St. Francis trailed Spring Lake Park three times, but came through with a 5-3 win as both teams resumed the North Suburban Conference boys’ hockey schedule at Fogerty Arena Thursday night.
The Saints (8-5-0, 4-1-0 NSC) began 2013 off the success of winning two-of-three games at its holiday tournament, while the Panthers were looking to get back on track after going 1-2 in its first taste of the Schwan Cup (Open Division).
First place in the NSC was on the line inside what was a very busy Fogerty Arena as Duluth East handed Blaine a 5-1 loss on the south rink.
“They always play us tough,” said Tyler Schaff, St. Francis coach, about what’s becoming a rivalry game for both clubs. “They always talk about beating rivals and it’s a physical game when we play them, but our guys really kept working hard tonight and got the win.”
St. Francis utilized its chances on the power play and that’s where Panthers coach Tom Benson felt the difference was in the game. “We weren’t able to get the kill and be strong enough on the puck,” he said. “Maybe that’s when the age of our team shows a little bit and hopefully it was a lesson learned by our side and we adapt to it better next time.”
Pete Sienko, a Spring Lake Park junior and Totino-Grace transfer, had two goals, while St. Francis stand-out senior Cameron Kaehler had four points. Kaehler had the tying goal three seconds before the end of the second period. He also assisted on the game-winner in the third period. Both goals came on the power play.
Schaff said Kaehler has really increased his effort over the last two weeks. “He told us that he figured out how hard he and the team has to work to get the results they want and now they’re starting to get those results,” Schaff said.
Panthers strong early
Spring Lake Park looked like the fresher team early, leading 1-0 at the first intermission after Sienko scored 6:23 into the game with assists from freshmen Austen Long and Sam Faulkner. The Panthers out shot the Saints 14-7.
“We did a lot of good things,” Benson said. “We had good jump and tempo and goal tending was good enough to keep us in the game.”
Fortunes flipped over the final two periods with St. Francis holding the edge in shots 25-15.
The Saints struggled at the start after playing three straight days before a six-day hiatus from games.
“We came out flat, that happens, but we battled back and played as a good team the last two periods to come out with the ‘W’,” Kaehler said. “We were all a little exhausted after three games in a row, who wouldn’t be. But we battled hard and got it back in control.”
Early into the second period, St. Francis sophomore goalie Darion Hanson caught the Panthers on a line change with a rink-long pass. Hanson’s pass caught Cam Froesch just outside the Panthers blue line to spark a 3-on-0 breakaway. Froesch held the puck until feeding teammate Jimmy Mayer, who let loose on a one-timer less than 10 feet in front of the Panthers goal, but his shot sailed above the goal and into the netting around the rink.
A wild second period saw five goals scored with St. Francis tying the game three times in the period.
The Fighting Saints tied the game as time expired on a power play after the Panthers failed to clear the puck from danger, 9:42 into the middle period. Saints senior Stephen Vincent patiently waited for the perfect time to rip a shot past Panthers goalie Andrew Furlano from between the hash marks.
Only 48 seconds later Sienko scored his second goal of the evening, this time on a well-played one-timer. Panthers sophomore Deven Sunell sent a crisp centering pass to Sienko, who was waiting on the doorstep of the Saints goal for the pass.
Eighty-six seconds later Saints forward Zach Foesch tied the game at 2-2 on a breakaway. Kaehler took a pass from Ryan Mohar and noticed Foesch breaking free from the Panthers defense on the breakaway.
Not to be outdone, Spring Lake Park responded nine seconds later to take a 3-2 lead with 1:55 left in the period.
Panthers sophomore defenseman Nick Heid carried the puck out of the Saints corner of the rink after a face off and scored from a wide angle.
That lead would be short-lived once again as Kaehler tied the game with three seconds left in the period. Mayer walked the puck in from the boards, crossing a face off dot as the Panthers defense came crashing towards him. Mayer saw Kaehler staying put on the other side of the hash marks and sent a tape-to-tape pass. Kaehler set himself before ripping a shot over the extended glove of Furlano to make it 3-3.
The back-and-fourth action continued into the third period, then Panthers junior forward Nick Turnquist took a five-minute major boarding penalty after running St. Francis’ Brett Aldrich hard into the boards in front of the Panthers parents section near mid-ice.
The result was a five minute 5-on-4 power play for the Saints, who took advantage as Ryan Mohar scored the game winner with assists from Foesch and Kaehler at the 8:40 mark of the period to lead 4-3.
“That was the downfall of our game right there,” said Heid. “We just needed to refocus after the goal.”
Foesch added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the road win for the Fighting Saints.
Kaehler said his Saints teammates learned a lot about themselves on the Iron Range. “If we give it our all and we play like a team, we can pretty much beat whoever we want as long as we put our minds to it,” he said. “We’re a naturally offensive team but we’ve worked on shooting a lot at practice which builds us up for situations like this where we need to shoot.”