Vikings learning to adjust to Mississippi 8
The North Branch boys hockey team faced its neighbor to the north, Pine City/Rush City, in Lindstrom last Tuesday.
It was nearly a scoreless first period until junior Colton Danks of the Vikings put his team on the board by scoring with just over a minute remaining in the period. Danks was assisted by senior Damon Holcomb.
North Branch earned a two-point cushion on a goal by junior Nate Runberg just two minutes into the second period. Danks assisted the score.
The Dragons answered in the final minutes of the same period when eighth-grader Jonah Bergstrom scored off a pass from senior Coltin Brant to bring their squad within one goal.
Just 45 seconds into the third period, the Vikings added to their lead again with another Runberg goal, this time off passes from Holcomb and junior Connor Martineau.
But that would close the scoring for North Branch and open the door for the Dragons to tie it up in regulation.
Senior Dewy Carr scored a power-play goal with an assist by junior T.J. Gross five minutes later, followed by the tying score with less than 30 seconds remaining by senior Casey Lucht off passes from Gross and Carr.
Pine City’s Jonah Bergstrom struck again in overtime with a goal at 4:41 off a pass from Gross to score the game-winning goal.
Head coach Matt Cottingham said it was a game his team let slip through their fingertips.
“It was one of those games we just let go of,” Cottingham said. “We should have won. We were good offensively, but lacked defensively. Our goalie is playing really well, but we’re not giving him enough help defensively. At the end of the game, Pine City wanted it more.”
Junior Tony Pitzen was the winning goalie with 21 saves, while senior Tyler Byrit recorded 35 saves.
North Branch also faced Rogers on the road on Saturday and fell 8-0 in what head coach Matt Cottingham called an improvement over their first matchup, when Rogers won 13-0. Rogers scored seven goals in the first period, then held the home team to just one more goal in the second period, and scoreless through the third.
Byrkit recorded 45 saves.
The Vikings are now 3-16 overall. The head coach commented that his squad is improving and adjusting to the speed of the Mississippi 8 Conference.
“It’s a faster-paced game and we’re really young — we’re just not used to it yet. But we’re seeing improvement and that’s what counts,” Cottingham said. “I like playing tougher teams in conference play, it really gets you set for sections.”
Cottingham said he and his team are aiming for the No. 8 seed in sections in order to earn a first-round play-in home game in the postseason. The squad would have played its last home game of the regular season last Thursday against St. Francis, but the matchup was postponed due to the weather. To find out when the game is scheduled for, visit www.mississippi8.org.
Next, the Vikings travel to Cambridge-Isanti for a 7 p.m. game on Thursday, Jan. 30.
As for the Pine City/Rush City team, the Dragons also faced St. Paul Highland Park last Friday and tied 6-6 to bring their overall record to 5-12-1. The Dragons next face Legacy Christian on Thursday, Jan. 30.