A crushing loss to Sartell two days ago has made an already arduous schedule more demanding for the Brainerd Warriors boys' hockey team.
Following tonight's game at Richmond against River Lakes, the Warriors enter another rugged stretch of games, all of which fortunately will be at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the Warriors (9-9-1) host Section 7, Class 2A power Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (12-6-1). On Tuesday, they host Alexandria (16-3-0). And, on Feb. 6, they host Central Lakes Conference leader St. Cloud Tech (17-2-0).
"If you were to poll coaches in Section 7AA right now I think they would be certainly a No. 1, possibly a No. 2 seed in our section," Warriors coach Ty Eigner said of Cloquet. "They play a very tough schedule. They've probably had the most success of anyone in section play."
The Lumberjacks have beaten Greenway and Duluth East in section games.
"The way we're kind of approaching the next week as coaches is that it's really a mini-section tournament," Eigner said. "We have to beat three teams of that caliber to move on.
"It's a good opportunity. (Cloquet has) kind of had our number in the past. We've had competitive games with them. It should be an enjoyable game, a good game for people to watch."
In a span of three days in early January, Brainerd lost to Alexandria 5-1 and to Tech 6-0. The Warriors outshot the Cardinals 25-20. Against Tech, they couldn't contain one of the state's leading scorers, Travis Winter, who had a goal and four assists.
"We've got an opportunity for redemption as far as how we played down there," Eigner said.
Sitting at .500 with six regular-season games to play, Eigner thought the Warriors would be in better shape at this juncture.
The Warriors probably should have had at least four more victories. They lost to Armstrong 2-1 in overtime, tied Tartan 2-2 in overtime, led Grand Rapids 2-0 in the third period but lost 3-2 and were beating Duluth East 1-0 in the third and lost 2-1.
Brainerd lacks a sniper like Winter, who's a threat to score anytime he has the puck.
"We have to play very hard every night," Eigner said. "Right now this particular group's biggest strength is effort, playing physical, playing smart. Our leading scorer has 18 points. Winter has 50-some points. We don't have that guy.
"We're getting solid goaltending. We don't give up a lot of shots. With the exception of the week against Alexandria and Tech, we're there. We're competing. Nobody is coming in and taking it to us. For us to be successful we've got to play hard, play smart and capitalize on opportunities."
The Warriors' schedule for the next week:
Boys basketball -- The Warriors (11-6) host Willmar tonight and Little Falls 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Swimming and diving -- Brainerd (7-1) hosts Willmar tonight.
Wrestling -- The Warriors (8-6) compete in a triangular at Bemidji Thursday against the Lumberjacks and Fergus Falls before hosting Sauk Rapids Tuesday.
Nordic skiing -- Brainerd skis in the conference meet at Maple Lag in Detroit Lakes today and competes in the Section 8 meet at the same venue Wednesday.
Alpine skiing -- The Warriors hosted their invitational today at Ski Gull and ski in the Section 7 meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik Tuesday.
Girls basketball -- Brainerd (11-7) hosts Rocori Friday.
Girls hockey -- The Warriors (15-6-2) end the regular season 1 p.m. Saturday with a home game against Moorhead, ranked fifth in Class 2A.
Gymnastics -- Unbeaten and third-ranked Brainerd competes in the conference meet at Sauk Rapids Saturday.
Adapted floor hockey -- The Warriors (2-2) host Dakota United 1 p.m. Saturday and are at Robbinsdale Armstrong Tuesday.
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