Facing three games in three days, and with the toughest test up first, the Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake Moose knew they had to start fast last week.
And they did.
The Moose scored two early goals in a Wednesday night match up with conference-leading Buffalo and hung on from there, defeating the Bison 2-1 at Moose Sherritt Ice Arena and starting a run of three wins in three days.
Mason Vetsch got the scoring started less than 5 minutes into Wednesday night’s game. Vetsch scored a short-handed goal, assisted by Spencer Nelson, to give the Moose the early lead.
“Anytime you can [score short-handed], it’s big,” said Coach Sheldon Weston. “It’s a downer for the other team.”
The Moose were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, one of five successful penalty kills during the game.
Three minutes later, playing at full strength, the Moose doubled their lead.
Oliver Winsor, assisted by Brooke Evans, put the puck in the back of the net, moving the score to 2-0, just over 8 minutes into the game.
The score held throughout the period, allowing the Moose to enter the locker room with a two-goal lead despite being outshot 14-5 in the opening period.
The second period was more balanced, featuring 12 shots for each team, but neither side was able to get a tally.
The Bison finally got on the board in the opening minute of the third period, using a goal from Justin Laven to draw within 2-1, but that’s all the closer they would get, thanks to a strong defensive effort by the Moose.
“It was a good team effort,” said Weston. “We kept the shots to the outside and [goaltender Darien] Jones did a good job of hanging on to rebounds.”
For the game, Buffalo outshot the Moose 38-24, but Jones made 37 saves to help the Moose earn one of their biggest wins of the year.
“They’d been playing really well,” said Weston, of Buffalo. “Timing wise, this was a great win.”
The Moose used the win as a springboard into their next two games, beating Northern Lakes 5-0 Thursday and Prairie Center 5-1 Friday.
Against Northern Lakes, the Moose got all five goals in the second period. Two came off the stick of Winsor and two more came from Vetsch, while Evans tallied one.
Colton Jones assisted on three of the goals, while Evans added two assists to his goal.
The Moose took 62 shots on goal during the game, while Jones stopped all 17 shots he saw from Northern Lakes.
“He’s been playing pretty well,” said Weston. “He’s seeing the puck well.”
Friday night, it took the Moose until the second period to get on the board again. This time, they trailed 1-0 entering the period, but quickly erased that.
Oliver Winsor tied the game less than a minute into the second period on M.A.M.L’s second short-handed goal of the week.
From there, it was the Mark Rieger-Borer show.
The senior scored the next three goals of the game, all in the second period, to earn the rare natural hat trick.
“That was pretty cool,” said Weston.
Nick Johnson, who assisted on two of Rieger-Borer’s goals, ended the scoring with the Moose’s fifth goal of the game in the third period.
Tuesday night, Princeton ended Monticello’s four-game winning streak in heartbreaking fashion.
The Moose trailed for most of the game.
Princeton scored less than 5 minutes into the game, holding the goal advantage until the visitors got a goal from Brooke Evans, assisted by Winsor and Sam Johnson, to pull even at the end of the first period.
In the second, the Tigers took back the lead. This time, they held it until the middle of the final period. It was then that Johnson tallied an even-strength goal, assisted by Winsor, to tie the score at two, and eventually force overtime.
In overtime, it appeared the two teams were well on their way to a tie. But with less than a minute remaining, Princeton took a Moose turnover in the neutral zone and established possession in their end. They let a shot from the point rip and it ricocheted into the goal, giving the Tigers the win with just 7.2 seconds left in overtime.
“It’s tough,” said Weston, of losing in that fashion. “But we have to rebound. We have three big games coming up, we can’t sit and feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Moose have three regular season games left to try and position themselves for section play and none those games will be easy. They travel to St. Michael-Albertville tonight for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Knights. Saturday, the Moose host Chisago Lakes at 7 p.m. before finishing the regular season with a home game against Rogers Tuesday night at 7.
All three teams are toward the top of the conference, including Rogers, which is tied with Buffalo at the very top. But the Moose have already beaten STMA this year and are excited to get a shot at challenging the other two teams at home, where the Moose (13-9 overall) are 9-1 this year.
“You’ve got all the fans behind you, it jacks the kids up,” said Weston, about playing better at home. “Our crowd is awesome. We’ve got the best fans in the Mississippi 8.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com