St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey had an opportunity to grab its first conference title in more than a decade at STMA Arena Thursday night, and the Knights made sure they didn’t let anything slip thought their collective fingers.
Instead, they seized it by the throat.
In front of, unofficially, one of the largest crowds ever to see a game played at the STMA Arena, the gold and blue bum rushed the Buffalo Bison with three goals in the first period, and then poured it on with three goals in the final frame of the regular season, cruising to a 6-0 win, a season sweep of BHS and the Mississippi 8 title.
St. Michael-Albertville heads into the Section 7AA tournament with a record of 21-4, its best-ever in a regular season, and the No. 4 seed in one of the state’s toughest brackets. Elk River, Grand Rapids and Duluth East are all ranked in the State AA polls.
For now, however, coach Jerr Johnson and the Knights will savor their first banner in Mississippi 8 history, something the team set its sights on when it first took to the ice in October.
“That was really the first of three goals,” said Trevor Zins, who assisted on the second goal of the night and then the final tally. “We really think we can also compete with anyone in our Section. There’s no reason we can’t pull off something and make our way to the State Tournament. In our minds, we know we can skate with anyone.”
The Knights skated circles around the Bison long enough in the first period to put Buffalo in a huge hole. Nick Putnam opened the scoring in the first period, about midway through, on a feed from captain Tyler Hayes. Then, 90 seconds later, Mitch Bourgerie made it 2-0 off a combo play from Zins and Hunter Wilcox. Then, just two minutes later, it was 3-0 when Logan Nelson, the team’s leading scorer, found the back of the net.
“It’s been someone different every week making the plays on offense,” Johnson, who enjoyed his winningest season as a coach this year, said. “Any of these guys have the confidence that they can step in and contribute. On a team that really prides itself on defense, to have that kind of firepower on offense makes us pretty solid.”
Leading the way in the back, all season long, has been goalie Kyle Hayden. The sophomore, who emerged as the starter in the fall, stopped 28 shots to earn the shutout, 15 in a second period where the Bison were truly trying to claw their way back into the game.
But credit also goes to the Knights defense, who consistently got into passing and shooting lanes, particularly in the game’s third period. Buffalo, facing defeat, could only muster five shots in the last 17 minutes, and the Knights continued to put the hammer down en route to the win.
“We had a couple of games there where we weren’t making the plays on our end of the ice, and Kyle was giving up a few more goals. But we’ve made some corrections there. Any time you have a goalie at this level who has a save percentage over 90 percent for the year, which Kyle does, you’re in pretty good shape. He’s been outstanding.”
Nelson, who scored his 26 and 27th goals of the season Thursday night, said the Knights have been feeding off a great home crowd all season, and the regular season finale was no different.
“They’re huge,” he said of the fans. “It’s great that they can come out and support us. We’re just trying to play some good hockey for them.”
The Knights will get another home game Tuesday, Feb. 17. That’s when they’ll open the Section 7-AA tournament against Cloquet-Esko at STMA arena, with a 7 p.m. start.
The Knights actually hosted Cloquet back on Tuesday, Feb. 10, and shut them out 3-0. Marshall Bjorlin scored the opening goal and ultimate game winner, while Hayden made 21 saves in the shutout.
1-0 10:32 St. Michael-Albertville
#13 Nick Putnam (even strength) (#18 Tyler Hayes, #9 Connor Greenwood)
2-0 11:45 St. Michael-Albertville
#10 Mitch Bourgerie (even strength) (#8 Hunter Wilcox, #7 Trevor Zins)
3-0 13:50 St. Michael-Albertville
#19 Logan Nelson (even strength) (#12 Tucker Bjorlin, #9 Connor Greenwood)
4-0 0:09 St. Michael-Albertville #19 Logan Nelson (even strength)
5-0 1:12 St. Michael-Albertville #18 Tyler Hayes (even strength) (#13 Nick Putnam)
6-0 2:36 St. Michael-Albertville #12 Tucker Bjorlin (even strength) (#19 Logan Nelson, #7 Trevor Zins)