The St. Michael-Albertville Knights dominated Rogers High from start to finish last week in a game that determined the Mississippi 8 Conference Championship, winning 4-1.
“This is a program that’s growing,” coach Jerr Johnson has said about the Knights’ boys team, a collective group that’s won back-to-back titles for the first time in conference history. “You want to build on the success we’ve seen with our youth programs. They’re going out and facing tough competition and competing well. It’s our time to do that, too, as you see these kids come up through the ranks and play varsity hockey.”
Last year, the Knights seemed poised to do just that, hosting a playoff game in Section 5AA for the first time, skating against a Colquet team it had defeated just a few days before. Instead, the Knights got behind early, committed some tough penalties, and were, eventually, blown out of their own barn.
This year, there’s a new (old?) section – 8AA – and a new, determined group that hosts the Roseau Rams at the STMA Arena tonight at 7 p.m. Though Roseau is steeped in hockey tradition, playing at the AA level with just 400 students in its total enrollment, STMA (15-7-2) has edge with home ice, a higher seed and a better record, overall, in 2016 with Roseau at 11-12-2, under .500 for the first time in recent memory.
The fate of the Knights, it can be argued, rests on the shoulders (instead of the leg, for football fans) of Mitch Bourgerie. No stranger to pressure, the offensive leader of the STMA squad has averaged nearly 2 points per game, and leads the squad in both goals and assists.
His sidekick is Carson Wooters, who has come on as of late in scoring, and is efficient in the center of the ice.
The Knights defense is led by now experienced netminder Kyle Haden, who had nearly a 90 percent saves percentage, solid for a AA goalie on a team that’s faced perennial powers like Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Holy Family, Moorhead and Duluth East this season.
Since it’s a 4 vs. 5 game, the winners gets Bemidji in the semifinals, and the Jacks will be no easy task. BHS has quality wins this season over programs like East Grand Forks, Moorhead and Hill-Murray, and with a 21-2-2 record, is among the tops in the AA field.
At the bottom of the bracket, the Spuds, who are a dangerous No. 2 seed with a lot of young speed, host Buffalo in the No. 2 vs. No. 7 game. Rogers, a six seed, travels to Brainerd to take on a Warrior team that has been up and down this season.
STMA had a solid January, winning eight in a row from Dec. 30 through Jan. 22, a stretch that put them in the top four spots of the 8AA section. Johnson is hoping his team can regain that form – some opportunistic scoring with a defense that allowed 1.1 goals per game during that winning streak (including three shutouts) – to weave its way to a possible State AA Tourney berth for the first time in school history.