For a St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey player on this 2014-2015 team, motivation is coming from the heavens.
Well, maybe just the ceiling. Or the wall on St. Michael-Albertville Ice Arena’s east end.
“We want a banner,” said defenseman Trevor Zins. “The last one up there was hung by our junior varsity coach, and he gives us a lot of crap about it. It’s time to get one. We take a lot of pride in what we’ve done so far and we want to get that done.”
To do that, the Knights have to seize on the opportunity in front of them. Despite an early season loss at home to Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake, STMA has climbed to the top of the Mississippi 8 standings with just a few games left in the season. Win the games in front of them, and the conference championship, for the first time this century, is there. And so is that banner.
“It’s been a goal all season and this is a team that came in knowing what that kind of success is all about,” said head coach Jerr Johnson, who has led the Knights to a 14-4 start, its best under his leadership. “This group won the State Bantam tournament a couple years back, and they’ve just continued to work hard. They put in a lot of time this offseason, they have good leadership and now it’s just time to stay motivated and get it done.”
Leading the way is an offense that has averaged more than four goals per game, despite Johnson’s pride in his team defense. Logan Nelson is the team’s leading scorer, but Zins, Tucker Bjorlin and Tyler Hayes also have the ability to score goals at key times, as evidenced by the team’s comeback win on Buffalo’s home ice.
“It’s about our chemistry,” Nelson said. “Everyone loves playing together. We’ve done it for a long time. I think that Buffalo game was, without a doubt, one of the funnest games we’ve been a part of. It felt like the conference championship. But we know we have more work to do, and they’ll be on our ice next time so we have to finish it and take it game by game.”
The squad found its stride, ironically, in a loss. STMA fell, on the road, to Duluth East in overtime, a game it led 2-1 in the waning moments.
“Any coach will tell you it had opportunities to win the games the team lost, but that was one where, if you just win a face off, we kill the final 20 seconds and win. But it happened, and the guys were able to not get manic about it. They moved on and played really good hockey after that,” Johnson said.
That included taking first in the Bronze bracket of the Schwan’s Cup, beating teams like Anoka along the way. They’ve also dominated other conference teams, including Rogers – a longtime nemesis.
“You look at our conference and Rogers and Buffalo have been the only teams to get that banner. Now we’ve got one up on each team. We get another shot at Monticello here in a couple of days and then it’s home against Buffalo, so it’s there for us,” Johnson said.
“We’ve known for a long time we can play with the top players in the state,” Zins said. “We just need to stay healthy and be ready to go. If we can do that, we can get that goal and move on to the Section tournament with one thing already off our list.”
The Knights, who fell 4-2 at home Thursday to Class A powerhouse Breck in a non-conference matchup, will host Chisago Lake Saturday night at 7 p.m. (at STMA Arena), then travel to winless North Branch on Tuesday evening. Monticello host the Knights Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Moose.