Aaron Rich collected a goal and assist in his last three games, which amounts to a drought for the high-scoring Brainerd Warriors forward.
The senior got off the schneid Thursday night with a natural hat trick and two assists as the Warriors outscored the St. Cloud Tech Tigers 6-2 in a Central Lakes Conference game at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
“We’ve been kidding Aaron a little bit because he was getting lots of opportunities, but he wasn’t putting the puck in the net,” Warriors coach Jim Archibald said. “So it was nice for him to finally convert on a couple of chances tonight. He’s going to get his confidence back and it’s going to do nothing but help us down the road.”
Rich’s third hat trick of the season helped Brainerd cement its grip on the CLC lead with an 8-0 mark. The Warriors, who maintained a 36-22 edge in shots, won for the fifth time in the last six games.
“It seemed like the puck was kind of finding my stick today,” Rich said, “and I think I got a little lucky to get some of the bounces I got, but I’ll take it.”
His first goal, 4:21 into the game, was from a sharp angle to the left of Tigers’ netminder Austin Althaus, who finished with 30 saves.
About 5.5 minutes later, a short-handed score by Rich was a beauty. He picked the pocket of a Tigers’ defenseman deep in the slot, bore down on Althaus, deked him left, and tucked the puck behind him.
Rich, who has 16 goals and 24 assists this season, completed his hat trick with a rebound at the 6:29 mark of the second, off assists from Austen Anderson and Gaven Motschenbacher. The latter collected four assists on the night.
“I’ve never had the first three goals of the game, I don’t think,” said Rich, who played two seasons at Duluth Marshall before moving to Brainerd as a junior. “Coming into the game, I kind of felt like I had the energy to play a good game, and I guess it showed.”
Mason Severson tallied at 9:06 of the second and Matt Pohlkamp scored 49 seconds into the third to give Brainerd a 5-0 edge. Pohlkamp collected his second goal of the game, his 20th of the season, at 8:26 of the third.
Tech’s Ben Honer and Tyler Gromberg scored the middle two goals of the third as the Warriors got a little sloppy, getting whistled for four penalties, including a boarding major and consequently a 10-minute misconduct under recently adopted Minnesota State High School League rules.
“It was a good effort overall,” Archibald said. “Basically, the two goals they got were just breakdowns in front of the net where we failed to pick up the guy, but I thought the boys played well.
“We’re progressing, which is what we want to do. Our goal was to give up 20 shots or less, and I think we accomplished that. Any time you can keep a team to 20 shots that says a lot. Our motto is look after the defense, and the offense will look after itself.”
St. Cloud Tech 0 0 2 — 6
Brainerd 2 2 2 — 6
First period: Brd-Aaron Rich (Mitch McLain, Gaven Motschenbacher) ppg 4:21; Brd-Rich shg 9:52
Second period: Brd-Rich (Austen Anderson, Motschenbacher) 6:29; Brd-Mason Severson 9:06
Third period: Brd-Matt Pohlkamp (Rich, Motschenbacher) :49; SCT-Ben Honer (David Kenney) 3:10; SCT-Tyler Gromberg (Isaac Hiltner) 8:06; Brd-Matt Pohlkamp (Rich, Anderson) 8:26
Shots on goal: Brd 12-17-7—36, SCT 7-4-11—22
Goalies: Brd-Jared Stearns (20 saves); SCT-Austin Althaus (30 saves).