Persistent effort is often rewarded and Friday afternoon the Moose were rewarded late. About as late as possible actually, within the confines of a regulation hockey game.
The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake boys hockey team came roaring back from a 2-0 deficit at the Xcel Energy Center Friday to stun Northfield 3-2 on a Nick Zwack goal with just three seconds remaining. The Moose, playing in the first state tournament in program history, advance to the Class A State Championship game with the win.
“Just thinking about it, it is still surreal to us,” said Zwack, who threw the game winner from the high slot between the wickets of the Northfield goaltender. “It’s incredible. It’s an incredible feeling.”
MAML fell behind 1-0 after one, despite playing a strong period and outshooting the Raiders 9-5. Less than two minutes into the second, Northfield made the lead 2-0.
After that, it was all Moose.
But for a long time, there was no payoff. MAML buzzed and buzzed, flirting with chance after chance but they couldn’t find an answer for Northfield goalie Ryan Bielenberg. During one two minute stretch, Bielenberg used the butt of his stick to deny one sure goal before using his helmet to stop another. He made more conventional saves as well, stopping more than 20 consecutive Moose shots to start the game.
Finally, Ben Ward broke the ice. Ward, who has put himself on the map in a big way this week, took advantage of a juicy rebound from a Casey Chiodo shot. He put the puck on his stick and buried it into the back of the open net to cut the deficit in half and ignite an enormous MAML crowd.
It was a huge goal for the Moose, who admitted after that they were growing quite frustrated as chance after chance went by the wayside.
“We were furious on the bench just knowing that we were getting these scoring opportunities and they just weren’t falling,” said Zwack. “We knew that [we had to] just keep battering him and throwing everything we got and eventually we were going to get a few to go in.”
The Moose spent the majority of the third in control as well, but the equalizer didn’t come easy. That was no problem for a MAML team that wasn’t about to stop battling.
“Time and time again these kids have proven they don’t quit until the buzzer sounds,” said Nelson. “They did that today, and it was awesome.”
For the heavy majority of the game, it was the top-six of Ward, Zwack, Troy Dahlheimer, Chiodo, Jaden Jarmuzek, and Nick Foldesi logging the ice time at the forward positions. At times, the top line seemed to be on the ice for several minute stretches. Somehow, they never quit moving their feet.
“They’re more than willing to go,” said Nelson, about sending those top lines out time after time. “There’s no question about their desire. If I say go, they’re gonna go.”
Ward said they definitely relish the opportunity to get that much ice time.
“We love it,” he said. “The more we’re out there, the more we feel our legs keep going. The more we’re out there, we just create more opportunities, get the puck to the net, and hopefully put the puck in the back of the net.”
Eventually, that’s exactly what happened. It all started with the top line busting its butt in the zone once more. Attacking the puck on the forecheck like bees attack a honey hole, MAML stifled a Raiders breakout attempt. Zwack corralled the puck and made two big moves, forcing the Northfield defender to try to stop him with a knee. That drew a penalty, and gave MAML a man advantage.
Just seven seconds into the power play, with 6:21 to go in the game, Chiodo took a Ward pass and whipped it five-hole to tie the game at two. It was MAML’s second power play goal in as many games at the state tournament, and gave the Moose a clean slate for the final push.
The teams traded good chances over the next six minutes. Tyler Klatt made a big save, followed by defenseman Tyler Anderson clearing the puck from the crease to survive a major scare. In the final two minutes it was Zwack using his stick to take away another great Raiders scoring chance.
Then, just when it appeared the game was destined for overtime, Charlie Voller got the puck off the boards and found Zwack.
The Moose senior said he didn’t know exactly how much time was left.
“I just got it and threw it on net, and it went in,” said Zwack, the soon to be Div. I pitcher, who may have fooled the netminder with a bit of a change-up. “Just a hope and a prayer I guess.”
To many, it may seem like that’s exactly what MAML has been living on this week. But in reality, the Moose, through two games, have shown that they belong with the best of the best in Class A, in every way.
Friday afternoon MAML outshot Northfield 40-21, outhit the Raiders and outchanced them, especially in the final two periods.
Raiders Coach Mike Luckraft said after that it was a game the Moose deserved to win.
“They outplayed us,” said Luckraft, adding that MAML did a great job of bottling up the Raiders in their own zone. “They’ve got a really nice team with some nice players.”
A nice team, with nice players, that will play for a Class A State Championship at noon Saturday. Quite a state tournament debut.
“It’s incredible,” said Zwack, once more. “The whole team is on high. We’re just hoping to keep pulling it through for all three towns.”
MAML will play No. 1 Hermantown, 6-5 overtime winners against St. Cloud Cathedral this afternoon, at noon tomorrow at Xcel Energy Center.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]