by Blake Theisen / Sports Director / @blake_theisen
The surging St. Cloud Crush (6-12-3) boy’s hockey team hit the “road” again on Thursday when they traveled to neighboring Sartell to take on the Sartell-St. Stephen Sabres (14-9-0). The game carried massive Section 8AA ramifications as both teams look to fight for a top 7 seed with section playoffs looming in just two weeks.
The first four minutes of the game couldn’t have started any better for St. Cloud. Just 2:55 into the game, Sartell turned the puck over as the entered the offensive zone. Crush Junior forward Ben Eiynck skated into the loose puck in neutral ice and led a 2-on-0 rush with Senior Nick Matanich. Eiynck slid the puck across to Matanich who hammered home a one-timer on St. Cloud’s first shot on goal of the game. The efficiency continued for St. Cloud on the powerplay less than a minute later when Senior Isaac Baker pumped a shot past Noah Hacker, Sartell’s Sophomore goaltender.
To that point, Sartell had done a solid job containing St. Cloud’s star, Andrew Cumming. Cumming was tasked with lots of heavy defensive zone minutes defending against Sartell’s top line that features three skaters with over 35 points on the season. However, Crush coach Pete Matanich was able to get Cumming on the ice matched up against Sartell’s second line, and Cumming took care of the rest. Cumming forced a turnover at center ice and proceeded to slice and dice his way through three Sabre defenders and shaking Hacker out of position to make it 3-0.
St. Cloud scored three times on just five first period shots.
Already ahead by three entering the second, St. Cloud wanted more. Isaac Baker for St. Cloud flung a puck to center ice that eventually wound up on the stick Nick Matanich who was behind the Sartell defense. With pressure coming from behind, Matanich put on the brakes, spun a pass back for Cumming who went in all alone on Hacker and he once again made no mistakes sliding it past the frustrated Sabre goaltender to extend the St. Cloud lead (4-0).
Through two periods, Sartell hadn’t generated much offense. With just 15 shots on goal, 0-for-2 on the powerplay, and their top line of Tory Lund, Parker Comstock, and Billy Vogt nowhere to be found, the Sabres looked dead in the water. So, whatever was said in that second intermission by Sartell head coach Ryan Hacker, must have hit home with his star players.
Sartell’s top line connected immediately to start the third period. Tory Lund picked up a rebound left out by St. Cloud goalie Ben Condon and roofed it over his shoulder to cut into the Crush lead just 27 seconds into the period (4-1). Then the Sabres depth came to play, as senior Aiden Hilger scored at the mid-way point of the third off a poorly played dump in by Condon to make it 4-2. Sartell didn’t surrender a shot against for the first 10 minutes of the final period.
Coach Hacker called timeout for Sartell with just over three minutes left and pulled his goaltender down a pair. The Sabres peppered Condon with shots from their blue liners, but weren’t able to get anything to bounce in. Nick Matanich sealed the deal for St. Cloud with an empty net goal with just 18 seconds left in the game.
The Crush (7-13-12) finished the game with five goals on 11 shots. They were opportunistic in every sense of the word on Thursday night picking up the huge Section 8AA victory. Now their eyes turn towards Bemidji on Saturday. St. Cloud travels to take on the Lumberjacks who beat them in the season opener 4-1. If St. Cloud can win Saturday, they will carry a good argument for the 6th seed in 8AA. A loss however likely has them arguing heavily for the 7th seed.