ELK RIVER — Stillwater savored everything but the outcome on Saturday as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.
The Fox Sports North creation put the Ponies in the spotlight as part three outdoor high school games conducted at historic Handke Pit. The Ponies, however, were unable to overcome a seventh-ranked Elk River/Zimmerman team that has won seven straight games, including Saturday’s 4-1 triumph over Stillwater.
The Elks have outscored their past sevenn opponents by a combined 41-12.
“They are obviously a really good team and we knew it was going to be a tough game and a tough challenge,” Ponies coach Matt Doman said. “Our kids handled the circus that surrounds an event like that with the media beforehand and taking pictures and dressing in one place and moving down. It’s tough to really prepare for, but we did a really good job of handling all that. When it came down to it, it was just another game and I thought we performed pretty well.”
Both teams appeared to have a similar number of scoring chances, but the Elks capitazlied on their opportunities, starting with Grant Bunker’s goal at 14:25 of the opening period.
Stillwater outshot the Elks 20-10 in the second period, but the scoreboard showed two more tallies for the home team as Andrew Zerban scored in the opening minute and Chase Springman scored at 10:03 to build a 3-0 lead.
“For the most part we did a pretty good job. We had a lot of really good chances that we didn’t bury and, ultimately, they did,” Doman said. “That was clearly the difference in the game. We had played pretty well the first period and I
don’t think we gave up too many quality scoring chances. When we score first we’re a confident team and that changed the complexion of the game (when Elk River scored), that’s for sure.”
Stillwater’s comeback homes also took a hit when leading scorer John Heddle was given a game misconduct penalty for checking from behind. The Ponies killed off the five-minute power play, but it did little to help them chip away at deficit.
“You can’t replace a guy like that, he’s almost averaging a goal a game,” Doman said. “I thought the other guys stepped up and I thought we played hard until the final buzzer. We had to kill that five-minute penalty off and had another one, but we had guys blocking shots and doing whatever we could to get through that. It was huge for us to get through that and keep it alive.”
Sam Sagissor eventually spoiled Elk River’s shutout bid with a power play goal in the final minute of the third period on an assist by Brandon Jungmann. Jacob Jaremko answered quickly for the Elks with a goal at 16:36 to provide the final 4-1 margin.
Josh Benson finished with 24 saves in goal for the Ponies (7-4-0 SEC, 9-8-0), who were eager for a respite following what was already a hectic week, with games on Tuesday and Thursday — not to mention it being finals week on the academic side.
“Our week was really busy and we were trying not to look too far ahead,” Doman said. “Just to be a part of that was really a once-in-a-lifetime deal for the players and, probably, us coaches too. That’s something that the coaches and players will never forget, being a part of that.”
The Ponies were certainly not thrilled with the outcome, but appreciated an opportunity to play in front of a state-wide television audience and ideal weather conditions.
“It was an amazing day,” Doman said. “You can’t ask for a better day to be outside playing hockey.”
Stillwater 0 0 1 — 1
Elk River/Zim. 1 2 1 — 4
First period — 1. ER, Grant Bunker (Matthew Kiersted) 14:25.
Second period — 2. ER, Andrew Zerban (unassisted) :50; 3. ER, Chase Springman (Jacob Jaremko, Reggie Lutz) 10:03.
Third period — 1. St, Sam Sagissor (Brandon Jungmann) pp, 16:13; 4. ER, Jaremko (Bunker, Colton Budreau) 16:36.
Penalties — St, 4-11:00; ER, 6-12:00.
Saves — St (Josh Benson) 7-8-9—24; ER (MacLean Berglove) 5-20-9—34.
The Ponies and Elks played the second of three games at Handke Pit and coach Matt Doman was pleased with the playing surface, which is obviously dependent on Mother Nature for some cooperation. This event has featured both extremes, from windy and frigid conditions in Grand Rapids a year ago to borderline balmy conditions in Moorhead two years prior to that.
“It’s outdoor ice so it’s going to be a little bumpy, especially when you add some snow on top of that,” Doman said. “Along the board wasn’t great ice, but both teams had to play on the same sheet and I don’t think it affected us more than them. There was not a lot of great plays made by either team, but both groups handled it pretty well for the most part.”
The players did focus on a few things related to playing outdoors. With the glare from the ice and shadows that changed throughout the game, not shot was a bad one as long as it was on goal.
“You’ve got to be smart with the puck and make strong, hard passes and really take care of the puck,” Doman said. “That’s been our message all year is that we need to get pucks on net. It’s even more important when you do have conditions like that. We don’t want to pass up any chances to get it there. We did get some shots from the outside, but as a team we need to figure out a way to get more grade-A chances.
“I just wanted to play like we could play. You’re not going to all of the sudden change how you play the game, you try to keep those things as normal as possible and, as much as you can, try to treat it like another game.”
n The keynote speaker for the Hockey Day Minnesota banquet that was held on Friday night was Tom Sagissor, who has two sons (Sam and Simon) and a nephew (Charlie) playing for the Ponies. Sagissor played four years at the University of Wisconsin — leading the Badgers to a national championship in 1990 — before spending two years in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Sagissor is a Divisional Director for RBC’s Wealth Management Group in Minnesota and, along with Minnesota Wild standout and former Badger Ryan Suter, is part of an ownership group for the Madison Capitols, who will join the USHL next fall.
“His theme was using athletic success and the things you can do on the ice and carrying that into the second part of your life when hockey is no longer a part of it,” Doman said. “He talked about the confidence you can get from sports and athletics and using experiences in the game to have success in life.”
n The Ponies unveiled new black jerseys for Saturday’s game.
“Those were new and the first time the boys had worn them,” Doman said. “They were pretty fired up.”
The Elks, meanwhile, donned jerseys that looked very similar to Stillwater’s home white sweaters.
“I told (former North Stars player and current Elks coach) Gordie (Roberts) that before the game,” Doman said. “I think they’re just about identical, but we maybe have one or two more stripes.”
East Ridge 1, Stillwater 0
At Cottage Grove, Jarrod Ronquillo broke a scoreless tie with less than seven minutes remaining in the third period on Thursday to send East Ridge to a hard-fought 1-0 Suburban East Conference victory over Stillwater at Cottage Grove Ice Arena.
Tyler Guck turned away 33 shots in goal for the Raptors (5-6-0 SEC, 6-8-1), who knocked the Ponies (7-4-0, 9-8-0) out of third place in the conference standings.
“Their goalie played pretty well,” Ponies coach Matt Doman said. “You’re not going to win too many games when you score zero goals.
“They’re a tough team to play against. They’re well coached, they work hard and they don’t take too many chances defensively. One thing they did really well is they kept the puck moving.”
Stillwater 0 0 0 — 0
East Ridge 0 0 1 — 1
First period — No scoring.
Second period — No scoring.
Third period — 1. ER, Jarrod Ronquillo (Frans Koskinen, Conor Newkirk) 10:27.
Penalties — St, 3-6:00; ER, 4-11:00.
Saves — St (Josh Benson) 14-6-10—30; ER (Tyler Guck) 10-13-10—33.