When was the last time the Hastings Raiders boys’ hockey team beat St. Thomas Academy? Long enough ago that finding records of the last win is not easy and at the time of writing has not been confirmed. The Raiders for sure had not won in the past decade, which is how far back results on MN Boys’ Hockey Hub by the Star Tribune goes. Nick Tuckner, play-by-play man for KDWA, said Hastings had not won in his 17 years of broadcasting. The rumor is that the Raiders had not beat the Cadets since 2000 or 2001.
Well, all that changed last Thursday night when Hastings walked into St. Thomas Ice Arena and took it to the Cadets, coming away with a 5-1 victory. The streak was broken and in decisive fashion. There’s no denying it’s a big win for the Raiders, perhaps even the kind that can galvanize a team for the rest of the winter, a season-defining win. But head coach Adam Welch is more concerned with how his team played than who they beat.
“We’ve talked about it all year with our kids, it doesn’t matter who we play, it matters how we play,” he said. “As of lately we hadn’t been playing the best, we hadn’t been committing to the things that we need to do. We were kind of cheating a little bit everywhere on the ice, not big cheats but little cheats that added up to big plays.”
The previous four games Hastings went 2-2 with losses to Bloomington Jefferson and Champlin Park.
“That’s kind of what we were focusing on, how we played, and we happened to be playing St. Thomas last night and it was the best game that we played all year, where our kids just bought in,” Welch continued. “It’s all about having the consistency of putting another game together just like that. It’s great that we played well on Thursday night, but now we have to build and go forward from there. We’ve done a lot of things well but we have to get better in all of those same areas. It can’t just be one and done, it has to be hey we’re going to start moving in the right direction again. It’s just a matter of can you commit to doing it every night and not just for one night against a team like St. Thomas.”
Welch said that his team played well from the opening puck drop to when the horn sounded at the end of the third period. He credited the Raiders with fully committing to the game plan that saw Hastings really suffocate the Cadets in the defensive zone and then take advantage of any offensive opportunities presented out of that.
“We created a lot of turnovers and kind of frustrated them (St. Thomas Academy) and not let them get anything going because of how skilled they are,” Welch said.
Hastings struck first 9 minutes, 32 seconds into the first period when sophomore Jake Harris scored, assisted by senior Alex Foster. A couple minutes later, St. Thomas Academy scored on a power play to tie the game up in what Welch described as a back-and-forth first period.
That back-and-forth continued in the second period but the Raiders had their chances. Welch said senior Leo Otto had a chance on a breakaway and another one on a half-breakaway with one man to beat, and so did junior Jax Schauer. However, with four seconds left in the second period junior Jonathon Peine scored with help from senior Chase Freiermuth to put Hastings up 2-1 heading into the third.
Welch said that goal in the final seconds of the second period was a game-changer for the Raiders and so was their third goal which came midway through the third period.
“There was a point in the third period with the same thing, it was pretty even, one of their better kids had a really good look at a back-door and Tyler (McCarville) slid across and made an unbelievable save,” he said. “Then the kid takes a penalty and we score on the power play. So we’re talking about a stretch of about 40 seconds where it goes from it could be 2-2 and now it’s 3-1. Our kids just continued to play well, they didn’t panic or go into a shell and just try to hold onto the lead, they just kept playing the game the right way.”
That third goal came from Schauer, assisted by sophomore Jack Nicklay. St. Thomas Academy pulled its goalie with 4 minutes left, but the Raiders took advantage to the tune of two empty-net goals from Peine and Otto to seal the 5-1 win.
“It was a ton of fun, it was electric in the locker room, the best part about it was we were proud of the way our kids played. They played a full game,” Welch said. “Our back-check was the best it had been all year with our forwards coming back and helping our defense out. They took away countless opportunities away from St. Thomas because of the way that they back-checked. Same thing in our d-zone, our forwards were just committed to helping our D and when we had our chances on offense we did a great job like we always do and tried to take advantage of those.”
Hastings went on to host Tartan on Saturday and blew out the Titans 6-0 with two goals in the first, one in the second and three in the third. Scoring for the Raiders were Klimek, Schauer, Freiermuth, Kendall, Peine and Otto.
Hastings is now 11-3 overall and 6-1 in the Metro East Conference, which puts them at the top with 12 points, two points ahead of Mahtomedi and three ahead of Hill-Murray Last year the Raiders lost just four games with one tie, and while they may not have as good a record this year come the end of the regular season, it’s very possible they end up as a better team.
“Last year we had a ton of success because of the way that our forwards back-checked, it just helps your defense when you can play a different way when your forwards are coming back and supporting them,” Welch said. “We’ve been trying to get our kids to get to that position and recognizing that, we’ve done it well at times but this is the first time we’ve put it together for a full game where we’ve had consistent back check, a consistent d-zone where our forwards have really helped.”
Hastings goes to Henry Sibley on Thursday, Jan. 16, and then has a huge match-up against Hill-Murray on Saturday.