In two pivotal Section 7, Class 2A boys' hockey games earlier this season the Brainerd Warriors surrendered third-period leads.
They led Grand Rapids 2-1 but lost 3-2 and led Duluth East 1-0 and wound up losing 2-1.
On Saturday at Brainerd Area Civic Center, the Warriors finally finished off a section foe. They built a 3-1 lead and, despite being outshot 25-2 in the final period, hung on for a 3-2 victory over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.
Goalie Nick Whichello, who made 40 saves, said the Warriors were focused Saturday.
"We came out flying," Whichello said. "It was just like everybody was concentrating on the game and not horsing around in the locker room."
Brainerd was elevated by the concentration and resolve exhibited by its freshman goalie.
"It was a nice win for our kids but let's be honest here, Nick Whichello made some great saves, that's first and foremost," Warriors coach Ty Eigner said.
"It's a great win for us, confidence-wise, going into our next game (at home Tuesday against Alexandria)," Eigner added. "Like I told the kids, Cloquet competes the way most coaches would want their kids to compete. If you can stand toe-to-toe with a team like that you should be able to compete like that all the time."
The Warriors were able to compete like they did because of Whichello. He stopped numerous point-blank chances, including a wrist shot by Dustin Soukkala in the final 27 seconds when the Lumberjacks had pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker.
Whichello attributed the victory to his defense.
"They were great," he said. "They helped clear rebounds and played the 2-on-1s nicely. They were just outstanding. I couldn't have done it without them."
The Warriors were aided by a disallowed Cloquet goal at 7:05 of the third period that would have closed the gap to 3-2. After conferring for several minutes, officials ruled the net was off its pegs before the puck went in and wiped off the goal.
"I can look you in the eye and say the net was off before the shot went in," Eigner said. "That's not trying to catch a break or get a call at home. The truth of the matter is the net was off its pegs prior to the puck going into the net."
Cloquet found the net first, at 11:00 of the opening period, as Allen Raushel scored on a backhand shot in traffic.
Two minutes later, Tyler Peterson retaliated for the Warriors. Chris Peluso shot from the blue line and Peterson deflected the shot past Lumberjacks goalie Chris Beyer.
Just 25 seconds later, Gregg Day made it 2-1 for the Warriors with a slap shot from the circle that bounced in off Beyer's pads.
Following a scoreless second period, Jason Roberts scored on a power-play wrist shot for a 3-1 Brainerd advantage.
"Jason made a great individual effort," Eigner said. "The difference between making a good, smart play, and a mistake is real fine. We had a nice breakout on a power play. Jason drove hard down the wall. He didn't panic. He saw an opening. He walked to the middle and made a good shot."
Cloquet gave itself a shot to win with 1:15 remaining when Matt Brenner scored a short-handed goal. Brenner grabbed a pass at the Brainerd blue line, went in alone at Whichello and flicked a backhand past him.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 1 0 1 -- 2
Brainerd 2 0 1 -- 3
First period -- CEC-Allen Raushel, 11:00; B-Tyler Peterson (Mark Germain, Chris Peluso) 14:02; B-Gregg Day (Kiel Browne, Peluso) 14:27
Second period -- No scoring
Third period -- B-Jason Roberts (Tony Parrish) 5:27 ppg; CEC-Matt Brenner (Chris Hudspith) 13:45 shg
Shots on goal -- CEC 10 7 25 -- 42; B 11 12 2 -- 25
Goalies -- CEC-Chris Beyer (22 saves); B-Nick Whichello (40 saves)
Power-play opportunities -- CEC 0-2, B 1-2
Overall -- CEC 13-7-1, B 11-9-1. Next game -- Alexandria at Brainerd 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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