On a cold, cloudy afternoon for hockey, Elk River opened the home portion of its 2020-21 season on Saturday, Jan. 16, at the renamed and remodeled Furniture and Things Community Event Center with a loss to Northwest Suburban Conference rival Centennial.
Elk River (1-2, 1-2) fell to Centennial (3-0, 3-0) 7-3 in its 55th home opener after losing 8-3 to Maple Grove at Maple Grove Community Ice Arena on Thursday, Jan. 14. The Elks began play in 1966-67.
Head coach Ben Gustafson said he liked Elk River’s response in the second period after being down 2-0 at first intermission. Gustafson has had a record of blank in home openers since he became the Elks head coach prior to the start of the 2016-17 season.
“One thing that we’ve got to do as a team is mature and take that next step and consistently play our style of hockey for 51 minutes,” Gustafson said. “Our first two games, I thought there were some spurts where we played our game and did some good things, but when you play teams like Maple Grove and Centennial, you’ve got to play a complete 51 minutes to have success and we didn’t do that.”
The Cougars opened the scoring when senior forward Henry Bartle scored a shorthanded goal at the 13:32 mark of the first period after receiving a pass from senior forward Isaak Ankrum. Bartle beat Elks senior goaltender Reilly Eason with a high snap shot for his first goal of the season to give Centennial a 1-0 lead. The Cougars doubled their lead when freshman forward Harper Searles scored his first-career goal on the power play at 15:10 of the first. Junior forward Brody Pass and junior defenseman Matt Everson assisted on Bartle’s goal.
After trailing 2-0 heading into the first intermission, the Elks responded with two unanswered goals. Junior forward Andrew Foss surprised Centennial junior goaltender Leo Troje 47 seconds into the second period with a quick shot for his first goal of the season to cut the Cougars’ lead to 2-1. Junior defenseman Nik Hughes and junior forward Marcus Fritel assisted on Foss’ goal. Senior forward Scott Jussila tied the game at 2:08 of the second when his one-time beat Troje top shelf after receiving a pass from senior defenseman Joe Greniuk. It was Jussila’s first goal of the season. The score remained 2-2 at the end of the second period.
Centennial regained the lead when Bartle scored on the power play at 1:08 of the third period when his low wrist shot slid under Eason’s pads to make it 3-2 Cougars. Junior forward A.J. Carls and senior defenseman A.J. Lemire assisted on Bartle’s second goal of the season.
The Cougars scored the next three goals to take a 6-2 lead late in the third. Senior forward Blake Johnson scored a power-play goal at 11:22 of the period to cut Centennial’s lead in half, but Bartle scored an empty-net goal with 30 seconds remaining in the game to complete his hat trick.
Gustafson said the Elks couldn’t carry their momentum from the second period into the third and the Cougars rediscovered their momentum from the first period.
“Having that momentum is so big in sports,” he said. “We had the momentum going into the third period. Then, we started off on the penalty kill and then they got a quick goal in the third period to make it 3-2. Things spiraled down from there. We’ve got to mature as a team. We’ve got to close the games out. We’ve got to capitalize on that momentum moving forward and play our game consistently for 51 minutes, not just spurts here and there.”
Gustafson said the atmosphere at Furniture and Things Community Event Center was great for the first Elk River boys varsity hockey game in arena history and is an improvement over Elk River Ice Arena.
“It’s great to transition into the new rink having our own locker room,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility. It was exciting. It’s unfortunate that we’re in these times because if things were opened up and it was allowed that that arena would’ve been packed. It is what it is and we’re happy to be playing with the guidelines that are in place. It was good to play in front of our family and friends.
“Last year, we got dressed in four sheetrock walls. We didn’t have a coaches room. We got dressed in the corner of the rink. For the last however many years, our kids have had to keep their hockey bags and their equipment in their vehicles during their school day. Then, they bring them into the arena and have to put on their equipment that was frozen. The fact that we’re able to have our own locker room and keep our equipment there is special and something that, as a coaching staff, our kids take a lot of pride in. It’s a beautiful locker room. It’s a beautiful arena. Everything was done right. It’s something that we can be proud of now, our alumni can be proud of and our future players can be proud of as well."
Offensive Player of the Game
Bartle’s hat trick made the difference for the Cougars. It was his first hat trick since Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 when he scored three in Centennial’s 5-1 win over Osseo in the Section 5-2A quarterfinal.
Defensive Player of the Game
Troje made 20 saves for his second win of the season.
Elk River faces NWSC foe Andover on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. at Andover Arena in Andover. The Huskies defeated the Elks 7-2 in the most recent game between the two teams on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at Furniture and Things Community Event Center, which was known last season as Elk River Ice Arena.