March 2, 2007 @ Coliseum 9:00
When Hill-Murray returns to St. Paul next week, fifteen players who were not on last year's team will play for the Pioneers in the state tournament for the first time. But one who has been there before is goaltender Joe Phillippi, and his outstanding play led Hill-Murray to a second straight section championship. Phillippi stopped 29 of the Bears' 30 shots, most of them quality chances, holding firm on a number of goalmouth scrambles and making glove saves on many long shots.
The game did not start out as the defensive struggle that typifies games between these two rivals. The teams exchanged chances as Phillippi knocked down Drew Schmitt's hard shot a minute into the game and Andy Singerhouse rang a shot square off the goalpost. Leading scorer Nick Larson then gave Hill-Murray a 1-0 lead, beating John Vichich on the short side from 15 feet, after linemate Ryan Furne had worked the puck out of the left corner.
Eighteen seconds later, the Pioneers struck again. Dan Cecka tipped the puck into the offensive zone from center ice, forcing Vichich to play it near the left wing corner. But the pressure forced the Bears to bungle the clearing attempt, and as Jeff Westerhaus centered the puck from the left circle, Cecka whipped around the net and swatted it in before Vichich could get back into position.
The two goal lead was short-lived as White Bear Lake took advantage of a turnover near the blue line to create a 3-on-1. Matt Hartmann slammed in Tony Villneauve's drop pass from close range to cut the lead to 2-1.
Phillippi was unbeatable the rest of the game, shutting down two White Bear power plays in the remainder of the first period. Hill-Murray managed just four shots in the period, but missed the net twice on 2-on-1s, and kept their lead into the second period, when back to back penalties gave the Bears their best opportunity to tie the game. They buzzed the net constantly, but once again Phillippi stole the show, getting some help in the form of key blocks from defenseman Jordan Johnson. Nick Larson managed a partial shorthanded breakaway during the sequence, but his wrist shot hit Vichich's shoulder.
Finally back at even strength, Isaac Kohls sent a cross ice breakout pass to Cecka speeding up the left side. Cecka's slap shot beat Vichich cleanly just inside the far post, and the Pioneers' two-goal lead was restored.
Back came the Bears on a 2-on-1 rush with Villeanue left alone to shoot. Phillippi closed his pads and thwarted yet another scoring chance.
Confident with a two goal lead and the stellar play of their netminder, Hill-Murray seemed content to play defensively and not allow any more open chances for the second half of the game. As White Bear pressed, there was ample space behind their defense should the Pioneers manage to corral a loose puck in the neutral zone, and Tyler Zepeda did just that and ended up being taken down on a partial breakaway for a penalty shot with 3:18 to play. Had they been given a choice, they might have rather taken a power play, but as it happened, Zepeda missed wide on the shot, and White Bear still had a ray of hope. Using an extra attacker for the final two minutes, the Bears applied more pressure, managing a couple scrums in front of the net, but Phillippi was there to make the stops and clinch the victory.
It all adds up to Hill-Murray's fifth straight win in two seasons against White Bear, a repeat section championship, and 21st MSHSL tournament in school history.
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