Overtime hockey is one of the best things about sports. A thrill-a-second battle to end the game with one shot. It doesn't have to be a pretty goal, all that matters is that the puck finds the net.
Red Wing played three overtime games in last year's Section 1A playoffs. That the Wingers' season ended there, and not at the state tournament, is because Northfield scored 20 seconds into the second extra period.
And with that Raider goal, the careers of Seth Cushing, Tyler DeFore and the rest of the Red Wing seniors came to an end.
"I don't think it's a big secret, we don't have those explosive guys on offense, but with the defense we have back, I don't think we'll give up many goals either," said Wingers' co-head coach Anthony Boser.
Cushing (32-29—61) and DeFore (25-23—48) were much of the offense last season, which means returners such as junior Cam Blue (11-19—30) and seniors Teddy Lillico (4-11—15), Jack Maroushek (7-7—14) and Logan Sammon 3-4—7 will have to pick up more of the load.
"We'll have to score differently," Boser said. "Last year we were quick. Now we'll have to be more disciplined and capitalize when we can. And special teams will be paramount if we want to win a bunch of games.
"We don't necessarily have the same speed that we did, so we're going to have to be opportunistic. We have to play good 'D', but we have some kids with a nose for the net."
When the puck dropped at the Hippodrome in Eveleth on Friday, the Wingers officially turned the page to the 2017-18 season. There are 11 seniors and eight juniors on the roster with varying degrees of varsity experience. But there is also a crop of five sophomores who will get ample opportunity to show that they also belong.
"There are a number of kids that I'm excited get their time," Boser said. "(Junior) Barrent Blaney we should see a lot of, (sophomore) Colton Quade should get some time, and two or three sophomores fighting for third and possibly second-line minutes. I'm short on names outside of that, but we'll figure that out here over the next couple weeks."
Another big change for Red Wing is a move to Section 4A for the playoffs. Northfield also made the move, where the Wingers and Raiders will join Henry Sibley, Mahtomedi, Simley, South St. Paul, St. Paul Academy, St. Paul Highland-Central, St. Paul Johnson and Totino-Grace. Northfield and Mahtomedi, the defending Section 4A champions, met in the state quarterfinals last year, a game the Raiders won, 3-1.
It's a move that was unexpected, and perhaps not well-received in parts of the program. But there's no changing it, and the formula for playoff success remains the same for Red Wing.
"Isn't that about it? There wasn't a lot of communication. We found out when everyone else did," Boser said. "I thought we were finally comfortable in Section 1A. But just because we switched, it doesn't make it tougher or different. You still have to be playing your best at the end of the year, and that section has a number of good teams in it."
For the first time in a long time, the Wingers come with several question marks. Senior Zach Harding is an obvious answer in net, but outside of a few defensemen, Boser has more unknowns than he ever has. The fun, he said, will be finding out who solves the equation.
"This has been a strange season with all the question marks and the number of kids fighting for time," Boser said. "But that also means there is a lot of opportunity for growth. They will all get the ice time. I know a little about the makeup of this team, but I'm really excited to see what we have in a week or two. That's when we'll start to find answers."