Column: Bengals hope winning now translates to section glory in March

Blaine boys’ hockey is on quite the roll as of late which comes at a perfect time to make a run toward yet another section crown.

The Bengals won six straight trips to state prior to last season’s 15-1 debacle loss to Maple Grove in the section final.

Blaine junior Tyler Cline, front, skates away from Elks during their first meeting of the season. Photo by Bill Jones
Blaine junior Tyler Cline, front, skates away from Elks during their first meeting of the season. Photo by Bill Jones

Bengals head coach Dave Aus feels this year’s team is positioned to make another trek to Xcel Energy Center, given the recent success.

The sixth-ranked (Class AA) Bengals had a tough holiday stretch losing four straight games to arguably the top teams in the state: No. 10 Burnsville, No. 6 Minnetonka and No. 6 Duluth East. The fourth was a 3-2 overtime loss to top-ranked Edina in the Schwan Cup finale Dec. 27.

“They were all good teams and we weren’t playing particularly well,” he said. “We were rusty and flat against Burnsville and Minnetonka especially, but I think they were too and no one really played exceptionally well minus Hill-Murray.”

Since a 5-1 home loss to Duluth East, Jan. 3, things have been looking very positive for Blaine, winning 10 straight games including a 4-3 overtime win at No. 14 Elk River/Zimmerman Jan. 10.

The Elks traveled to Blaine Thursday evening in what most likely would be the decisive game for the Northwest Suburban Conference title.

Blaine is 13-0-0 with Elk River 10-2-0 in conference play with four games left.

If the Bengals win, it would be their first conference title since 2009-10, a season in which they posted a 15-1-2 mark and the last season with Nick Bjugstad among others. That year, the Bengals won their fifth consecutive section crown but fell flat at state, losing games to Apple Valley and Roseau.

Winning double-digit games is nice but Aus believes the great results are from a combination of factors including the level of competition and confidence on his bench to score.

“Our schedule was brutally tough until a certain point then having a couple teams not as strong helped us get rolling and that’s carried over,” he said as the Bengals are averaging 6.3 goals per game during the streak which includes an 8-2 win over Anoka Jan. 31 and and 8-3 win over No. 9 Centennial Feb. 2.

Aus said the key game during this stretch came Jan. 19 at the Champlin Ice Forum where the Bengals enjoyed a 7-0 win over the Rebels.

“That’s the one game we were dominant in and Champlin Park really isn’t that bad of a team but that game was a real key,” Aus said. “We faced a really good goaltender at Anoka and that carried over to Saturday [against Centennial].”

Scoring hasn’t been an issue recently as two juniors lead the team in points, Tyler Cline (38 points, 21 goals) including a hat trick against Centennial and Brandon Notermann (31 points, 17 points in the last nine games). Cline has 12 goals during the streak.

The top four scorers have at least 25 points (Joey Lau 28 points and Dallas Gerads 25).

Goalie Bailey Ketola has settled into the lead spot with a 2.24 goals against average and a 9-3-1 mark. Aus likes his maturity to evaluate his own play and make changes.