For the first time since 2002 the Pine City Area Boys Hockey team was playing in a Section 5A Championship game. Their opponents, the Monticello Moose, have played in the game four times in the five years that they have been in Class A. The rarity of the situation for Pine City provided an excitement that could be felt in the community each day leading up to the game. When game day arrived, fans from the communities of Pine City, Rush City, and Hinckley-Finlayson donned their green apparel (with some blaze orange and camouflage mixed in) and headed south to Fogerty Arena in Blaine. Three hours before puck drop people were already in the parking lot waiting with anticipation to get in the rink. By the time the teams were on the ice for warmups well over 1500 people were in their seats most of them from the Pine City area.
A big question going into this game was how the Dragon players and coaches were going to react to the moment. None of the players had played in a game of this magnitude and Grant Nicoll hadn't seen a moment like this since he was a senior in high school playing in this same game. They were up against an opponent that had been in this game before, recently, and coaches that had the opportunity to coach a state championship game. The nerves were present for the Dragons early as Monticello got off to a hot start first. A couple nice saves by Alex Laven early on kept the Moose off the score sheet by 10:55 into the first period, Monticello got on the board with a goal from Jacob Pederson. The Moose used the momentum from that goal to grab another one just two minutes later. This time it was Jacob Sorensen who found the back of the net for the Moose and Pine City quickly found themselves behind a two goal deficit. There was a quiet in the crowd for Pine City and the Dragon fans nerves were high, scared their team was going to get run out of the building early. But Nicoll and the senior led Dragons rallied back and Dusty Bergstrom lifted the Dragons spirits with a late first period goal. The Dragons used their "super line" with Bergstrom as a forward to grab a crucial goal with just a minute left to go before intermission and Pine City headed to the locker room with some life.
That late goal translated into a dominating second period that saw the Dragons flying around the ice. Pine City came out with a lot of speed and a ton of opportunities. Nash Wilson, the Moose goalie, made some key saves and the Monticello defense controlled rebounds to keep their 2-1 lead. Unfortunately a Dragon penalty killed the momentum Pine City had built and Monticello's leading scorer Jeffrey Henrikson scored a power play goal 7:20 into the second period. Once again, the Dragon fans were nervous trailing two goals, but it was obvious the players and coaches were still confident and knew they were not out of the game. That showed on the ice as the Dragons reacted well scoring from Gabe Westbrook just 39 seconds later to get back within a goal. Pine City picked their momentum back up and controlled play for the remainder of the second period. A fantastic play by junior Peyton Smetana tied the game back up for Pine City with 6:29 left to go in the second and the fans came alive. Pine City had tied the game up late in the second period and there was a brand new game to be played.
The third period was tense. Both teams desperately trying to grab that game winning goal to send their team to the Xcel Energy Center. Pine City fought off an early power play to keep the game tied. Wilson and Laven traded huge saves on either end and the teams remained deadlocked for the majority of the period. It was Jacob Sorensen who finally broke the tie with his second goal of the game 2:45 to go. Once again, Pine City's will was tested as they found themselves trailing. This time with very little time left to get the game back even. The Dragons drew a penalty with exactly two minutes left to go and Pine City would be on the man advantage for the remainder of the game. With just one minute and fifteen seconds left George Miller came through for the Dragons and tied the game at four each and just like that it looked like the game was heading for an overtime thriller. But Huntley Hinz continued his red hot postseason sniping a goal just 15 seconds later and handed out heartbreak to the Pine City area community. The Moose added an empty netter by Henrikson to seal the deal and give them their third state tournament appearance in four seasons.
This one will sting for the Pine City players, coaches, and fans for a few days. But everyone who was in the rink or watching at home knows the Dragons gave everything they had right down to the final whistle. They went down several times in that game and several times they could've given up and been satisfied with just making it that far. But they didn't they came back strong and kept the game close right down to the end. The Pine City area communities will be proud of this team and all they accomplished.
Dragon Hockey Head Coach Grant Nicoll took to Twitter to congratulate his team: "Words can not describe how proud of these young men we are! They fought back time and time again tonight. They gave the communities of PC,RC, and HF a reason to come together and become one. These young men have made a lasting impact on Dragon Hockey and will never be forgotten!"
The Dragons graduate some seniors that deserve recognition for their hard work and what they have done to further Dragon Hockey for years to come.
Thank you seniors!
Dragons 1 2 1 = 4
Moose 2 1 3 = 6
George Miller - 1g, 1a
Parker Sell - 0g, 1a
Gabe Westbrook - 1g, 1a
Luke Fabini - 0g, 1a
Dusty Bergstrom - 1g, 0a
Peyton Smetana - 1g, 0a
Alex Laven - 28 saves on 33 shots
Jeffrey Henrickson - 2g, 0a
Huntley Hinz - 1g, 1a
Jacob Sorensen - 2g, 0a
Brian Cornelius - 0g, 2a
Jacob Peterson - 1g, 0a
Nash Wilson - 26 saves on 30 shots
The Dragons finish the season 21-7 and Section 5A runner ups.