As Joey and Jack Doda headed to the box with ten minutes to play, Josh Hardy thought one of two things was about to happen.
Crookston could kill off the ensuing Mounds View five-on-three power play, grab the momentum by the horns and score the tying goal. Or the Mustangs would find the net, breaking open a tight, 1-0 game and running away with the win.
What actually happened was a combination of the two.
The remaining Pirates held strong, visibly picking up fire from each save and each clattering hit, and in the blink of an eye the Doda brothers were back on the ice. Crookston earned a power play of their own almost immediately afterwards, and Joey ripped home a one-timer from close range as the home crowd erupted.
But with 5:50 to play, Crookston lost sight of George Demay as he rocketed towards the crease with the puck. The Mustang forward dodged a hit, faked out Noah Dragseth (Jr.) and found nylon, giving Mounds View a 2-1 win in the season opener for both teams on Friday night.
“I thought we took it to them for a lot of time,” Hardy, the Pirates’ coach, said. “We were in a game here late in the third period. … I thought the way we played tonight was similar to the way we've beeen playing the last couple seasons in late January.”
The game started off up-and-down, with neither team really able to wrest control from the other. But towards the end of the first period, the Mustangs found their stride, and Demay beat Dragseth for the first goal.
“Our guys really stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Hey we’re not gonna let one goal beat us down,’ ” Hardy said.”At times it's easy to be like, ‘Ah, we just messed up, we gave up a goal and it’s easy to pack it in.’ ”
Far from it.
Crookston chased Mounds View throughout the offensive zone, with its defensemen pinching in to keep the Mustangs outside of the dangerous areas. And when the Pirates won the puck back, they found success by chipping it up the ice to their forwards to create odd-man rushes.
Dragseth, meanwhile was cool, calm and collected all through the second quarter, using his glove, stick and blocker to keep it a one-goal game. He’d finish with 32 saves on 34 shots.
“He played within himself, he was composed, he didn't panic,” Hardy said. “He was he did everything we need. … He almost stole us the game.”
When the Dodas were sent to the box, that scenario teetered on the brink. Crookston hadn’t even practiced five-on-three scenarios this early in the season.
But the Pirates did what they had done all game: pinch in, keep the Mustangs out of the middle. It paid off in an enormous stop, momentum and eventually a power-play.
Hardy called timeout, but he’d didn’t have any strategy to talk or plays to draw up. Instead, he just reiterated what his players already knew.
“Our power play looked good,” Hardy said. “We were already starting with it in their end, and I brought the boys in and said, ‘Hey, we're just catching our breath here. We gotta get our number-one power play out there, and we're gonna go out there and score.”
Crookston went high-to-low, with Doda, on the left edge of the crease, the recipient of passes by his brother and Ben Andringa. The Pirates were back in it.
For barely two minutes.
“We tried to hit him and missed him, and the guy made a beauty of a play,” Hardy said. “Hockey’s a game of little mistakes.”
Those mistakes aside, Hardy’s less concerned with wins, losses or draws at this point in the season. In terms of the foundation Crookston has going forward, he’s as optimistic as he’s been for the last several years.
“This isn’t the end of the world to lose,” he said. “I just (told the team), ‘Hey, I wanted to see us compete, I wanted to see us battle, and I wanted to see where we were at in terms of the stuff we implemented,’ and I thought we far exceeded that. Now that we know we're ahead of that, we can step it up even more.”
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