Northfield downs Mahtomedi in Minnesota hockey quarterfinal
ST. PAUL — Mahtomedi boys hockey coach Jeff Poeschl thought his young team performed well under immense pressure in the Class A, Section 4 final last week, as the Zephyrs upset St. Paul Academy.
That figured to be a hopeful precursor for the way Mahtomedi would perform at the state tournament.
Poeschl said his team was tentative Wednesday afternoon, as the third-seeded Zephyrs were upset 3-1 by unseeded Northfield at the Xcel Energy Center in a Class A quarterfinal game.
It's one thing to play well in the postseason.
"It's a little bit different when you're playing in an NHL building for your first time," Poeschl said. "I didn't sense that the guys were nervous in the room, but we do have a lot of youth and on a big stage that they were just gripping their stick a little tight, and you tend to be tentative when that's the case."
Northfield, on the other hand, was not. The Raiders (21-5-3) were making their first state tournament appearance, and Mahtomedi its ninth, but Northfield features 12 seniors, and Mahtomedi had five.
The Raiders looked like the more experienced team Wednesday. Particularly in the third period.
Mahtomedi (16-12-1) struck first, with junior forward Dallas Duckson scoring from the point in the first period. Northfield's Jacob Halverson scored in the second period to make it 1-1 going to the third.
That's a situation Raiders coach Mike Luckraft knew his team was more than comfortable in.
Northfield has played in eight overtime games this season, including two in the sectional playoffs. So the tight spots probably feel more normal than anything else.
"The guys are fairly comfortable in that, not that you're ever completely comfortable in a tie game in the state tournament," Luckraft said, "but I think they were prepared for playing really hard in that third period and having that chance."
Northfield senior forward Nicholas Kvernmo scored twice in the third period. On the first goal, he danced into the slot and scored to make it 2-1 Raiders one minute into the period.
After the goal he pulled out his stick, put it over his shoulder and pretended to fire it like a rocket launcher. No, if you're wondering, that wasn't simply a state tournament special.
"I've seen stuff like that (from him) before," Northfield senior goalie Ryan Bielenberg said.
Kvernmo's second goal was of the empty-net variety with a minute to play to essentially secure the Raiders' upset bid. The celebration after that goal wasn't as elaborate but just as joyous.
"It was all relief," Kvernmo said. "That goal definitely took a lot of weight off our back."
Kvernmo noted that while on the ice, it felt like just another game. But after the fact? That's when his two-goal day really hit him.
"This was at the X, and I'm never going to forget this," Kvernmo said. "Two goals in one game, you dream about this as a kid. ... It's just a really great feeling."
Kvernmo was complemented by Bielenberg's performance. The Northfield netminder made 13 saves in the third period and 34 for the game.
"Ryan was just rock solid back in the goal," Luckraft said, "and kept everything in front of him."
That was one of the reasons for Mahtomedi's demise, along with what Poeschl said was an inability to generate traffic in front of the net and allowing too much space for Northfield to break out of its own zone.
"When you're tentative, you tend to lose battles," Poeschl said, "or you don't put yourself in a position to win battles."
Again, maybe that's all to be expected from a young team.
"It'll be a great learning experience," Poeschl said, "and I know that if it's anything like when I was a player, and even as a coach, once you're here, they've got that seed planted. For our younger guys, I'm sure it will be their goal to get back."
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