If the Brainerd boys' hockey team is going to make a run in the Section 7AA playoffs, Warriors coach Ty Eigner knows they have a lot to learn.
The Willmar Cardinals played the role of teacher Friday night as they beat the Warriors 3-1 at the Brainerd Area Civic Center.
"Willmar does a nice job," Eigner said. "They came out, had a plan and didn't make any mistakes. They're not flashy and they don't have any superstars. Every one of their kids works really hard and knows their objective."
Overall, the game was very close. Willmar outshot Brainerd 26-24 and both teams had two power-play opportunities.
"We played so smart and we played well as a team," Cardinals coach John Wilson said. "I looked back at the other games we've won, we played with reckless abandon and gave up some opportunities. Tonight, our defense didn't take huge chances."
The Warriors' defense, on the other hand, gave the puck up in their own end and allowed the Cardinals' forwards to find numerous seams.
"I told them don't be mad at Willmar, be mad at yourselves because they did what it takes to win," Eigner said. "In order to go on and in order to be successful in the playoffs, you have to know the puck isn't going to go in all the time. You've got to be able to adapt when a goalie is hot or the ice is bad."
And Brainerd ran into a hot goalie Friday. Willmar's Jeremy Peterson saved 23 shots and the Warriors hit four posts. Peterson has a 2.89 goals-against-average and that includes a seven-goal game against Park Rapids. Wilson said Peterson is giving up one goal per game since Christmas.
"He is playing so steady and is so focused," Wilson said. "He plays good angles and is such a good athlete. You play him in ping pong and he'd beat you; you play him in badminton and he'd beat you. He's so competitive."
Brainerd's lone goal came from sophomore forward Brian Reese, whose slap shot from the blue line went right under Peterson's glove. The goal was assisted by Henrik Impola and Tim Conboy.
Brainerd had been on a hot streak before the game. The Warriors had won six straight games, including big wins over Bemidji and Duluth Central. Eigner said because the Warriors had been scoring a lot of goals, everyone seems to be concentrating on scoring goals instead of team play.
"We let one get away and Willmar took advantage with their game plan," Eigner said. "I said to the guys after the game, 'I don't know how many of you that can leave the ice and say you played well tonight.' But it certainly wasn't an effort thing."
Brainerd played Friday night without first-line defenseman and senior captain Tom Zaleski. He sat out the game for violating the third man into an altercation rule in a scuffle after the Bemidji game. He was scheduled to return Saturday against Duluth Denfeld.
Willmar 2 0 1 -- 3
Brainerd 0 1 0 -- 1
First period -- 1, W-Justin Nelson 4:39; 2, W-Darrin Strend (Matt Breen, Doug Runke) 12:27.
Second period -- 3, B-Brian Reese (Henrik Impola, Tim Conboy) 14:23 (ppg).
Third period -- 4, W-Runke (Jeremy Sather, Justin Bergman) 9:15.
Shots on goal -- W 5-12-9 -- 26; B 11-8-5 -- 24.
Goalies -- W-Jeremy Peterson (23 saves); B-Tyler John (22 saves), Joel Zacher (1 save).
Power-play opportunities -- W 0-2, B 1-2.
Conference -- W 4-1, B 3-2. Overall -- W 10-3, B 9-3-1. Next game -- Brainerd at Duluth Denfeld, 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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