The entire city of Pine City was filled with anticipation for Saturday night's Section 5A semifinals. In the 40th season of Dragon Hockey, this would be the biggest game that Pine City would get to play in front of its home crowd. The fans did not disappoint as people started arriving well over an hour before game time and the Civic Center reached capacity before puck drop. From the fans of both teams, students, cheerleaders, and the pep band the atmosphere that was created was perfectly fitting for a massive playoff game. The game itself did not disappoint.
While everyone in the crowd was filled with nervous excitement, both teams knew what they had to do and what was at stake. It didn't take long for the crowd to get exactly what they came to see as Parker Sell put the Dragons on the board just 5:44 into the first period. The Dragon's leading point scorer this season has been on a completely different level since getting into the Section 5A playoffs. The Dragons were flying high off the momentum of that goal and quickly came back down to earth when an unfortunate bounce gave Chase Mehlhorn a goal for Chisago Lakes to tie the game at 1-1 just twenty seconds later. The next ten minutes would see both teams fighting off penalties, four on four action, and a lot of great scoring opportunities shut down by two great goalies. But it was Chisago Lakes who would strike back again this time by Alex Bachmeier. Another weird goal that had Alex Laven tangled up and unable to reach it and the Dragons found themselves having to play from behind. Pine City wanted to get one back before heading to that first intermission. It is crucial to not be trailing when heading into the locker room. Pine City found themselves on the power play late in the first period and who else but Parker Sell buried his second of the game to tie the game back at 2-2. After the first period Dragon Coach Grant Nicoll said, "It's zero zero. Tie game. we got the momentum after scoring late but we have to continue to do play our game."
The second period was very tense. Both teams felt like goals were going to be at a premium the rest of the way through. They knew that the other team had very good goalie play and the next goal or two was going to win the game. Both teams had big chances and both goalies played well. Alex Laven reacted well in the second period after he played great in the first and had two bad bounces not go his way. He could've easily been mentally out of the game, but he remained focus and kept the Wildcats scoreless in the second. With just a couple minutes left in the second period Pine City went on the penalty kill and the Wildcats had a huge opportunity to give themselves a lead heading into the final period. And in what turned out to be the play of the game the Dragons forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Parker Sell out skated two Wildcats players to get to a loose puck and found the back of the net on a shorthanded breakaway to give the Dragons a 3-2 lead. After the second Nicoll said, "Sell's got it. He's dialed in. His linemates are working hard too. He's seeing the back of the net."
In between periods, Grant Nicoll mentioned that the next goal would be huge and if the Dragons would be able to get it they should be good to go and that would be exactly the case in the third period as George Miller scored a very important insurance goal for Pine City. The Wildcats scored late with about two minutes left to keep themselves in it but Pine City was able to hold on to a 4-3 victory. After the game Nicoll said, "I can't be happier for these boys. They worked hard. They deserve it.... Top to bottom everyone who touched the ice did the little things right."
Both teams had great goalie play to make this game great. Max Wilmer for Chisago Lakes had to make 42 saves in order to keep his team in the game. On the other end, Alex Laven wasn't quite as busy but he made 26 saves and a lot of them were high quality shots from the Widcats as Laven and Dragons got the victory.
PC 2 1 1 = 4
CL 2 0 1 = 3
Parker Sell - 3g, 0a
George Miller - 1g, 1a
Seth Linnell - 0g, 2a
Alex Laven - 26 saves on 29 shots
Alex Bachmeier - 2g, 0a
Chase Melhorn - 1g, 0a
Isaac Roy - 0g, 1a
Ben Jinks - 0g, 1a
Max Wilmer - 42 saves on 46 shots
Pine City is now just one win away from the school's first ever State Tournament appearance. The Dragons will take on Monticello in the Section 5A Championship Game. The game will be played on Thursday, February 27th, at 7:00 at Fogerty Arena in Blaine.
You can listen to Saturday's game on 106.5 FM/AM 1350 and wcmpradio.com
Photo Credit: John Olson