On an ideal afternoon for hockey, the Elks received a dose of reality against the No. 6 team in Class 2A.
No. 6 Andover (17-2-1) defeated Elk River (8-12-0) 7-3 on Saturday, March 20, at Andover Hockey Rink. The Elks have had a record of 3-11–0 against Andover since the 2016-17 season.
Elks head coach Ben Gustafson said Elk River played well in the first and third periods but the second period contributed to its downfall.
“We couldn’t generate much offense or puck possession in that second period,” Gustafson said. “They outplayed us pretty bad. Them getting two early goals in the first period— that’s always hard to come back from. During the game, we talked about the importance of getting that first goal in the game. To be down 2-0 [after one] was a tough obstacle to overcome. I was proud of the fight. We outplayed them in the third period. We outshot them and were able to get some goals. Against a team like that, if you’re going to win that hockey game, you’ve got to play 51 minutes.”
The Huskies opened the scoring at 2:54 of the first when junior forward Logan Gravink slid a backhander past Elks senior goaltender Reilly Eason for Gravink’s 15th goal of the season. Andover doubled its lead when junior forward Jacob Pierson patiently outwaited Eason and deposited his first goal of the season at 8:33 of the first period. The Huskies led 2-0 at first intermission.
Andover senior forward Garrett Schifsky made it 3-0 at 3:14 of the second period when he slid the puck past Eason and a few diving Elk River defenders for his 25th goal of the season. Huskies sophomore forward Cooper Conway made it 4-0 when he fired a wrist shot from the top of the circle past Eason top shelf at 15:27 of the second.
Gustafson called a timeout early in the second period after Schifsky’s goal. He said that the game was still in reach.
“I needed to calm our kids down,” he said. “The momentum was on their side along with the puck possession, so I thought that was a good time to use it. It was good to see our kids settle in there and continue to play a solid second period but [it’s] not good enough.”
Elk River got on the board in the third period when a shot from the blue line by junior forward Blake Johnson beat Andover senior goaltender Will Larson for his 13th goal of the season. Elk River and Andover each scored three goals in the third period, but the second and third-period defecit was too much for Elk River to overcome.
Gustafson said he told the team that he was proud of them after the game.
“It was a unique year with COVID-19,” Gustafson said. “They had a lot of opportunities to complain from having only so many fans because of COVID-19 guidelines, having to wear a mask, not being able to utilize our brand-new locker room in a way that a normal season would allow. They never complained. They always came to the rink with a great attitude and a great work ethic. I’m proud of them for that. This is a special group and a testament to them and how much they love the game of hockey and enjoyed being around their teammates and with their buddies. That was special.”
Offensive Player of the Game
Gravink scored twice and had three assists for a 5-point day. It was his eighth multi-point game of the season.
Defensive Player of the Game
Larson made 19 saves for his 14th win of the season.
Elk River’s 2020-21 season is over. It has now been 20 years since the Elks won a Class 2A state championship. The Elks’ last and only title came in 2001. Gustafson was a junior on the team and was a senior on the team that finished as Class 2A runner up in 2001-02.
Gustafson said he will miss Elk River’s 2021 senior class of Eason, defensemen Joe Greniuk and Jake Kotzian, and forwards Scott Jussila and Neiko Jeanetta.
“We’re thankful for their commitment and everything that they gave to the Elk River hockey program. They’ll always be a part of the Elk River hockey family. The large majority of our team was underclassmen. We have a heavy junior class, playing a couple sophomores as well. I look forward to a strong nucleus coming back next winter and a team that is going to be hungry. If we want to improve, the only thing we can do is work hard. That’s all we can control. We stress that to our players— the importance of the offseason and getting back to work. Our kids will take a couple weeks off to recover and rest their bodies and then we’ll start training here and working out here in the spring in a couple weeks right after Easter break.”