Playing the game with less numbers than your opponent is a harsher penalty than you’ll find in nearly every other sport.
In basketball, a foul simple equals a couple free throws. In football, a few yards.
But in hockey, it’s at least two minutes of playing on your heels, defending your net and hanging on by the skin of your teeth till you get back to even strength.
It’s a feeling the Monticello/Annandale /Maple Lake Moose know all too well.
The Moose committed nine penalties Tuesday night, stunting offensive momentum and putting stress on a defense that had been showing strong signs of improvement.
In the end it led to a power play goal, a four on four goal, and a lack of opportunities on the offensive end, as MAML (1-5) dropped its fourth straight.
“We knew that their special teams were good,” said Coach Sheldon Weston. “So we said, ‘we have to stay out of the box.’ Well, we didn’t stay out of the box tonight.”
Princeton would get on the board first, but only after the Moose missed an opportunity of their own. Princeton took a five- minute penalty early in the first for contact to the head, opening up a big scoring chance for MAML.
Yet, the Moose took their own penalty, just 30 seconds into that power play, stopping any momentum before it had a chance to build.
“We’d get a little flow going, and then, in the box,” said Weston.
Eventually Princeton got back to even strength, and soon after found the net. A rush to the net off a rebound provided a tap-in goal and a 1-0 lead for the visitors after one period.
Through the next period, MAML kept the score where it was. The defense and goaltending, which has been victimized in the past, such as a 9-4 defeat to Providence Academy last Thursday, was solid Tuesday night, especially at full strength.
Weston said the team put in some new schemes, and is still working on the communication aspect. But for much of the night, the Moose seemed to work together to clear pucks from the front of the net and prevent many second chance opportunities for the Tigers to take a crack at Austin LeBrun, who would fnish the night with 25 saves.
As the second period wound down, a crushing hit from Birk Olson fired up the crowd and seemed to give the Moose momentum they could stretch into the third and final period.
Alas, the opportunity for momentum was taken away just over a minute later, as another Moose player was sent to the penalty box.
For the third straight time, the Moose killed a penalty. This time they were aided by Princeton taking a penalty of their own just 30 seconds in to even out the one-man advantage.
Despite not giving up a goal, the effects of the penalties seemed to weigh on the night. Playing shorthanded kept the crowd quiet. It wore out the defense. And it allowed Princeton to continue to attack and gain valuable repititions for their special teams.
Soon, that would pay off.
Six minutes into the period, the Moose were penalized again and the Tigers took advantage. A shot snuck by LeBrun, putting Princeton up 2-0.
A minute later, Princeton added another goal as another MAML penalty led to a 4 on 4 and the Tigers took advantage of the open ice to create a 2-on-1 break and an easy goal-scoring opportunity.
At that point, the Moose would finally counter.
Fifteen seconds after getting out of the box, Colton Jones made amends. He scored on a power play of the Moose’s own to cut the lead to 3-1.
That was as close as the Moose would get.
MAML chased goals down the stretch, crashing the net hard in the final few minutes. But it was too little too late in a game where the Moose couldn’t generate momentum till the end.
“It’s the little mistakes that we keep making that are the killers,” said Weston, adding that most penalties are born out of people being just slightly out of position.
“It’s the basic things that we’re not doing. But, I think we’re getting better at it.”
The Moose know they have to get better.
They host a good St. Cloud Tech team Thursday, before staying to face an improved Becker/Big Lake squad on Saturday.
After a short Christmas break, the Moose travel to Park Rapids for a pre-New Years tournament against some quality northern competition.
“I don’t think it gets any easier,” said Weston. There’s not gonna be an easy game for us this year.”