The Wadena-Deer Creek boys hockey team entered the night with possession of the Highway 71 Cup, however, almost let it slip out of their hands. The Wolverines built up a 4-0 lead midway through the third period only to see the Park Rapids Area Panthers storm back, cutting the deficit to one. Yet, the Wolverines held off the surging Panthers, securing the cup for the second straight season.
“It was good. I was impressed with their play and our defensive play was great. Our goalie played outstanding and we played good,” Woods said. “I told the kids not to panic when it was in our zone and to play smart. They did that, but I thought they had the better of the work ethic for most of the game as far as zone time. I thought we played really well in our end and that’s how we kept it out of our net.”
Preston Warren led the scoring charge for the Wolverines. He finished the game with three goals and added an assist.
“He (Warren) played really hard and that was one of the better nights he has had all year,” Woods said. “He has been good at moving the puck and has put up a lot of assists. It was good to see him score some goals too.”
Noah Stevens kicked aside 30 shots in recording his 10th win of the year. Stevens was strong especially in the first and second periods, keeping a surging Park Rapids Area team at bay. He stopped 20 shots in the first two periods as the Wolverines built up their lead.
“He (Stevens) played really outstanding. I felt bad for him that a couple had to go in late,” Woods said. “He held us in that first period and played solid all night. A couple of flukey goals but that’s the way it goes.”
While Park Rapids Area was applying the pressure, it was Stevens and the defense keeping the Panthers at bay. The few opportunities the Wolverines did get in the first two periods, they capitalized on.
A nice passing play between Max Phillips and Warren set up the first goal. Phillips went wide down the wall and passed to a wide open Warren, who tapped it in, making it 1-0.
Warren caught the Panthers off guard on the second goal. He snuck out of the penalty box after the Wolverines killed a power play and broke in on Austin Jerger, beating the senior goalie to make it 2-0. Jake Dykhoff assisted on the goal.
“I could see it coming. We were on the penalty kill and i was coming out of the box, so they didn’t see me,” Warren said. “I was kind of behind the defense and they chipped it down to me. Max Phillips drew the defense away and the shot was open.”
Justin Dykhoff extend the lead with a shot from the short-side, which beat Jerger, making it 3-0 late in the second period.
Warren completed the hat-trick in the third period when he broke free behind the defense. He was able to slide the puck past Jerger.
“I was faking on my backhand and trying to get him to bite. He didn’t really bite, so I went to my forehand,” Warren said. “He was there, but his toe lifted up a little bit and I was able to sneak it under and got a little lucky.”
At the time, it seemed like a simple insurance goal as the Wolverines built up a 4-0 lead. Yet, the Panthers had a lot of life left in them. Bjorn Jorgenson took a pass from Wyatt Halvorson, making it 4-1 with six minutes and 35 seconds remaining, which started the rally for the Panthers.
The Panthers went down a player for five minutes for a head contact penalty. It seemed to energize the Panthers and they continued to attack, despite being down a player. Josh Baker fired a shot on goal of a face-off and the puck lay free for Halvorson, who buried it home, making it 4-2.
Brett Pinoniemi cut the lead to one when he went down the sidewall and surged towards the goal. He found an opening, cutting it to 4-3 with the unassisted goal.
Yet, the Wolverines settled things down in the closing minutes, securing the victory and possession of the Highway 71 Cup.
“We played well from the beginning, but we have been struggling to start off well. We finally got it going at the beginning, but at the end we started to collapse,” Warren said. “We finally pulled it together and just finished it.”
Stevens finished with 30 saves on 33 shots for the Wolverines, while Jerger stopped 17 of 21 shots for the Panthers.
The victory improves the Wolverines to 10-4-0 overall on the season and 3-2-0 in the Mid-State Conference.
Park Rapids Area 0 0 3--3
Wadena-DC 1 2 1--4
WDC-Preston Warren, ES, (Max Phillips)
WDC-Preston Warren, ES, (Jake Dykhoff)
WDC-Justin Dykhoff, ES, (Jake Dykhoff, Preston Warren)
WDC-Preston Warren, ES, (Unassisted)
PRA-Bjorn Jorgenson, ES, (Wyatt Halvorson)
PRA-Wyatt Halvorson, SH, (Josh Baker)
PRA-Brett Pinoniemi, SH, (Unassisted)