For the first time in a while, the Maple Grove boys hockey team might have been considered an underdog heading into their highly anticipated battle against top-ranked Lakeville South (7-0-0) Dec. 28 at the Tradition in the Park tournament in St. Louis Park.

In a similar setting to the recent Class 6A football state championship, the Crimson were tasked with upsetting an unbeaten Cougars team. Thanks to a dominant defensive performance and timely scores, the Crimson used their underdog mentality and avenged the football team’s loss to Lakeville South and upset the Cougars in a 3-0 shutout win.

Less than five minutes into the opening period, sophomore forward Danny Nelson, who leads the team with four power-play goals, took advantage of the extra man afforded to Maple Grove and fired a tight-angle shot that found the back of the net for a 1-0 Maple Grove lead.

After being outshot 9-7 in the first period, the Crimson returned the favor on the Cougars by outshooting them 10-3 in the second. However, thanks to a good Lakeville South penalty kill, no goals were added to the Crimson lead.

Then in the third, Maple Grove doubled their lead thanks to a crucial goal from senior forward Josh Giuliani, set up by assists from junior forwards Landen Gunderson and Finn Brink. Gunderson leads the team with 13 assists and 19 points through 11 games.

Senior goalie Toby Hopp and the Crimson defense held the fort with a stellar performance against the vaunted Cougars, with Hopp recording 20 saves. Senior forward Sawyer Skanson added a late empty-net goal to solidify a 3-0 upset victory over Lakeville South and give the Cougars their first loss of the season.

After topping Lakeville South, Maple Grove sought to ride the momentum when they faced off against the host Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights (5-4-0) Dec. 29. However, with less than a second to go and the game tied 2-2 in the third period, Red Knights senior defenseman Tristan Sarsland capitalized on a five-on-three advantage and stunned the Crimson with a goal to secure a 3-2 victory.

With no scoring action in the opening period, Benilde-St. Margaret’s got on the scoreboard first in the second period, thanks to a goal from senior forward Adam Marshall. Two minutes later, Maple Grove answered with a score from junior forward Luke Margenau on the power play to make it 1-1.

Giuliani kept the momentum rolling with a goal later in the frame, giving the Crimson a 2-1 lead. But then in the third, the Red Knights would answer, thanks to a goal from junior forward Peter Giertsen. 2-2 would be the score for the majority of the frame, until the last 0.3 seconds, when Sarsland made the play of the game and gave the Red Knights the win.

STMA

To cap off the Tradition at the Park tournament, Maple Grove got back in the win column against St. Michael-Albertville (5-4-0) Dec. 30, topping the Knights 7-2.

Trailing 1-0, Maple Grove senior forward Chayton Fischer got the scoring started for the Crimson with a power-play goal in the first period.

Then the floodgates erupted and Maple Grove rattled off three straight goals, two from Gunderson and one from sophomore forward Lucas Busch.

Skanson, Giuliani, and Nelson each added another goal for the Crimson, and Maple Grove ended their 2021 calendar year with a five-goal win and improved to 7-3-1 on the season.

COMING UP

The Maple Grove boys travel to Centennial (7-2-0) Jan. 6 at 7 and host Coon Rapids (4-5-0) Jan. 8 at 3 p.m.

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