Against one of the top teams in the Northwest Suburban Conference, the Royals entered the second period with a three-goal deficit. Their comeback fell short on Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday.
Rogers (7-7-1, 2-3-1) fell to No. 5 Maple Grove (12-4-0, 7-3-0) 5-3 at Maple Grove Community Center on the 14th annual Hockey Day Minnesota, which is held every third Saturday of January since 2007 and sponsored by the Minnesota Wild and Fox Sports North.
Royals head coach Dave Brown said he believes Rogers can be competitive against any team once the Royals find their legs.
“We had some guys in some new roles with [others] out,” Brown said. “If we skate and we believe, we can play with anybody, and we’ve proven that.”
The Crimson took an early lead less than three minutes into the first period when sophomore forward A.J. Tollas scored twice in a span of 20 seconds. At 2:19 of the period, Tollas beat Royals senior goaltender Patric Loeffler with a backhander. Tollas scored again at 2:39 of the first for his first two goals of the season and of his career. Maple Grove junior defenseman Cal Thomas beat Loeffler with a slap shot at 12:16 of the first to give the Crimson a 3-0 cushion. It was Thomas’ fifth goal of the season.
In the second, Rogers senior forward Tanner Weis cut Maple Grove’s lead to two at the 8-minute mark of the period. While on a power play, Weis banged home a rebound past Crimson senior goaltender Parker Slotsve for his seventh goal of the season. The score would remain 3-1 at the end of two periods.
Brown said he told the Royals that they played a good first period even though the score was 3-0.
“I told them we could win the second period,” he said. “I told them to do three things to win the second period. One of them was, ‘skate your butt off.’ They did. When we skate and we move our feet, that’s our biggest skill.”
The Royals came to within one early in the third when junior forward Grant Greni scored his fourth goal of the season at 2:26 of the period. Maple Grove made it 4-2 at 4:21 of the third when sophomore forward Joshua Giuliani, who was left unmarked in the slot, beat Loeffler with a wrist shot for his fourth goal of the season.
A few Rogers fans who attended the game erupted when senior forward Cal Levis beat Slotsve with a wrist shot for his fifth goal of the season at 11:43 of the third to make it 4-3. Celebration soon turned to disappointment.
After Weis was called for hooking at 15:15 of the third, the Crimson added the exclamation point on Saturday night’s festivities when junior defenseman Henry Nelson scored his seventh goal of the season, whipping a wrist shot past Loeffler at 15:50 of the period, ending the Royals comeback chances.
Levis said even though Rogers lost, they can contend with any team in Minnesota.
“The boys worked their balls off today,” Levis said. “I wouldn’t blame one goal on [Loeffler] because it depends on every position of each player. It’s miscommunication more than anything.”
While Rogers did score a power-play goal, Maple Grove was a perfect 2-for-2 on the power play. Greni said the Royals knew the Crimson had a dangerous power play.
“We knew we had to stay out of the box,” Greni said. “We’ll fix that if we see them again [in Sections].”
Offensive Player of the Game
Tollas set the tone offensively for the Crimson and scored his first two varsity goals.
Defensive Player of the Game
While neither goaltender was at his best on Saturday night, Slotsve made 15 saves for his sixth win of the season.
Rogers was scheduled to host Champlin Park (11-5-0, 4-4-0) on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Rogers Activity Center. The Rebels defeated the Royals 4-3 in their most recent meeting on Feb. 12, 2019. Brown is a native of Champlin Park.
Maple Grove was scheduled to host Blaine (10-6-0, 7-1-0) on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Maple Grove Community Center. The Bengals defeated the Crimson 2-1 on Feb. 28, 2019 in the Section 5AA championship game at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
Brown said Rogers need to be consistent against Champlin Park on Thursday night.
“We need to do that second period for three periods,” he said.