Blake Vandehoef never gave up on his shot even as he was falling down in front of the Anoka goal. A quick swipe of his stick from the prone position and the puck found the back of the net.Photo by Bruce Karnick
Boys’ hockey continues domination

By Bruce Karnick

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If anyone were to place a bet that the Hastings Raiders boy’s hockey team would out score Mounds View, South St. Paul, Bloomington Jefferson, and Woodbury by a score of 30-4, most people would think the bet was crazy. That is in fact, exactly what happened over the previous four games the boys have played.

The Raiders were 8-21 overall heading into the midway point of the season thanks to that four-game win streak, a streak that Head Coach Matt Klein started before his pre-planned family vacation when the Raiders beat Mounds View 9-2 back on December 22. The hope was to continue that domination when Anoka came to town on January 4.

Danny Millner kicked off the scoring 1:57 into the game. Mark DeNoyer and Jack Nicklay earned the assist. At 12:10, Logan DeBettigneies connected with Stephen Reifenberger to set up Blake Vandehoef’s unique scoring opportunity. Vandehoef broke in from the right of the goalie and as he crossed he was knocked down by two Tornado defenders. As he was going down, he kept his composure and took a swipe at the puck, knocking it in just past the outstretched leg of the keeper making the score 2-0 Hastings. The Raiders were not done yet. Connor Stoffel sniped one in from just inside the blue line to make it 3-0. Stoffel was assisted by Eddy Peine and Jake Harris. Anoka earned one back when Jackson Sweeny was called for Elbowing. The penalty was very questionable as it looked like a perfectly timed, hard hit. After one, Hastings had the 3-1 lead.

The Second period, Sweeny went to the clink again, this time for interference. Hastings caught Anoka out of position, Harris took a pass from Reifenberger and scored shorthanded. A minute later, Anoka took advantage of the extra man and made the score 4-2. Harris and Stoffel made a couple great passes 40 seconds later, connecting with John Chorlton for his first goal of the game, giving Hastings the 5-2 lead. Harris was the man of the night for spreading the puck around, finding Stoffel for his second goal at the 11:36 mark of the second and Hastings took the 6-2 lead to the locker room.

Hastings has been scoring so well this season, it’s a surprise that only two Raiders have a hat trick. The nice thing about that stat heading into this game is, that means the guys are doing a great job of not being selfish. They spread the puck around well and really do not care who puts it in the net, they just want the team to score, and they trust each other to do that. That being said, it was time to make it three Raider hat tricks on the season. Stoffel logged his first hat trick of the season and second of his varsity career when Vandehoef connected with DeBettignies who setup Stoffel for his third goal of the game at the 5:23 mark of the third period.

“We work on a lot of plays off the faceoff in practice. My first goal was a faceoff play. The coaches called play two, which is kind of a tic tac toe type play, and I had a wide open shot right from the middle of the ice.” Stoffel said after the game.

Again, Hastings was not going to stop there. Jake Harris scored his second goal of the game, an unassisted, shorthanded goal at 8:45 and then Charlie Williams set up Luke Chorlton for his first varsity goal at 13:15. Hastings won their fifth in a row, a 9-2 thumping of Anoka. That means, in five games, the Raiders have outscored opponents 39-6.

Holden Richardson had another gem between the pipes blocking 17 of 19 shots faced. Hastings had 41 shots on goal compared to Anoka’s 19. On paper, it looks like Anoka did perform better on the powerplay, converting two of five chances. But they also gave up three shorthanded goals. Hastings went 1-for-4 on the power play. All penalties were 2-minute minors for a total of 18 minutes of penalties. Admittedly, the officials were having an off night on the ice, missing a few very obvious calls and calling some questionable penalties. They are human, so it is going to happen now and then, you just hope that it doesn’t hurt your team in any way.

After thumping Anoka, at 9-2-1, Hastings travelled to Northfield to take on the other Raiders who are 5-3-1. Northfield has been averaging four goals per game and allowing an average of 2.67 goals per game. The leading scorer for Northfield is Spencer Klotz. Klotz leads them in all three offensive stats, goals, assists and points. Kamden Kaiser and Cayden Monson, Northfields number two and three on those stats, equal Klotz together, so it looks like they have three solid guys on one line. If Hastings could neutralize them and use their depth, they should come out on top of this one too. So how did the trip go?

The Raider depth suffered a huge blow prior to the game. Seven players that play on both varsity and junior varsity were involved in an off the ice incident, online bullying in the JV group chat. There were some unkind things said back and forth, mostly centered around one person. The things that were said all around were extremely disappointing and uncalled for. More importantly, the things being said is not what this team is about.

Speaking with the senior players about the incident gave a wide range of responses. Some of them were upset they were not in the chat with the younger guys to put a stop to it and correct the actions, others were sad that it even took place, most were angry and disappointed because one stupid incident like this can derail a season. And that is what it was, youth not thinking things through and making very poor decisions with the way they spoke to their teammates.

This team is about positivity as was discussed with Stoffel after the Anoka game. “We’ve been really positive. I mean, one thing that kind of bonded us all together this year is the addition of the ping pong table in the locker room, we have guys get into practice an hour early and then stays two hours after practice just playing ping pong. I think every single one of us plays it. And it’s just, it’s a really good thing to bond with. And I think all of us 10 through 12 have been included in everything. And you can see that, that off ice connection is leading to the ice and that is how we are winning games.”

