Boys Hockey: Comeback complete
Red Wing's season was over.
The Wingers trailed Albert Lea 5-2 in the Section 1A quarterfinals with four minutes to play. All game, the sixth-seeded Tigers just seemed to be one or two strides faster than third-seeded Red Wing. And the Wingers' vaunted offense was unable to break through the defense and a stellar performance from Albert Lea goaltender Benjamin Witham.
Forty-seven minutes of game clock seemed to seal the Wingers' season. But in a four-minute span, the Wingers played their most inspired hockey of the season for an improbable comeback.
In the final four minutes of regulation, Seth Cushing scored a pair of goals to cut the deficit to one, and Tyler DeFore tied the game up with 23 seconds left in the game. Needing bonus hockey to finish things off, DeFore completed the rally with his third goal of the contest, keeping the Wingers' postseason hopes alive in a 6-5 double-overtime victory at Prairie Island Arena.
“A miracle. It's a miracle. That's what I got to say about that,” Cushing said.
DeFore added, “We have a lot of seniors on this team and a lot of people who didn't want to be done yet.”
From the get-go, it appeared to be Albert Lea's game as the Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal from Bergan Lundak and an even-strength tally by Sam Chalmers. Cam Blue scored an unassisted goal at the 8:01 mark of the first period, only for Albert Lea to swipe the momentum away two seconds before intermission with another Lundak power-play goal.
In the second, the Tigers continued to control the game, with Michael Savelkoul putting the puck past Red Wing goaltender Zach Harding for a 4-1 lead.
“Albert Lea out-worked us. They flat-out did,” said Wingers co-head coach Anthony Boser. “They were moving their feet, they were getting loose pucks. Albert Lea was doing all the things we wanted to be doing, and they were doing it really effectively. They chipped the puck in and forechecked the heck out of us. They gave us no time to get up-ice and make plays.”
DeFore managed to get his first goal of the game on the power play at 10:23 of the third period, which seemed to give the team a spark. That appeared short-lived as the Tigers answered back 57 seconds later with a Lundak goal, putting the score to 5-2.
Witham made save after save for Albert Lea. Cushing had a penalty shot attempt blocked by the Tigers' goalie, and more than a few shots hit the post. Simply put, all the bounces seemed to be in favor of Albert Lea.
The crowd was dead silent, but Boser said the mood was completely different on the bench.
“Nobody on our bench was down. No one was complaining,” Boser said. “Everybody was wondering what was going to happen next.”
Cushing gave the team a jolt at 13:20 with an unassisted goal. Then, he made it a one-goal contest with 1:35 remaining with another goal, off a DeFore assist. And suddenly, the Wingers had a chance.
“It was the last five minutes of our careers for the seniors. We want to make a run. This is what we want to do,” Cushing said. “So we decided as a team that we wanted to go all out and leave it on the ice and it turned out well for us. … We thought, 'OK, we can do this. Let's play some defense and let's continue to go.' We kept fighting.”
With the puck loose on the left side of the net and time ticking down, DeFore tied the game and left Albert Lea discombobulated.
It was a strange turn of events for DeFore, who was about to head to the bench before delivering the game-tying tally.
“I was honestly about to take a shift off and I saw Seth with the puck and I thought, 'Why not? I may as well go to the net and see what happens,'” DeFore said. “I got my lucky bounce of the night and that did it for us.”
In the first overtime period, the Wingers out-shot the Tigers 7-5. And more importantly, the defense came through in a big way after a rough start to the game.
“They quieted that hard rush (Albert Lea) kept trying to put on, and it gave us a chance to get some timing and get some momentum,” Boser said. “We were sick of playing in the D-zone.”
Red Wing kept play in the offensive zone for most of the second overtime. And when Cushing found DeFore with a chance to end the game, he came through with his third goal of the game, sending a crowd that was once mute into hysteria.
“It's something I felt I needed to do for our team,” DeFore said. “I took a dumb penalty early in the third and it means so much to me that I went out and did that for us.”
Boser added, “I was shocked how it went down. But knowing these guys the way I do now, shocked, yeah. But I'm not completely surprised. With the offense we got, when they get determined, things like that can happen.”
At 8 p.m. Saturday at the Rochester Rec Center, Red Wing will face off with second-seeded Rochester Lourdes in the section semifinals. On Thursday, the Eagles, who beat Red Wing 9-2 on Feb. 2, advanced with a 9-2 victory over seventh-seeded Waseca.