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North Branch wins Squirtacular in a Tale of Two Cities

By Tony Scott, 03/23/13, 3:45AM CDT


Gage Reiners scores on the Penalty Shot

A Tale of Two Cities is an epic novel by Charles Dickens depicting life during the French Revolution.  In Minnesota youth hockey, there could not have been a better display of two completely different teams and cities pitted against one another for the Squirtacular Championship’s B Division.

The Favorite: The North Branch Vikings.  An association with very few kids, zero hockey tradition to date and worse yet, no rink within the town (located 50 miles north of downtown Minneapolis off of Interstate 35). Despite all of the reasons not to be good, there 14 reasons to be good, and those 14 are the kids that make up the Vikings Squirt B team this year. Fast forward a few years, people will point to this team (coaches, players, parents) as the pioneers of their program. It’s not a mistake that they are one of the best B teams in Minnesota.  They don’t have an A team in North Branch. This is not a mark against them, it’s a fact.  That being said, their success this year is proof that a top B team in Minnesota is as good any A team (just ask Hermantown).
The Underdog: The Edina Gold Hornets.  Having five B teams, on any given day any Edina B team can be dangerous.  As the year progressed, Edina Silver, Black and Green found the greatest success.  Silver beat Black in their home tournament.  Edina Gold was thought of by most people as a good team, but not great. Well, I don’t know what people were thinking because this team played some great hockey the past three weeks of the season.  The Gold finished second in the very tough District 6 tournament and then played their way into the Final Four of the Squirtacular where they would meet and defeat the mighty Silver from Edina.

As fun as it is to write that North Branch is the favorite and Edina was an underdog, it was true.  The Vikings have some outstanding players…especially up front lead by Cody Croal, Dawson Johnson, and Joey Kerchner.  The Hornets have some great players too: Gage Reiners, Matt Mason and Mark Kaju.

The game started out really fast with a slight edge to the Vikings.  They sustained a nice attack, but could not solve Edina Goalie Eli Andrews.  Andrews came up big the whole first period stopping North Branch shots from all over the rink.  Finally, North Branch got on the board when Cody Croal tipped a shot from Joey Kerchner and got past Andrews to give the Vikings the lead after 1, 1-0.  North Branch had 12 shots after 1 and Edina had 5.

The second period was more of the same from the first period, except now the Vikings were applying even more pressure. The pressure wasn’t getting to Edina, they had learned to deal with teams like North Branch before. Halfway through the game, number 14 Jonathon Marker got loose for Edina behind the North Branch defense.  All alone he came in on North Branch goalie Jake Turek on the breakaway.  At the last second, he was pulled down as he slid into the net.  Without delay, referee Leah Resitlow called a “Penalty Shot”.  Enter Gage Reiners for the shot.  He took his time as he  approached the puck, it’s every kid’s dream to score on a penalty shot in a big game.  Well, he did just that.  He moved in slowly and faked to his backhand and then quickly moved to his forehand to find an open net and tied the game at 1. From there the Hornets got an instant shot of energy. They would apply some pressure on North Branch but they could not score. 

In the coming three minutes the whole complexion of the game would change.  The Vikings would dial up their pressure to a whole ‘nother level. Guess who? Cody Croal got things started with a rebound goal at 3:15 of the second to give the Vikings the lead and then Evan Murray scored a minute later to push the Viking lead to 3-1.  And just like that on the same shift, Murray found Dawson Johnson in front for a wrist shot goal to make it 4-1 in favor of North Branch at the end of two.  The Vikings had an amazing 21 shots on goal in the second period.  Eli Andrews was earning his keep for the Hornets.

If the Hornets were going to make a game of it, they needed to get a quick goal in the third to stem the tide.

They applied pressure and again, but North Branch did a great job of keeping the Hornets out of good scoring opportunities.  As the period wore on, North Branch began to gain control of the play and they scored with eight
minutes left Cody Croal scored on a rebound to make it 5-1.  That was Croal’s third of the game and the hats flew onto the ice.  Well, at least in Cody’s imagination they did. Croal wasn’t done.  A minute later he made it 6-1 when he took the puck end to end and finished off the game scoring top shelf.

The game would end up in running time, with each team scoring goals in the final moments.  Jack Harvey for North Branch and Mason Fife for Edina would score.  Final Score, North Branch 7, Edina Gold 2.

The three stars of the game were Cody Croal (4 goals), Jack Harvey (1 goal, 2 assists), and Evan Murray (1 goal, 1 assist).  Honorable mention goes to Eli Andrews from Edina who faced 43 shots on goal and Matt Mason from Edina who played hard all weekend long. Mason was definitely Edina’s unsung hero.

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