Senior winger Alex Bren recorded a hat trick and junior Jacob McAllister scored the game-winner as the No. 5 Detroit Lakes Lakers had too much offensive firepower for No. 4 Kittson Central defeating the Bearcats 7-4 in a Section 8A boys hockey quarterfinal in Hallock Thursday, Feb. 20.
At the section seeding meeting last week, Laker head coach Ben Noah and Hallock’s Robert Carr discussed their teams and Carr insinuated that the Bearcats were the more dangerous club. The section coaches agreed and awarded Kittson the home playoff game with the 4-seed.
“I have a lot of respect for their coach, but we just put up seven goals in your barn, so I think we’re a pretty dangerous hockey team,” Noah said.
Much like a goal that sealed the regular season finale at Little Falls, Bren picked up the puck near his own blue line, found open space and ripped a wrist shot past Bearcats’ goalie Wyatt Olsonawski for a 1-0 Laker lead two-minutes and 15-seconds into the game. Bren was playing with jam from the opening faceoff.
“Alex was the best player on the ice for either team; he took over the game,” Noah said. “He came ready to play. He had a lot of jump in his step. He felt confident with the puck and you could see it right away. In these playoff games, our seniors need to be our best players.”
DL’s lead lasted less than three minutes as Tyler Hennen took a centering feed from Landon Sugden breaking across the blue line and behind the Laker defense to beat Jack Hines and tie the game a goal apiece.
“I thought Jack was fighting it a little bit early, maybe was a little bit nervous,” said Noah. “Some of our defensemen, as well.”
Bren calmed some of those nerves at the midway point of the period after five minutes of neither team holding much zone time.
Drew Schwan found Bren wide open in the neutral zone all alone and Bren took care of the rest putting DL back up 2-1.
Detroit Lakes went to intermission up 3-1 after Bren set up Braeden Wimmer with a slapshot goal in the waning two minutes.
The Lakers scored the first two second period goals setting the game up for what looked like a blowout.
Hunter Burnside capitalized on the first power play of the game burying a juicy rebound from the left circle off a Jackson Field bomb from the slot.
Lukas Justesen put a puck on net from the right point that found McAllister in traffic in front of the net for a 5-1 lead forcing a timeout from Carr.
Noah told his players to put the game away, but the Bearcats came out of the stoppage with life and jump.
McAllister went to the box for interference and only spent a few seconds in purgatory as Kittson’s leading scorer Calvin Hanson took a cross-ice pass from Hennen and sizzled a slapper past Hines to cut the Laker lead to 5-2 midway through the second period.
“We just have to stay out of the box,” said Noah. “We kind of made it hard on ourselves there, but I really love our effort and our response.”
Two minutes later, Hanson got Hines out of position and whizzed a pass across the crease to Hayden Hennen who had plenty of net for the Bearcats’ third goal of the game.
The first goal of the third period was going to be the difference between a mountain to climb or big momentum for the home team.
Three minutes in, Hanson casually got deep in the zone down right wing and flipped a one-handed shot from a deep angle at Hines that somehow snuck over the line for Kittson’s third straight goal and a tenuous 5-4 DL lead.
Hines turned that negative into a positive keeping Kittson off the scoreboard the rest of the game.
“That kind of fired him up,” said Noah. “He knows he’s a better goaltender than that.”
Both teams committed four penalties in the third period and each club had at least a minute or more of five-on-three chances. DL was unable to get set up; Kittson was in the zone for nearly all of its 68 seconds on the two-man advantage.
Hines came up big sliding across the crease to deny Hanson of a golden opportunity with the left pad.
“After we killed off that five-on-three, our bench felt like we were going to put this game away,” said Noah.
Wimmer gave DL the insurance the team needed with a shot that bounced off the crossbar and off the chest of Schwan in front of the net. Schwan’s power play goal eased some tension with a 6-4 lead on the board and five minutes to play.
The Bearcats were frustrated and both Hanson and Hayden Hennen found their way to the penalty box late.
Reed Benson and Wimmer worked the puck down low to find Bren who scored his third of the night with less than four minutes to play celebrating along the far boards amidst falling hats from the stands.
“It was a really good response and our guys believe in themselves,” said Noah. “Anything can happen come Saturday.”
Around the section, No. 1 Warroad blanked Lake of the Woods 8-0. No. 2 East Grand Forks dumped Crookston 10-1 and No. 3 Thief River Falls pounded Red Lake Falls 6-1.
East Grand and Thief square off in the second game Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
DL and Warroad kick off the two-game set in the opening semifinal at 6 p.m.
“I’m so proud of this team, everybody that’s a part of it - my coaching staff, the kids, the parents, everybody that has supported us along the way,” Noah said. “We had a lot of ups and downs from the start of the year to where we are now. This is a big win. All the pressure is off now. The pressure is on Warroad. They’re going to have to push the pace against us. We’ve shown that when we are on top of our game we’re very structured and disciplined and a very hard team to play against. I just can’t say enough about that group of kids. They found a way to come together and they’re excited.”
Detroit Lakes improved to 15-9-2 and have only lost once in the past 11 games. Warroad has one loss in its past dozen games and holds an overall record of 24-2.
Section 8A Boys Hockey quarterfinal
Detroit Lakes 7, Kittson Central 4
KC 1 2 1 - 4
DL 3 2 2 - 7
DL - Alex Bren
KC - Tyler Hennen (Landon Sugden, Adam Gustafson)
DL - Alex Bren (Drew Schwan)
DL - Braeden Wimmer (Alex Bren)
DL - Hunter Burnside (power play) (Jackson Fields, Alex Bren)
DL - Jacob McAllister (Lukas Justesen, Hunter Burnside)
KC - Calvin Hanson (power play) (Tyler Hennen, Landon Sugden)
KC - Hayden Hennen (Calvin Hanson, Luke Misson)
KC - Calvin Hanson (Hayden Hennen)
DL - Drew Schwan (power play) (Braeden Wimmer)
DL - Alex Bren (power play) (Reed Benson, Braeden Wimmer)
Saves: DL - Jack Hines 23; KC - Wyatt Olsonawski 15