Grafton-Park River beats Crookston 4-3 to spoil Pirates' home opener
The Crookston boys' hockey team thought it could exhale.
The Pirates had just killed off 80 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play when Noah Kiel leapt out of the penalty box after serving two minutes for slashing. But just nine seconds later, the senior defenseman was back in.
This time, Kiel's violation was more egregious: a five-minute major for boarding. With a two-man advantage once again, it didn't take long for Grafton-Park River to take advantage.
Eight seconds after Kiel's major, the Spoilers' Kaleb Hodny found the net. And on the tail end of the penalty, with Kiel only one second away from returning, Grafton-Park River struck again, taking a 4-2 lead on Kody Keeley's goal with eight minutes to play.
It couldn't have been more backbreaking timing for Crookston, which spent nearly half of the third period down either one or two players, while already being stretched as far as it could go. A late goal wasn't enough, and the Pirates dropped their home opener, 4-3, to the Spoilers Saturday night.
"The difference in this game was we had to kill off 11 minutes of penalties in the third period," said Crookston coach Josh Hardy. "We're not built to do that. We wanna play aggressive and we wanna play physical, but we just can't take that many penalties. That's a recipe for a loss for us."
Hardy's diagnosis was simple: the Pirates (0-4) ran out of gas. They rolled only two lines, with the top line of Alex Longoria (So., F), Jack Doda (So., F) and Kaleb Thingelstad (Sr., F) playing close to 40 minutes — Grafton-Park River outshot Crookston 34-16 over the final two periods.
In the first period, with fresh legs, things were different. Crookston played the up-and-down, high-paced style it wanted to, playing well defensively and taking advantage of its chances on offense. Kiel ripped a one-timer on a power play seven minutes into the game, and Thingelstad made a brilliant individual effort to score on a breakaway two minutes before intermission.
But midway through the second period, GPR's Brandon Kelly made it 2-1 on an odd-man rush. Less than two minutes later, Landon Kelly stole the puck near the face-off circle and took it 150 feet down the ice, beating Noah Dragseth (Sr., G) for a game-tying short-handed goal.
"Once they got one, you could feel like their momentum started to pick up," Hardy said. "Then they score a second one and it's against our top unit, and it's how do you reset?"
The Pirates did indeed reset on the defensive side, but couldn't find a goal despite what Hardy thought were a couple grade-A chances by Longoria. Then, in the third period, the Spoilers (4-12) sank their hooks in.
Longoria got one back for Crookston with 6:16 to play, sliding one home on a well-worked power play with Doda and Thingelstad assisting. But Jackson Demarais (So., D) took a penalty only one minute later, squashing some of the Pirates' momentum.
During the game's last five minutes, Crookston could barely get the puck out of its own zone at times, and wasn't able to pull Dragseth and gain an extra attacker until later than it wanted. The Pirates finally got the chance they were looking for, thanks to a Grafton-Park River penalty in the defensive zone, but it came with just five seconds remaining.
"They were giving us a lot of room in the middle of the ice," Hardy said. "We tried a couple of times, but they did a nice job of shutting us down in the middle there, and we weren't able to sustain really any sort of pressure after that."
Still, Hardy was much happier with his team's effort Saturday than in their 8-3 loss at Thief River Falls on Thursday — "we looked like a much different team," in his words. Crookston's defense kept the Spoilers to the outside much of the night, while Dragseth, who made 41 saves, played a strong game as well.
"He's like a coach out there for the most part, he does a really nice job," Hardy said of his goaltender. "I was really proud of his effort tonight."
Being a young team without much depth, the Pirates know they can't afford to put themselves in situations like they did in the third period. But Hardy thinks that their overall effort is sustainable, at the very least.
"We're gonna try to build on this," he said. "We found ourselves in a game, dug ourselves a hole in that third period. Now how do we get over that hump? That's the goal for Tuesday."
UP NEXT: The Pirates will be on the road Tuesday, Feb. 2 to take on Mayville-Portland-CG (N.D.) in the first ever meeting between the two teams.
The Ice Dawgs, who play an independent schedule, are 5-5 this season. They've played three teams from Minnesota this season, beating Breckenridge/Wahpeton 10-0 and Red Lake Falls 4-2 while falling to Morris/Benson Area 3-1. They beat Grafton-Park River 6-3 on Jan. 2 in Grafton.
Grafton-Park River 0-2-2—4
- 9:48 first period (Crookston): Noah Kiel (Jack Doda, Kaleb Thingelstad) power play
- 1:46 first period (Crookston): Kaleb Thingelstad
- 11:07 second period (GPR): Brandon Kelly (Landon Carter, Riley Eide)
- 9:34 second period (GPR): Landon Carter short handed
- 13:11 third period (GPR): Kaleb Hodny (Landon Carter, Brandon Kelly) power play
- 8:20 third period (GPR): Kody Keeley (Weston Sangrait, Landon Carter) power play
- 6:16 third period (Crookston): Alex Longoria (Jack Doda, Kaleb Thingelstad) power play
- Crookston: Noah Dragseth 41 saves on 45 shots
- Grafton-Park River: Ryan O'Toole 25 saves on 28 shots
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