Scoring goals has not been a problem for the Little Falls boys' hockey team.
Over the past four seasons putting points on the scoreboard has been a frequent occurrence for Class 1A's fifth-ranked Flyers. Stopping opposing teams, however, has been a problem.
That is until this season, with the improvement of goalie Michael Sperl. The 5-foot-9 junior ranked second among Section 6-1A goalies with a 91.0 save percentage before this week's two victories. He was tops among goalies with a 2.0 goals against average.
Sperl's play was crucial in the Flyers remaining unbeaten in section play and claiming the Central Lakes Conference title with a 2-1 victory over the Alexandria Cardinals Feb. 7. He collected 29 saves. Two days before that, he held Wadena-Deer Creek to one goal as he saved 14 of 15 shots in a 6-1 victory.
"The first time we played Alexandria he shut them out 5-0," said Flyers head coach Tony Couture. "I think playing against the other top goalie in the section (Matt Hemingway), who has gotten a lot of press, he wanted to compete with him and show people that there is a pretty good goalie in Little Falls, too.
School: Little Falls
Key stat: Stopped 29 of 30 shots in Flyers 2-1 win against Alexandria
"Michael has come up big in big games. He was good against Brainerd, Holy Family Catholic and Rochester Lourdes. Against Alexandria he came up huge. The first eight minutes we could have been down 5-0 because Alex came out and stormed us pretty good."
Sperl's statistics include two shutouts and 344 saves on 378 shots on net. He's played 873.5 minutes and owns an 18-2 overall record for the 22-3 Flyers. The only goalie in the section with better numbers is Hemingway.
The second-year starter participated in the Rob Starber goalie camp and played on the Elite 2 team during the offseason. He's continually working on his quickness, angles and rebounds. He said last year he gave up a lot of rebounds to opponents. Couture said that's where he's improved the most.
He's also improved on playing big during big games. An improved defense in front of him has helped.
"Because of the defense, I can really focus," Sperl said. "Say on a 2-on-1, I can focus on the shot because I know they'll have the other guy wrapped up so he won't get the rebound. You have to trust the defense throughout the game. When I do give up a bad rebound more times than not my defense is there to clear it."
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Derek Wolhowe, Staples-Motley, scored 26 points against Pequot Lakes and 18 against Crosby-Ironton.
Michael Ward, Pequot Lakes, scored 22 points against S-M and 24 against Park Rapids.
Jake Martin, Pillager, finished with 20 points and 10 assists against Menahga and 18 points against Bertha-Hewitt.
Donny Tabery, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with 30 points against Hawley.
Levi Skog, Lake Region, finished with 31 points against Northland of St. Cloud and 15 against Northland of Remer.
Jordan Farmer, Pine River-Backus, scored 24 points against Park Rapids.
Jacob Jensen, Lake Region, finished with 32 points against Rochester Victory.
Nick Sundholm, Aitkin, finished with 27 points against Mora.
Jon Bristow, PR-B, finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds against Northome/Kelliher.
Hockey: Beau Hanowski, Little Falls, finished with three goals and three assists against Wadena-Deer Creek.
Ben Hanowski, Little Falls, finished with two goals and two assists against W-DC. He added a goal and an assist against Alexandria.
Trevor Ness, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with three goals and an assist against Northern Lakes.
Eddie DeCent, Northern Lakes, finished with three goals and two assists against North Branch.
Wrestling: Clint Poster, Pierz, earned his 100th career victory against Royalton.
Troy VanOrsdel, Wadena-Deer Creek, tied the school record for most pins in a season with 25 as he pinned his Perham opponent.
Keith Wasserzieher, Dalton Stevens, Justin Chouanard, Andrew Hallberg, Matt Christensen and Nathan Cummings, Aitkin, all captured Great River Conference championships.
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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