by Samantha Lefebvre
Number two seed Blaine skated past the number seven seed Coon Rapids on Feb. 23 during the first round of the Section 5AA tournament at the Champlin Ice Forum.
The Bengals out shot the Cardinals by a two-to-one margin and capitalized on power plays to earn a 4-2 victory, and a spot in the semifinals against Anoka.
Blaine senior forward Joey Vegel started the game off with an early solo goal in the first two minutes of the game. Each team had only one shot on goal each before Vegel stepped up and slid Blaine’s second shot on goal in the net through Coon Rapids goalie Patrick Drazkowski.
“I know we had to come out firing because it is probably the biggest game of the year for us,” Vegel said. “We are expected to win every time. We just wanted to cover the goalie with shots and get rebounds in.”
Vegel’s solo goal would be the only one in the first period for either team, leaving the Cardinals behind 1-0 at the break.
The second period started off much the same as the first, with an early goal within the first two minutes. This time it was senior Bobby Smith of Coon Rapids with a goal in the first 1:01, assisted by junior Robby Randall. Smith tied up the game 1-1, but the even score didn’t last long.
The Bengals pressured Drazkowski and the rest of the Coon Rapids defense in hopes of breaking the tie, but Drazkowski came through with a handful of big saves. Down one player, Drazkowski couldn’t hold the Bengals off for too much longer and Vegel saw his opportunity, scoring his second goal of the night off the power play. He was assisted by sophomore Ian Scheid and junior Joe Awaijane.
“His first goal was huge because it kind of gets you going and gets the guys relaxed a bit,” Blaine coach Dave Aus said of Vegel. “The second one was just a real nice power play rebound right in the right spot, so he was good for us tonight.”
Up one goal in the second period, Blaine secured their lead even further with another power play goal from junior defenseman Michael Brodzinski. Sophomores Alex Copa and Tyler Cline were there with the assist.
“I think what mostly came together was our power play, that was pretty good,” Aus said. “I thought we did a good job killing penalties too. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game simply because it is a rivalry game. We did what we had to do.”
Down by two, the Cardinals tried to make a comeback and force another tie. A goal in the final five minutes of the period by Randall put the Cardinals down just one goal with a score of 3-2 at the end of the period. Randall’s goal would be the Cardinals last point of the night.
“Both our goals were a good job of going to the net, rebound goals, and that is what we were telling them to do the whole time,” Coon Rapids coach Brandon Mileski said.
Blaine secured their lead by one with a goal from Cline, assited by Awaijane, at 6:52 in the final period.
With just 5:29 left on the clock, the Bengals were charged with a major boarding penalty on senior defenseman Dalton Nowicki. Blaine, now short one man for the final five minutes of the game, had to hold off the Cardinals for the win.
They succeeded in killing the penalty and walked off the ice with a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals.
“I think part of it is we have been there before, so we have got guys you have been in that situation,” Aus said of killing the major penalty. “Our guys did a good job just playing and blocking shots and doing all the little stuff.”
Vegal led the game in scoring with two goals. Awaijane led Blaine with two assists. Bengals goalie Nick Malvin had 20-22 saves, while Drazkowski made 41 saves.
“The under-game intensity was there the whole time, I kind of knew it would be,” Mileski said. “They skated hard, they played hard. That is kind of the number one thing I am always looking for, is effort, and they battled and gave it everything they could.”
The Bengals will take on sixth-seeded Anoka, Feb. 28. The Bengals have beaten the Tornadoes during both of their meetings this season.
“We do pretty well against them,” Vegel said. “But the only one that matters is at sections.”