The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake Moose, thanks largely to the goaltending of Darien Jones, gave the Mississippi 8 champion Rogers everything they could handle, but came up short Tuesday night, falling 3-1 after an empty-net goal in the final minute.
The Moose, playing host to the Royals in their last game of the regular season, got off to a slow start, but were kept in the game by the strong play of Jones. The home team picked up the pace in the third period, which they entered trailing 2-1, outshooting the Royals through much of the period, but just couldn’t convert on a game tying opportunity.
While Weston was proud of the way the boys battled at the finish, the start left a little to be desired.
Rogers took the game’s first eight shots on goal during the first period, and scored the first two goals.
The first tally came just under three minutes into the game and just over one minute into Rogers’ lone power play attempt of the evening. The Moose had disrupted the first minute of the power play with multiple clears, but as soon as the Royals got set in the zone, they got off a shot from near the blue line that made its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, the Moose turned the puck over deep in their own zone and Rogers converted, wristing a shot into the net for a 2-0 lead.
It looked, for all of the world, like a rout was on.
Instead, the Moose settled in.
The opportunities started to become more balanced, and with less than four minutes remaining in the period, the Moose took advantage of one. Sam Johnson brought the puck up the ice on a 1-on-2 and as he neared the blue line he let a wrister rip toward the net. The puck, traveling high and toward the near post, found the back of the net, exciting, and maybe surprising, the big crowd, and drawing the Moose to within 2-1.
The score would remain that way through the remainder of the first period, and through all of the second period, despite the Moose getting outplayed for much of the second stanza.
The Royals attempted 14 shots on goal in the second, while the Moose attempted one, moving the shot margin for the game to 30-10. But Jones held strong, making glove saves, blocker saves, a sprawling save and even a facemask save to help keep the Moose within a goal.
“Luckily, Darien did a nice job of keeping us in it,” said Weston. “He’s really finished his senior year where we were hoping he would be. He’s been playing consistently. He’s done a nice job.”
As the Moose sat in the locker room, awaiting the final period of the regular season, Weston said the message was simple.
“We have 11 seniors, and 17 minutes left,” said Weston. “That’s not a lot of shifts.”
The coach asked his players to leave it on the ice, so when they left the ice, they left it with pride.
They did that.
The Moose stepped up the physicality and ratcheted up the speed in the third period, putting the best team in the conference on their heels for much of the period.
But as they tried to tie the score, the Moose just couldn’t quite generate enough good looks on net, or take advantage of the few that they did have.
“We have to get more pucks to the net,” said Weston. “But, we had some great opportunities that we missed.”
A couple of Moose shots slid just wide of the goal, a good look from Oliver Winsor, one of the team’s top scorers, found the shoulder of the goaltender, the Moose came up just short.
When M.A.M.L pulled their goalie with a minute and a half left they weren’t able to push the puck into the offensive zone and Rogers made them pay, scoring an empty-net goal with less than a minute left and putting the game out of reach.
It marked just the second home loss of the year for the Moose.
“I was happy with how we finished, but not how we started,” said Weston. “They’re a good team, you can’t start like that. Gotta be ready right away.”
The previous game, a home battle with Chisago Lakes on Saturday, the Moose came out strong and finished strong on their way to a 3-1 victory over one of the top teams in the conference.
“That was, I think, the best that we’ve played for three periods,” said Weston.
The Moose struck first, second and last in the game.
Nate Maas kicked off the scoring with a power play goal, assisted by Winsor and McRae Haney, with less than three minutes left in the first period.
Midway through the second period, Brooke Evans (assisted by Colton Jones) put the Moose up 2-0. After Chisago got back within a goal, Johnson scored with just 37 seconds left in the second period, assisted by Evans and Tyler Mros, to put the Moose back up by two, a margin that they would hold on to.
Jones made 34 saves in a winning effort.
The Moose will look to take lessons from both Saturday’s win and Tuesday’s loss with them as they get set to begin postseason play on Tuesday. The bracket was to be released after this edition of the Monticello Times went to press, but Weston said it was likely that the Moose would be traveling to take on Brainerd or Moorhead in the quarterfinal round.
“We know we can play with them,” said Weston. “That’s the key, to feel confident and not intimidated. And we’ll be able to play with confidence against whoever it is. If Darien stays hot, if we get some bounces, and if we work hard, we can play with anybody.”
UPDATE: The Moose were voted the sixth seed in Section 8AA. They will travel to Brainerd Tuesday night to take on the third-seeded Warriors at 7 p.m.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org