Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Hockey Day Repeat

(MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Pioneers down Cadets for second time in HDM history with 3-2 overtime win

ST. PAUL —Facing off against Classic Suburban conference rival St. Thomas Academy, Hill-Murray had the opportunity to put on a show on Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 for the 4,000 people in the stands and those watching on TV.

And the Pioneers did just that.

The No. 3 Pioneers defeated the No. 4 Cadets for the second time in Hockey Day Minnesota history — both in overtime no less — with a 3-2 victory at Holman Field in St. Paul. Hill-Murray improved to 12-5 while St. Thomas Academy fell to 14-2.

Hill-Murray head coach Bill Lechner was pleased by how his team performed on such a stage.

“People can keep Hill-Murray on the map,” Lechner said. “I’ll say this and I mean it very respectively: it is legal marketing. If we do well and play the right way and kids come here and play the right way, people say ‘I’d like to be apart of that.’”

One player who marketed the Pioneer way best was senior forward Jake Wittl. Not a big name or usually the star of his team, Wittl stole the show against the Cadets.

With the score tied at the end of regulation, the Cadets and Pioneers headed to a two-half overtime because of wind potentially giving an unfair advantage to the team on the one end. Neither team scored in the first half, but that changed 30 seconds into the second half of the eight minute overtime. Wittl put the puck five-hole on St. Thomas Academy goaltender Matt Snow, taking home the win.

“We knew the boards were kind of shaky and bouncy so we just dumped it in, forechecked hard, turned around, shot it, and the puck went in,” Wittl said.

After a defensive battle in the first period with no goals scored, Wittl passed his teammate Luke Ranallo the puck and Ranallo buried the puck in the Cadet net just over a minute into the second period.

A scoreless first period may be a result of playing outdoor hockey where it isn’t quite the same game as playing indoors.

“It’s an adjustment,” Lechner said of playing outdoors. “I really believe that you keep the game simpler. You didn’t see a whole lot of tic-tac-toe. We’re a team on good ice at Aldrich [Arena] that we want to move the puck four to five times where everybody has three assists, but not today. You can’t do that so you’d rather simplify the game.”

Just a few minutes following the Pioneers’ first tally, St. Paul Academy tied the game at one with a goal from senior forward Christiano Versich just inside the pipe. The third period saw both St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray add a goal to remain tied, 2-2, through regulation as Pioneer Dylan Mills and Cadet Alec Broetzman scored.

Ultimately, the Pioneers were able to finish off their victory over the Cadets with Wittl’s overtime goal, which is a step in the right direction both in the regular season and potentially the postseason for Hill-Murray.

“Arguably, we’re all in the top five in the state,” Lechner said. “You’ve got the Lakeville Norths, the Edinas, [St. Thomas Academy], us, and the Wayzatas. So, we’ve got to keep battling because we want to be ready for sections.”