By Bruce Karnick
If there was only one game circled on the calendar this year for the Raider boy’s hockey team, it was the game against Park of Cottage Grove on November 30th. Fans, coaches, players and maybe even a reporter were fired up for this Highway 61 rivalry.
In last week’s edition of the Hastings Journal, Raider Captain Connor Stoffel basically pulled a Broadway Joe and all but guaranteed a win when he was talking about the no-win streak, “So, that’s just gonna come to an end Tuesday night.”
Hastings was fresh off their first game of the season, a 4-2 win over Minneapolis. Some were saying it’s been six years, others eight since a win over park. There have been ties, but no wins. Regardless of how long it has been, anything over a few years is a long time and Hastings was ready to change that.
The first period against park was full of enough energy to power the entire arena. With 8:48 left in the first, Luke Savage continued his streak of being involved in every Raider goal of the season thus far, scoring the first goal of the game. Stoffel and Collin Stewart on the assist. Park tied it up just a few minutes later then with 2:07 left in the first, Jake Harris scored his second goal of the season, a nice backhand shot to regain the Raider lead, with the help of Stewart and Stoffel.
Heading into the locker room at the first intermission, Park head coach Chris Rudh explained what his message would be to his players, “I thought they outplayed us, so I wasn’t as happy as you may think. But you know, we’re in the game, and we have to match their energy, it’s as simple as that. They have more energy than we do. And they put us on our heels.”
The effort of the Raiders has been outstanding this year in every game, for that to be recognized by an opposing coach says a lot.
Coach Klein had a simple message to his team in the first intermission, “That was the best period we’ve played all year; scrimmage… practice… game. It was just very complete, and that efficiency can’t change. And now we’re very excited, but it’s high school hockey and we’ve got to do it again.”
Park came out of the locker room fired up but halfway through the period, Jack Nicklay beat the Park keeper to take the wind out of the Wolfpacks howls. Nicklay was assisted on his first varsity goal by Savage and Stephen Reifenberger. Park closed the gap with a few minutes left in the period, but the damage had been done.
“Stevie Reif dished me in the high slot, and I just shot it,” a slightly nervous- to-be-interviewed Nicklay chuckled.
“I just thought all the boys came together. You know, last game it kind of wasn’t working too well, but we found a way and made it happen tonight,” Nicklay added.
Third period was all Hastings. Harris picked up another two points, one assist and a goal that was assisted by Ben Zaccardi, The Chorlton brothers, Luke and John each earned an assist, and both Stoffel and Reifenberger picked up a goal.
Hastings defeated Park and defeated them soundly for the first time in eight years. The final 6-2 Raiders.
It was a heavily penalized game, Hastings serving 12 minutes on six infractions and park serving six minutes on three infractions. Both teams finished the night with a 33.3% success rate on powerplays. Park scoring twice in six tries and Hastings scoring once in three.
Kody Niederkorn was in the net for Hastings he faced 20 total shots, stopping 18. Alex Harden for Park faced 35 shots stopping 29.
The Raiders played fast and physical and what stood out the most of this game was their effort. They hustled the entire time working as hard the last shift as they did the first. This is likely going to be a key component for the success of this team this year. A component that clearly is as important to the coaching staff as it is the players. They understand they need to hustle every play and it is refreshing to see them do it without thinking about it, something you do not always see in youth sports. It’s simply the culture now.
Coach Klein was beaming with pride after the game. “We’ve tied [Park] a couple times within that, but just how we played tonight, it was evident. I couldn’t be more happy for the kids because we had a different mentality from three days ago. And that’s really some great growth in a short amount of time. With how we played as a team. Tonight, it was about ‘us’ and it was contagious. I mean, just our locker room. Before the game, it was different. How we took the ice was different, how we celebrated together. And like right now it’s almost 10:30 [p.m.] And we have kids just leaving the locker room right now. Because they just they wanted to be in this moment and enjoy each other. And again, that’s how programs take the next step. And it was really fun to be a part of it.”
After a huge win on Tuesday, would Hastings have a letdown with a quick turnaround against Farmington on Thursday or would they still be riding the emotional high and stay fired up against a section opponent?
Hastings was once again host for a game that could have huge impacts on the end of the season standings, and the Raiders were ready.
The first period, Reifenberger found the back of the net not once, but twice to give Hastings the early 2-0 lead. Savage was once again involved in the scoring with an assist. Also getting points were Logan Debettignies, Blake Vandehoef and Mark DeNoyer.
The second period Hastings took control. With goals by Savage, John Chorlton and Alex Gelhar. Stewart twice, Nicklay, Savage and Reifenberger all logged assists. Farmington did also score twice, but Hastings had the lead 3-0 and 4-1 when they did. By the time the second ended, it was 5-2.
Stoffel put in an insurance goal with the help of Gelhar in the third to finish the game with the Raiders favorite goals against number of the season, two, while they scored six for the second game in a row. Hastings 6, Farmington 2.
Penalties saw Farmington in the box for eight minutes on four infractions and Hastings in the box for ten minutes on five infractions. Shots on goal for Hastings, 36 and Farmington 29.
Hastings Boys will travel to Tartan on Thursday the ninth, Hill Murray’s Aldrich Arena on December 11, Eagan on December 14, and St. Thomas Academy on December 16. All games are at 7:00 and everyone should not only be exciting but will be against very good opponents.
The boys, under new head coach Matt Klein are 3-0 to start the season and it’s clear, this group of boys enjoys playing for this coaching staff, they enjoy playing for the fans in the stands, and they certainly enjoy playing for each other.