Moose, Riverkings claim Midwest-West National Spots
Matteo Menotti’s redirection of a perfect pass from co-captain Dylan Gast punched the first Midwest ticket to the United States Premier Hockey League Premier Division National Championship Tournament Thursday night as the Minnesota Moose wrapped up a two- game sweep of the Minnesota Mullets.
The following night, the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings wrapped up the other West Division spot. Returning for a second season to the final stage after eliminating the Minnesota Blue Ox in two straight games as well.
Moose continue streak
Menotti, 18, from Chicago, wrapped up the series with his second goal of the series and fourth of the playoffs, added to the 24 goals and 21 assists he collected in the regular season. The victory proved a little more elusive for the Moose in the sequel following a 5-0 shutout the previous night.
Both games were played at Fogarty Arena, at Blaine, MN.
While hard pressed for the win, the result was not overly surprising. After all, the Moose have made a habit of picking up the ‘W’ all season.
The Moose wrapped up the regular season Division title with a 37-5-2 record, including a 28-3-1 mark against the Midwest-West Division. The Moose rode a 10-game winning streak to the season’s finish line and has added four more in the post season.
Partner that with the fact Bronson Moore, 20, from Tri-Cities, WA was the man patrolling the crease for the Moose and the win was practically a sure thing. Since joining the Moose, Bronson has posted 11 straight regular season wins and now another four in the playoffs.
In the opening game, the Moose notched the lone goal of the first period then added two more in both the second and third while Moore turned aside all 27 shots he faced.
Jesse Anderson, 21, from Wasaga Beach, ON fired the first two goals for the Moose and he collected an assist later in the game as well. Matej Krasny, 19, from Pilzen, Czech Republic also notched a pair in the win with Menotti triggering the other and setting up one. Gavin Proeh, 19, from Chicago had two assists in the game.
With their backs to the wall, the Mullets finally found a way past Moore halfway through the first period of game two as Tyler Chalupsky, 20, from Mahtomedi, MN converted a feed from Joey Fodstad, from Rogers, MN playing on his 18th birthday.
Phillip DeSaava, 19, from Ludrika, Sweden pulled the Moose even 12 seconds from the second period buzzer and that ultimately set up Matteo’s overtime heroics.
Mullet goaltenders were the busiest players on the ice in both contests. Mason Lovich, 19, from Rosemount, MN turned aside 46 of 51 shots in the opener and Jack Bostedt, 19. From Janesville, WI handled 43 of 45 through nearly 70 minutes of play in the clincher.
Vets lead Riverkings back to Nats.
The other West Division series was a bit of a reverse as the host Riverkings got the tough win out of the way in the opener, holding off the Blue Ox in a 2-1 edge before clinching the series with a 4-0 shutout the following night.
Both teams relied heavily on veteran goaltenders and it was Erik Schuette, 20, from Olathe, KS, Goaltender of the Year from the Midwest Premier Division last season, stepping up in a big way with a 36-save shutout in the clinching game. He also handled 24 of 25 in goal the previous night.
Josh Greune, 19, from Raleigh, NC also turned in a solid effort, stopping 30 of 32 in the opener and another 22 the following night.
The difference in the clincher was a three-goal opening period as the Riverkings, who have also been hot down the stretch, took advantage of a perhaps nervous Blue Ox team out of the gate.
Al McPhee, 20, from Middleton, NJ fired the first goal near the halfway mark of the first period and Matyas Kacirek, 20, from Tachov, Czech Republic doubled the margin about four minutes later. The third goal came from Brooks Hatfield, 20, from Tracy CA with just under two minutes to play in the session.
That stood up all the way until veteran Adam Peterson, 19, from Chicago made it official with his empty netter with a little under four minutes to go in the game.
Schuette said he wasn’t taking anything for granted, but up 3-0 after a period certainly felt good.
“Well, we’re a confident team from start to finish,” said Schuette. “A three-goal first period definitely helps, but it’s playoffs (the Blue Ox) worked hard. Any puck could go any way, you can’t let up. I think we just continued playing hard, that kept our confidence up.”
In the first game, it was the veteran presence again as Peterson scored both Riverking goals, including the opener, a shorthanded marker just 81 seconds into the contest. His other goal came early in the second period and stood up until Kyle Kester, 18, from Waconia, MN fired the only shot to elude Schuette with 4:02 to play in the contest.
It was fitting and not surprising that the returning vets played a key role in the series for the Riverkings. The Rapids team is loaded with veteran talent that have been through the junior battles and they have played a big part in the team getting to where it is today.
Head Coach Marty Quarters was named the Premier Division Coach of the Year last season and part of being a good coach is developing what he referred to as “A leadership and a culture and the guys have been through it before. It’s not our first trip to Boston and two years ago we missed it by one goal in overtime.”
“We have a really good group of leaders here and they kind of set the tone for how things are going to be done, what to expect. Austin (Quarters, 20, from Bozeman, MT) has been through the playoffs for five years and Petey (Peterson) has been through it for three years. Other guys like that have experience and, you have a really good goalie back there. You can get away with some mistakes and still look good.”
While the team has always been among the division’s elite, there were some up and down moments for the Riverkings this season. Since the Christmas break though, the Riverkings have compiled a 13-3 record down the stretch, including 9-1 through its final 10. Add to that four more playoff victories and this team is right where it hoped and expected to be at this point.