There was a time when the Brainerd Warriors were overmatched against the Roseau Rams.
That era has ended.
The tradition-rich Rams won the first seven games of the series. Since then, Brainerd has swung the pendulum in its favor, winning four of the last six, including three in a row after a workmanlike 3-0 win Friday night at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
“Physicality,” Warriors wing Cole Smith said when asked to explain the difference in the last three games of the series. “When we bring our physicalness and speed, they can’t stay with us. It’s all about physicalness.”
Brainerd has gone 4-3 against the Rams since Jim Archibald became the Warriors’ head coach.
“Like I said back here a couple years ago, we’ve just got to get one or two more guys to buy in every year,” Archibald said. “Once we get those 15 to 18 guys to buy in, we’re going to have a lot of success, and we’re starting to see that.”
It was Brainerd’s ninth straight win this season. The Warriors (13-4-0) haven’t lost since Dec. 27 at the Grand Forks tournament.
“I just think the guys are starting to realize what they’ve got here,” Archibald said. “They’re starting to play with a little confidence. We’re really starting to come together.
“Like we tell the boys, each game is one little step to where we want to be at the end of the year.”
Brainerd achieved the win behind another unwavering defensive effort and the goaltending of Kyle Helmberger, who stopped all 26 shots the Rams threw at him.
Smith’s two goals fueled the offensive attack. Logan Rivard scored the other goal and Jake Ellingson notched two assists.
“We always say our goaltender has to give us the opportunity to win the game,” Archibald said “and, let’s be honest — Kyle won us that game tonight — and the guys rallied around him and scored three goals for him. It was just a great all-around effort.”
Sandwiched between scoreless first and third periods, the Warriors tallied three times in the second despite being outshot 14-12.
Before they scored, the Warriors had to skate off the remnants of a 5-minute Roseau power play that overlapped from the first to the second period. The Rams snapped eight shots during the man advantage, but Helmberger denied each. In all, Brainerd endured during four Roseau power plays.
“We ran into some penalty trouble but we persevered,” Archibald said. “That 5-minute major we killed off was, in my opinion, the turning point in the game.”
Smith opened the scoring with a wrister from inside the left circle that beat Rams goalie Ryan Anderson at 5:09.
“I was streaking up the boards and I called for it from Rivard,” Smith said. “He gave me a nice pass. I just came in and saw a spot on the right side — lower — and put it right there and it went in.”
Just shy of three minutes later, Smith struck again. This time, Ellingson procured the puck on a Roseau turnover, and fed Smith, who beat Anderson with a backhander.
“Ellingson picked off a pass,” Smith said. “I just cut right in front of the net. (Ellingson) gave me the pass and I just brought it around the goalie and put it in.”
Shortly after Smith’s second goal, the Warriors failed to convert in a 4-on-3 and 5-on-3 advantage.
Soon after, Helmberger stymied Roseau’s Jack Helgeson, who shook loose at the Brainerd blue line and went in untouched.
The Warriors surged ahead 3-0 on a power play. Jed Rusk cranked a slap shot off of Anderson’s mask, and Rivard banged in the rebound with 25 seconds left in the second.
In a scoreless first, the Warriors maintained a 6-4 edge in shots and went scoreless on their only power play.
At 15:15 of the first, the Warriors received a boarding penalty, handing Roseau a 5-minute power play, on which the Rams were unable to capitalize on before the period’s conclusion.
Roseau 0 0 0 — 0
Brainerd 0 3 0 — 3
First period: No scoring
Second period: Brd-Cole Smith (Logan Rivard, Jake Ellingson) 5:09; Brd-Smith (Ellingson) 7:52; Brd-Rivard (Jed Rusk) ppg 16:35
Third period: No scoring
Shots on goal: Brd 6-12-3-21, Ros 4-14-8-26
Goalies: Brd-Kyle Helmberger (26 saves); Ros-Ryan Anderson (18 saves).
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.