Cole Smith gave St. Cloud Tech an early indication of what kind of night it was going to be against the Brainerd Warriors. The junior wing scored 15 seconds after the opening
Brainerd went on to a rousing 5-1 win in a contest between Central Lakes Conference leaders Thursday night at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
It was Brainerd’s 11th straight win and gave the Warriors 11 points in the CLC standings compared to Tech’s nine.
“We’re happy with the effort,” Warriors coach Jim Archibald said. “Obviously, our sights are set for down the road here, but every game is a building block for the foundation that we’re trying to build.”
The Warriors built a 4-0 lead and a 33-16 edge in shots on net, while keeping Tech’s quality chances to a minimum. Brainerd goalie Kyle Helmberger blanked the Tigers for two periods before Tech’s Justin O’Berg ended the shutout bid at 2:03 of the third on a power play.
“Lately, we’ve been able to tighten down on defense and we really are starting to help Kyle out a little bit,” Warrior senior defenseman Jed Rusk said. “Tonight, was another night of keeping them outside and we kept them away from the net.”
The victory wiped away the memory of a 5-4 overtime loss at Tech Dec. 13.
“Last time we couldn’t finish it off, we had some mental lapses in the last few minutes of the game,” Rusk said, “but we played good that whole game. Tonight, we played a complete game and we were able to finish it off.”
Smith finished with two goals and two assists, raising his season totals to 12 goals and 11 assists.
“Cole struggled a little bit at the start of the season,” Archibald said. “He just needed to relax and start to play his game, win the battles in front, be physical. Now that he’s starting to do that, he’s starting to see success around the net.”
Logan Rivard scored a power-play goal at 7:08 of the third, during which the Warriors maintained a 12-6 edge in shots. Rivard also collected an assist and Alex Mimmack and Reno Fussy provided the other goals.
Moments after the opening faceoff, Smith grabbed the puck at the Tech blue line, weaved his way through and around defenders and beat goalie Austin Althaus.
Brainerd made it 3-0 later in the first with goals 46 seconds apart by Mimmack and Fussy. Mimmack tallied with an on-ice shot from the left circle at 14:09. Fussy beat Althaus at 14:55 through the 5-hole.
At 15:06 of the second, Smith scored again. In a 4-on-4, he seized the puck in the slot, skated in on Althaus and flicked in a backhander.
The Warriors had additional opportunities in the second, during which they outshot Tech 13-4. Adam Fischer fed Griffin Campbell, who slammed the disk off the post. In a 3-on-1, Smith just missed with a backhand. And, Fischer nearly scored off the rebound of a Thomas Stoxen blast from the point.
Brainerd plays a Section 8-2A game Saturday at Roseau. It will be a rematch of the Jan. 18 game in Brainerd, won 3-0 by the Warriors.
“I love it up there,” Rusk said. “It’s a great rink and obviously a great atmosphere. We know we’ve got to compete hard. They’re always going to compete hard against us, so we have to go up there and our No. 1 goal is to win.”
Tech 0 0 1 — 1
Brainerd 3 1 1 — 5
First period: Brd-Cole Smith :15; Brd-Alex Mimmack (Adam Fischer, Isaac Johnson) 14:09; Brd-Reno Fussy (Smith, Griffin Campbell) 14:55
Second period: Brd-Smith (Logan Rivard, Jed Rusk) 15:06
Third period: SCT-Justin O’Berg (Tanner Skaja, Matt Brettingen) ppg 2:03; Brd-Rivard (Smith, Jake Ellingson) ppg 7:08
Shots on goal: Brd 8-13-12-33, SCT 6-4-6-16
Goalies: Brd-Kyle Helmberger (15 saves); SCT-Austin Althaus (28 saves).
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.