview in the early afternoon, and I stopped by Romano Gym to

see if the UMD women’s team could stay undefeated atop the Northern Sun Conference against Minnesota-Crookston. You’ll have to turn the page to find out about that one.

Immediately after the basketball game, I bolted for AMSOIL, where the Minnesota Cup women’s hockey tournament was under way. It figured that Bemidji State would beat St. Cloud State, and then UMD would beat

Minnesota State-Mankato, setting those two winners up for Sunday’s final. They did that, but only by a heartbeat.

Bemidji State, which had swept UMD in a series at Bemidji early in the season, beat St. Cloud State 1-0 in overtime in the opener. Then UMD took a 2-0 lead and appeared to coast to the victory, but the Mavericks countered the first-period goals by Taylor Anderson and Gabbie Hughes by getting great goaltending from Abigail Levy, and two third-period goals — the second by Claire Butorac with 1:27 left to tie it 2-2. It went to overtime, no scoring. Then, for the first time in UMD’s women’s history, they went to a 3-on-3 second overtime.

The UMD coaching staff didn’t hesitate, sending out first line mates Gabbie Hughes and Sydney Brodt, and standout defenseman Ashton Bell. “They’re our best three players,” assistant coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk said with a shrug. Sure enough, on the first shift of the second OT, Bell moved the puck up and Hughes broke into the Maverick zone, feeding Brodt on left wing and breaking hard to the right post. Brodt moved in for a shot from wide left, spotted Hughes, and zipped a pass across the crease. Hughes smacked it in, at 0:17 of the second

overtime.

Not a bad promotional first day, with a 1-0 overtime game and a 3-2 overtimer, so Sunday’s final day was the perfect post-Vikings dessert. In the third place game, St. Cloud and Mankato tied 2-2 through a scoreless OT, and then it was off to the final,

But Maddie Rooney was on her game, and the Bulldog senior goaltender stopped everything, allowing UMD to win 2-0. Bemidji State battled and attacked, repeatedly, after UMD had broken the scoreless game with a

goal from Bell on a second-period power play. Bell started the play at the right point, passing to the left, then skating to the right edge to score on a rebound at 10:25.

With six minutes remaining in the third period, Ryleigh Houston scored on a deflection of Taylor Stewart’s left point shot to double UMD’s margin. Meanwhile, Rooney stopped all 17 Bemidji State shots in the final period, and all 38 of them in the game for a shutout.

“I tried to get a deflection on Taylor’s shot,” said Houston. “I got it with the back of my blade.” As for Rooney’s perfect game? “She’s always sticking her neck out for us, so it’s nice to be able to move together as a team and help her get a shutout.”

That made my weekend quest pretty successful, although I didn’t get down to Minnetonka where Duluth East responded to being shut out twice last week by stunning Minnetonka 2-1, despite being heavily outshot. It was 35-9 after two periods, and East’s two power-play goals were already on the board, so the Greyhounds let Konrad Kausch continue to prove he’s the best goaltender in the region, making 43 saves as the Hounds were outshot 44-12.

I also was unable to get to Essentia Heritage Center Monday night, when East nearly blew a 5-2 lead against arch-rival Denfeld, while the Hunters stormed back, only to fall 5-4. Great moral victory for Denfeld, which, East coach Mike Randolph said, “is the best Denfeld team in a long, long time. It was a tough game, but we always have tough games with ‘em. I’ve now had 30 battles against them.”

One other close game I missed was when Grand Rapids came down to Hermantown Tuesday night and pinned a 2-2 tie on the Hawks, their second tie in a row after St. Cloud Cathedral.

There may be a couple more close games this weekend, when Western Michigan comes to AMSOIL Arena to take on the Bulldogs in a resumption of NCHC action.