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Hockey fans were offered the rare chance to see a lot of their past, present and even current favorite players perform at the Heritage Hockey Classic last Monday night, at the newly renamed Essentia Health Duluth Heritage Sports Center.
The event was an all-star game comprised of players who we watched play as high school and/or college hockey players and are now off to the pros, either in North America or Europe, plus a number of area skaters now playing college hockey, and some who have been playing junior. Because of the NCAA’s strict rules on college players promoting something, or some entity promoting college players, the game’s organizers wisely chose to keep the names under wraps and keep the teams secret as well.
All we knew was legendary UMD linemates Keith (Huffer) Christiansen and Pat Francisco would coach the two teams. They avoided my suggestion that if the game ended in a tie, there should be a shootout – between Christiansen and Francisco. Wouldn’t have been a bad idea, come to think of it.
As it turned out, however, it couldn’t have been more of a storybook ending.
Both teams had two female players, and while some of the area’s uninitiated fans who don’t watch the women play might have grumbled about their inclusion, they were prominent players, and after all, this would be a no-check game with high speed, high intensity, but without the killing bodychecks.
The game was played in two 25-minute halves, and the pace was very good. The problem was that with the teams being organized on the sly, there wasn’t a lot of coordination among linemates for 10 minutes or so as they got acclimated or reacquainted.
The game also was made to order for goaltenders, and they were the highlight of the night. The game was scoreless for something like 14 minutes before the Krause team, in white, coached by Christiansen, gained the lead. The goal had a familiar look, too, as the White team had a couple of chances, and when the puck came loose near the left circle, No. 12 pounced on it and snapped a quick backhander that found the net. It was Jack Connolly, former UMD Hobey Baker winner from Marshall. Playing in Sweden has only sharpened Connolly’s ability to convert such a chance.
The 1-0 lead stood until halftime. Huffer pointed to his program and No. 13 on his team. “She is not out of place playing with these guys,” Christiansen said. He was referring to Lynn Astrup, from Warroad, who is coming to UMD to play on the women’s team. She was in the center of action every shift.
On Francisco’s blue-shirted Bordson team had UMD teammates Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Demi Crossman, both of whom also acquitted themselves well.
It was still 1-0 after 14 minutes of the second half when Rob Bordson, former Bulldog now playing with the Iowa Wild, scored a goal that appeared obviously to be handballed into the net by Bordson’s glove. He was quite upset when the tying goal was waved off, and he showed it on the ensuing faceoff at center ice. Bordson swept back, got the puck, and raced up the left side, cutting loose with a 50-foot rocket that went in for the 1-1 tie. Not a bad way to vent frustration.
Three minutes later, Jared Thomas was in deep on the right side and tried to jam a pass to the goal-mouth. The UMD skater from Hermantown got lucky when his pass glanced in off goaltender Justin Ketola, former Cloquet netminder now at American International College, who had been brilliant in stopping a series of breakaway chances before getting victimized by the bad bounce.
Down 2-1, the blue-shirts went back to work, and former East star Jake Randolph, now at Nebraska-Omaha, beat the defense with a dazzling pass that wound up collaborating with St. Cloud State’s Judd Peterson before getting to Alex Spencer, who had no choice but to tie the game 2-2 with about seven minutes left.
It stayed that way, calling for a 5-minute overtime. When that was scoreless, a shootout was suggested but the players instead got their wish and played a 5-minute 4-on-4 overtime. Again, the goaltenders prevailed and it remained 2-2.
Once again, a shootout was announced, but the players voted and won – a 4-minute 3-on-3 overtime would be played instead, and then a shootout.
With only three skaters, it took a while for players to get their chances on the ice, but halfway through, Brykaliuk got a turn. The UMD women’s captain got free at the left circle and tried to feed a pass across the slot, but it hit Thomas’s skate in front, and deflected right into the net.
Ashleigh Brykaliuk, from Brandon, Manitoba, had won the game in the third overtime, and the Bordson players mobbed her in celebration. The crowd was not as big as organizers had hoped, but many who may not have attended had bought tickets to contribute to the Ray Peterson Heritage Fund to help support youth sports.
Whatever, those who did attend had an entertaining night at Heritage Center, and chances are, the players are already looking forward to coming back next year. Only next year, I’d still like to see Huffer and Pat Francisco go head-to-head in a shootout.