February 28, 2020 @ Aldrich 7:00
Hill-Murray defeated White Bear Lake 3-2 in the third straight section final between the schools, before another overflowing and energetic crowd in Aldrich Arena.
White Bear Lake scored on its first shot just 30 seconds into the first period. Lleyton Roed turned a bouncing puck in the neutral zone into a 2-on-1, and fed Sam Newpower in the slot. That increased the Bears’ chances of winning somewhat, as the team scoring first had won the previous nine postseason contests between the schools, dating to 2004.
The first half of the game was played at a fast tempo while White Bear tried to hit everything in sight, including an official who was caught up in one collision. Newpower scored his second goal early in the second period. With four skaters a side, Billy Rose got the puck behind the Hill-Murray defense. Speedy forward Nick Pierre caught up to him, but Rose spun around and fed Newpower for a one-timer.
Meanwhile, Hill-Murray had a slight territorial edge but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Then back-to-back power plays went for naught, and Hill-Murray still trailed 2-0 with just over five minutes left in the second period. Just when his team needed something good to happen, Charlie Strobel made something out of a 1-on-2 in the neutral zone. He worked the puck to the right wing circle and put a stiff backhand just under the crossbar. Owen Quast got the Pioneers even before intermission, coming with speed down the left side on a partial breakaway and snapping a shot into the far upper corner.
The best scoring chance early in the third period went to the Bears’ Grant Hofeld, whose redirect from close range was stopped by Remington Keopple. However, Hill-Murray continued to have an edge in puck possession until defenseman Joe Palodichuk was sent off for interference with seven minutes remaining. Strobel cleared the puck off the boards to center ice, and Pierre beat the defense to it and sailed in alone on a clean shorthanded breakaway, which he converted to give Hill-Murray its first lead at 3-2.
The game’s most bizarre sequence occurred after the go-ahead goal. White Bear Lake still had almost a minute of power play time, and with 30 seconds left Hill-Murray cleared the length of the rink and two forwards skated to the bench. Netminder Tyler Steffens alertly played the puck back into the neutral zone, and before any replacements had come forth, the Bears had a 4-on-2. However, Roed’s shot was blocked to the side by Seamus Regan. By then, three Hill-Murray forwards were on the ice, giving them five skaters total, and they were able to kill the remainder of the penalty without anyone noticing. Palodichuk returned to play and was stung by a shot and fell to the ice, giving White Bear a few seconds of de facto 5-on-4 which they turned into a good scoring chance that Keopple stopped.
The last two minutes was an exchange of almosts. First, Pierre got a second breakaway and almost gave the Pioneers a two goal lead, but his shot hit the shaft of Steffens’ stick and deflected out of play.
Then the Bears almost tied the game in a wild last ten seconds. Rose got off a good low shot from between the circles that Keopple kicked out with his right pad. The rebound went to Tyler Schauer who put another hard shot on goal that Keopple slid across to stop, but ended up woefully out of position with the puck still loose in front of the net. Schauer couldn’t control it, then Rose had it momentarily but couldn’t get a shot off. Strobel knocked it away and threw his stick in the air to begin the celebration, but there were still two seconds left and the puck was loose in the high slot. The Bears wound up blocking their own last ditch shot attempt, and the game officially ended.
With the win, Hill-Murray’s hockey program achieved a milestone with its 30th MSHSL state tournament berth, a mark equaled only by Roseau and Edina, and Hill-Murray leads all schools in section championships since its inclusion in the MSHSL 46 years ago.
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