Stoffel added how a big focus has been inclusion, which makes this incident more puzzling. “We’re playing everyone making sure everyone’s included. I think we do have some good depth. We’re starting to develop some younger guys that can legitimately play, and I think that’s just the more depth we have going into February. I mean, we’re gonna need it.”

Thankfully, the incident was brought to the attention of Athletic Director Trent Hanson who immediately put a stop to it. Hanson then suspended the seven boys for one game. The coaches did not give the kids the night off either. The players went with to the game, sat in the stands and watched their friends and teammates work that much harder to compete. The intention to drive home not only how wrong the actions were, but to make them understand, everyone has a role on the team to fulfill if the Raiders expect to make a run for state. Role number one is to be a great person, a great human, role number two is to be not just a good teammate, but a great one.

Parents, this is a prime opportunity to talk to your students about online bullying. It is never OK to bully someone online. The lasting effects can be much worse than messing up a school sports season. It can cause decades of mental anguish for people that can lead to depression and suicide. Hastings has had enough tragic loss of life. Please talk to your kids about lifting each other up. Being kind to each other no matter what. In the long run, it is simply not worth being mean to someone.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Yes, the Raider depth did suffer with the loss of seven varsity players, but that also meant that several JV guys would have the chance to step up to the varsity bench. The coaching staff kept the game play to mostly two lines the entire night. This can be extremely tiring for those 12 guys and can often lead to silly mental or physical mistakes out of exhaustion. Those boys handled the challenge well.

The first period was certainly the slowest of the three with both teams getting a feel for each other and the officials setting the tone for a penalty filled game. The first penalty of the game came at 2:32 of the first to Stoffel for interference. 23 seconds later, Reifenberger had a chance to make a shorthanded shot when he was slashed taking away Northfields man advantage. 18 seconds later, a second slashing call was made against Northfield flipping the script and giving Hastings the man advantage 4-on-3. The first two penalties expired but Hastings still had eight seconds of the 5-4 man advantage when John Chorlton found the back of the net at 5:05. Stewart and Harris on the assist.

Hastings blew the doors off of Northfield Ice Arena in the second period. Nicklay, John Chorlton, DeBettignies and Stoffel all scoring in a span of 2:47. In that scoring run, Harris added two more asissts, Stewart, Sweeney, Connor Zgoda and Reifenberger also had assists.

While the scoring is great, the most intriguing stat of the period was, Northfield did not get a shot on goal for nearly 11 minutes. Their first shot of the period happened around 6:05 left in the period. By the end of the second, Hastings had 24 shots on goal total to 13 total for Northfield.

Reifenberger put in an insurance goal on a power play in the third to give Hastings a 6-1 lead. He was assisted by Nicklay and Harris. Northfield finally managed to get two by Kody Niederkorn in net for Hastings and the final was 6-2.

The penalty filled game saw more than a dozen visits to the penalty box with a couple coincidental minors that lasted well over five minutes each. Those do not get put in the book, so officially, Hastings had 10 minutes on five infractions and Northfield had 16 minutes on seven infractions. Northfield was 0-for-3 on the powerplay and impressively, Hastings went 4-for-7.

Niederkorn faced 25 shots, stopping 23 and Hastings put 39 on the Northfield net, scoring six. In this six game win streak, Hastings has outscored opponents 45-8 and looks to continue the smart yet aggressive play into sections. The very strange piece to this puzzle is, at 10-2-1 overall, the Raiders are in sixth place in the conference. Their two losses and one tie are the only three games they have played in the conference, that means they have some tough opponents coming up in the last 12 games of the regular season.

After the Anoka game, Coach Klein talked about what is driving the success of the team. “It’s the kids you know, being selfless right now. We have a lot of different kids on the scoresheet in each of these games. We handed out another first puck tonight with Luke Charlton finding the back of the night in a five on three power play in the third period. And it’s, it’s making other kids better. A lot of these goals are looking the same. By that I mean, we have three shorthanded goals tonight. And, you know, it’s just we’re finding ways to be successful, based on how the games being played. That’s what competitors, that’s what athletes do, and that’s what winning programs find ways to do more of.”

The Raiders are moving the puck around really well, creating chances for each other according to Coach Klein. “A lot of the passing comes from taking good roads to create space for someone else as well. Taking the hit to make a play so it’s a three on two rather than a three on three. We are just seeing a lot of different zones that are coming through cleaner, letting us play with more speed, and that’s creating sort of different numbers offensively in a lot of different areas right now.”

Hastings has another lengthy road trip and will play at Owatonna on January 8 at 7:00 p.m, then host Tartan for a rematch of their only tie this season on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. Then Simley comes to town on January 15 for an 8:00 p.m. puck drop before the Raiders travel to Rochester Mayo at 7:15 p.m. on January 18.

Connor Stoffel celebrates with his linemates after his first goal of his hat trick came on the faceoff. A play Stoffel said the team practices often for all the guys to be able to score.Photo by Bruce Karnick

January 12, 2022