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Boys Hockey: Red Wing clinches win over Austin

Red Wing's Ryan Swanson (9) shoves Austin's Isaac Arnold while going for the loose puck during the third period of Saturday's Big Nine Conference game at Prairie Island Arena. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 2
Red Wing's Seth Cushing fires off a shot late in the third period of Saturday's Big Nine Conference game against Austin at Prairie Island Arena. Cushing finished the game with a hat trick, bringing his season goal total to 31 in the 5-3 victory. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 2

Even in a game played on ice, Red Wing had to extinguish Austin if the Packers got hot. 

"We talk about not letting Austin catch fire. If you give them an opening, they'll go off," said Wingers' co-head coach Anthony Boser. "They play fast hockey and they play tough. They're a big hustle team."

Austin struck early in the first period, but Red Wing was able to respond with four straight goals. The Packers nearly surged back late in the game, but the Wingers were able to hold onto a 5-3 Big Nine Conference victory Saturday at Prairie Island Arena. 

Red Wing is now 8-3-0 since the calendar turned to 2017.

"I thought they stuck together really well today," Boser said. "I thought they complimented and supported each other in the D-zone pretty darn well. And our D did a pretty darn good job of taking people away from the front of the net. They didn't have to many screens or things to deal with in front."

After falling behind 1-0 early in the first period after a Packers goal from Kaleb Ree, the Wingers took a 2-1 lead into intermission thanks to goals from Seth Cushing and Spencer Kronbeck. Nick Ramstad and Kronbeck had assists on Cushing's goal while Cushing and Cameron Benway had helpers for Kronbeck.

"We talked about having a quick start and we were not the team that did that," Boser said. "Austin came out and had a good start, a good first period. They had us on our heels a little bit."

The Packers tried to break loose from the Wingers' defense when all three forwards got too deep in the offensive zone. Once Red Wing fixed that by keeping the third forward back, the defense had an easier time halting any breakaway attempts.

"Our D played a pretty good game today," Boser said. "Nothing was stellar, but everything was good."

Early in the second, Red Wing extended the lead to 4-1. It started with Cam Blue, on a Tyler DeFore assist, at the 3-minute, 38-second mark. Then at 4:25, Cushing scored with passes coming from Teddy Lillico and Cam Blue. Austin responded midway through the second with a Brayden Merritt goal.

"Our game turned on in the second and third period," Boser said, "and I'm glad it finally did."

Near the end of the game, the Packers cut the deficit to one as Merritt scored his second goal. Austin put on the pressure, but the Wingers managed to get some insurance in the final minute with Cushing completing the hat trick with an empty-net goal at 16:28.

"It got a little more tight than we wanted it to be," Boser said. "We've been in enough tight games this year where, early in the year, we would have panicked, and I noticed our guys didn't panic when we got in that one-goal situation again. I thought our guys wanted to work harder, do their jobs better and play better hockey all around."

In net, Red Wing goaltender Zach Harding made 24 saves in the victory.

Winner of three straight, the Wingers 12-9, 9-4 Big Nine) head to South St. Paul Tuesday for a non-conference game before their home finale Thursday against Northfield and the regular-season finale Saturday at Faribault.