Boys Hockey: Red Wing knocks down ranked Northfield
Even on one leg, Zach Harding is capable of being a brick wall.
During the second period of Thursday's Big Nine Conference game against Northfield, Harding, Red Wing's goaltender, went down face-first on the ice after taking a puck to the knee.
“The puck hit me right in the kneecap,” said a hobbled Harding. “I was thinking pass and opened up my leg and got shot and hit right in the kneecap.”
Harding's teammates helped him get up. And while he tried to shake off the pain, he didn't just persevere. He excelled, making 31 saves in helping the Wingers knock off the 13th-ranked Raiders 4-1 at Prairie Island Arena to pick up the team's fifth straight win.
“Zach was in the Matrix tonight,” Red Wing co-head coach Anthony Boser said. “It was impressive to see Zach has another gear. Even when he's playing well, he actually has another gear. … I could not be more impressed with his competitive spirit and his drive to be the best player on the ice tonight.
“There was not much besides a broken leg that was going to keep him out of the rest of the game.”
For Harding, the credit belonged to his defense, which helped keep Northfield off the board after the injury.
“I didn't take so many shots right away,” Harding said. “Give a lot of credit to the defensemen who stepped up tonight.”
And with their goalie pushing though the pain, the rest of the Wingers couldn't help but elevate their play against a Northfield squad with just one Big Nine loss coming into Thursday's game.
“Honestly, if it weren't for (Harding), we wouldn't have been in this game tonight,” said Red Wing forward Tyler DeFore, who had two goals and an assist in the victory. “It's hard to see our starting goalie going down. But he's a tough kid and I knew if it's going to hurt, he's going to get up, play the rest of the game and worry about it after the game.”
The Wingers also had the benefit of a three-goal lead during the second period. And the first score came from an unlikely source in third-line forward Drew Bjorngaard, who notched his first goal of the year at the 2-minute, 29-second mark off a Ryan Swanson assist.
“Those guys on the third line (Bjorngaard, Josh Partington and Mack Maroushek) have started to play together, and those guys make us a more dynamic team,” Boser said. “If we can put out our third line against their second or first line and know we can get a good shift out of them, that's wonderful. For Drew to get a bonus goal out of it … what a wonderful reward for all the hard work.”
Then at 5:20 of the first, Seth Cushing scored his team-leading 32nd goal on the power-play, with DeFore adding an assist on the play. At 2:05 in the second, DeFore put in his first score, with a Cam Blue assist, on the power play.
Three goals offered the team a cushion, but not one they were content with as the Raiders cut the gap to 3-1 when Jackson Cloud scored, with assists to Zachary Marvin and Griffin Loecher.
“With this team, even five goals doesn't feel safe,” DeFore said. “They're just so dominant in the offensive zone. It was nice to have that three-goal lead, but you can't feel safe against them. If we could play our D-zone really good and get them off their offensive forecheck, we could get an offensive chance for ourselves.”
With the Raiders serving a five-minute major at the start of the third, DeFore made it a 4-1 game with a goal at 2:48. Nick Ramstad was credited with an assist.
“Tonight was one that if we really wanted to make a big splash in the section seedings, we needed to win tonight,” Boser said. “It's always nice beating a good team, especially a good team like Northfield. Whether the guys say it or not, they've been preparing for this game for a long time.”
Harding added, “It's good to get some momentum going into the playoffs.”
On Saturday, the Wingers (14-9-0, 10-4-0 Big Nine) heads to Faribault for the regular-season finale before Section 1A seeding takes place on Sunday.