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Tiger hockey locks up share of MBC title

Wins on back-to-back nights over Amery and Baldwin-Woodville have locked up a share of the Middle Border Conference championship for the New Richmond boys hockey team.

The Tigers can lock up the undisputed conference championship this Thursday. That's when they play at home against Baldwin-Woodville in the final round of conference action.

Last week's back-to-back games weren't part of the original schedule, but an earlier postponement meant the Tigers were going to have to test their endurance. They made it through Thursday's game with a 6-4 home-ice win over Amery. The Tigers then went to Baldwin-Woodville on Friday and pulled out a 3-2 win.

The win at Baldwin was a team win in every sense. Coach Adam Swanda used every one of his forwards and defensemen because of the energy that had been expended in beating Amery.

The Tigers started a bit slowly on Friday, but some of the younger players seemed to inject needed energy. The Tigers got the break they needed when B-W took a penalty with 7:52 left in the first period. The Tigers showed good patience on the power play and it produced the first goal of the night.

Senior forward Joe Bowar got the puck in the corner and he waited for a defender to commit toward him. Defenseman Zach Kier slid down from the point to the faceoff dot, where he took a pass from Bowar and one-timed it past B-W goalie Bo Nelson.

B-W kept the pressure on the Tigers. The Blackhawks took advantage of a defensive breakdown to score off a 2-on-1 break two minutes into the second period. Dylan DeMotts, who scored that goal, struck again with 4:42 left in the second period. The Tigers were on the power play, but a puck squirted past a Tiger at the point. DeMotts won the race for the puck and scored on the break away.

The Blackhawk lead would last 34 seconds. The Tigers went on an end-to-end rush, with the puck ending up on the stick of Jake Bourassa as he skated down the left boards. Bourassa wound up and fired a shot that cleanly beat Nelson on the stick side.

For Kier and Bourassa, these were the first varsity goals of their careers.

Bourassa was one of the Tigers who could have an expanded role after his play in this game. Bourassa was a pain for the Blackhawks all night. He aggressively forechecked, which was pivotal in the final goal of the night.

Bourassa and Jake Bellows put together a relentless forecheck. As the Blackhawks tried to break the puck out of the zone, Bourassa bumped the Blackhawk off the puck. Bellows was right behind him. He scooped up the puck in the slot, using a fake that forced Nelson to dive out at Bellows. Bellows then coolly lifted the puck over Nelson into the vacated net.

B-W didn't have many chances in the rest of the game as the Tigers did an excellent job of controlling the puck.

In Thursday's win over Amery, the Tigers didn't start well. Amery scored two minutes into the game. The Tigers matched that on a goal from Dom Peterson. Tanner Tryggestad scored his second goal for Amery minutes later and the Tigers trailed 2-1 after the opening period.

Bellows got the Tigers even by scoring 37 seconds into the second period. Amery scored to retake the lead, before the Tigers took charge with two goals late in the second period. Both goals were produced by Bowar. The first was a power play goal that came off a nice feed from Kier.

Bowar completed his first varsity hat trick by scoring 5:41 into the third period. Amery cut the lead to 5-4 by scoring with 5:25 left in regulation. The Tigers put Amery's hopes to an end when Peterson scored an empty net goal with 12 seconds left.

Tanner Milliron got both wins in goal for the Tigers. He stopped 21 shots against Amery and 18 shots against Baldwin-Woodville.

The wins last week raise the Tigers' season record to 7-8. Reaching the .500 level has been a target for the Tigers since they started the season by losing their first four games. Goal scoring remains the main Tiger issue. Until they scored nine goals in the two games last week, the Tigers were among the bottom six teams in the state in scoring. The goals last week moved the Tigers up to tenth from the bottom.

The Tigers as a team have scored 37 goals in their first 15 games. In comparison, Josh Calleja scored 37 goals in his junior season in 2003 and 43 goals in his senior season for the Tigers earlier in this decade.

There are two home games on the Tigers' schedule this week. In addition to facing Baldwin-Woodville on Thursday, the Tigers will skate at home against River Falls this Saturday.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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