by Jason Olson
Anoka (2-8-0, 4-11-0) was down 3-1 with six minutes left in the first period of Saturday’s afternoon matinee against crosstown rival Coon Rapids (0-7-1, 4-10-1) before scoring nine unanswered goals for a 10-3 win at the Anoka Ice Center Jan. 14.
The Tornadoes won only its second Northwest Suburban Conference game of the season while the Cardinals remain the only team without a conference victory.
Despite Anoka’s poor record, the scoring chances have been there all season, the team has struggled to finish chances. It didn’t miss much in the second and third periods as its power play also came alive.
Anoka came into the game with six power play goals all season and doubled that total by going 6-for-6 with the advantage. It came into the game with 35 goals in 14 games before Saturday.
“We’ve been playing well, just not finishing,” Manthey said as its goal total was the first since a nine-goal performance against Irondale last season and snapped a four game skid for its first win of 2012. “That was nice to see.”
During those four losses, Anoka was outscored 19-8 including a 6-1 loss to Duluth East and a 4-1 loss to Centennial in the previous two games.
“We learned a lot as far as playing together,” Anoka captain Tyler Hong said. “We picked up a ton of stuff against the Duluth East team. Centennial, they’re tough, so we had to man-up and play tough and that transitioned over to this game too.”
Coon Rapid struggled to convert its chances with a 1-for-5 power play performance.
Sparking the comeback was Anoka’s Hong who had four goals and one assist including both Tornado goals in the first period. His second came with three seconds left in the period to make it 3-2 before the first intermission.
His first goal came on a well-executed pick-and-roll move with teammate Kyle Thorpe. His second goal, three seconds before the buzzer to end the first period, came when he snuck behind a Coon Rapids defenseman and was on the doorstep of the goal where he tapped in a loose puck.
Hong came into the game with 15 points but has been the go-to scorer on the top line with Connor Iverson and Thorpe. Manthey switched Cale Grinde with Hong on that line last week to jump start the finishing.
Coon Rapids senior Seth Johnson scored a shorthanded goal five minutes into the game and goals by Alex Wojciehowski and Brent Johnson gave the visitors a 3-1 lead with less than six minutes left in the opening period. That was all the offense the Cardinals could find.
“We were getting the puck deep in their zone, doing a pretty good job creating turnovers on the forecheck and got their defensemen out of position and taking things to the net,” Mileski said. “It was something we haven’t seen in a while. We had a couple plays we were taking it hard to the net but it didn’t continue past that first period.”
Inconsistency has plagued the Cardinals’ efforts all season as the team has been outscored 22-4 before Saturday’s game. “It’s kind of how things have gone all year,” Mileski said. “They seem to have that meltdown every game and I don’t know if it is a lack of concentration of what. We’re not very good at responding to taking a blow right now. We don’t know how to punch back and they keep beating us.”
Meanwhile in the Tornadoes locker room, the first intermission was spent on igniting a fire in the team to show more fire.
Hong said the message from the coaching staff was to play tougher in the defensive zone and keep moving. “We have a lot of team speed and needed to use it,” he said.
“That first period started so sluggish. It was like we weren’t interested in playing. We started very slow and I don’t know if it was because it was an afternoon game, but it was nice to see us come back,” Manthey said.
Hong said the biggest inconsistency for the Tornadoes has been the work ethic day-in, day-out and being tough in the defensive end of the rink. ” We’ve got to get everyone on the same level and play tough,” he said.
Anoka scored six times in the second period in a span of 10:09 with goals from five different players. All of the goals came from close-in on the Cardinals goal, set up by crisp passes or loose rebounds.
“That’s what we’ve been doing all year, moving the puck in the offensive zone,” Manthey said. “We are talking, moving our feet and finishing. There were times we could’ve had more.”
Hong finished his first varsity hat trick at the 5:10 mark with assists from Thorpe and Ben Sjodin in what also proved to be the game winner. It was Hong’s first three or more goal game since a four-point game as a Bantam.
Sjodin tied the game at 3-3 with a goal at the 2:12 mark.
Twelve different Anoka players picked up a point with seven recording multiple points. Iverson and Grinde had two assists each. Thorpe had one goal and two assists in the period and Andrew Herlofsky had one goal and three assists.
Anoka also more than doubled Coon Rapids in shots on goal (52-24) as Lane Kocovsky posted 21 saves to Cardinals netminder Patrick Drazkowski’s 42 saves in the loss.
Mileski said the mood in the locker room needs to be more positive “and improving.”
“It’s about needing to get better from this point on and a month from now, come section time we’ve got to be playing at our best. Right now we’ve hit our low point and hopefully we don’t stay down there.”
Manthey said the overwhelming win was a sign of the small steps in the right direction he’s looking for in the final month of the regular season.
“We worked hard against Duluth East (6-1, loss). We worked hard against Centennial, just didn’t scow and I felt we worked hard for two of the three periods tonight,” Manthey said. “So it’s small steps right now and getting better, better and better until we peak.”