For two periods the Brainerd Warrior boys' hockey team had a positive experience playing at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Brainerd trailed Class 2A's second-ranked and unbeaten Hill-Murray just 2-1 entering the third period. Then the Pioneers erupted for four goals, on their way to a 6-1 victory in the championship game in the Silver Division of the Schwan Cup tournament Thursday.
Trailing 1-0 after one period, the Warriors' Joe Frazer tied it at 12:45 of the second, assisted by Carl Sneep.
"We were outplaying them in the first," Warriors coach Ty Eigner said. "We gave up a short-handed goal with 14 seconds left in the first. That hurt."
Hill-Murray scored five unanswered goals from that point as Mike Hoeffel, Joey McEnaney, (2), Bryant Skarda and Nick Larson tallied.
"Going into the third we were pretty excited about where we were at," Eigner said. "Then they scored the first two shifts of the third, to go from 2-1 to 4-1. That killed any momentum we had, but we didn't quit. We kept playing.
"We didn't win (the title), but we should be happy how we played this week, and what this tournament did for us."
Brainerd nipped Elk River in a shootout in the quarterfinals and beat Apple Valley 4-3 in the semifinals.
"Hill-Murray's coach came up to me after the game and said, 'I'm not trying to be sarcastic. We've played 11 games and you're the best team we've played, the hardest-working team we've played all year," Eigner said. "A lot of people said a lot of nice things about our program and our players.
"It was an awesome week. I hope we got a taste of what can happen at the end of year for our kids."
Eigner said playing at the Xcel was everything it was built up to be.
"It was a huge deal," he said. "Our kids were super excited all day long to get there. Our JV kids came down to look at the locker room and stood on the bench to look at the ice. It was fun coaching and playing there.
"Everything was first class. It's an outstanding facility."
Brainerd 0 1 0 - 1
Hill-Murray 1 1 4 - 6
First period: HM, Nick Larson (Mac Garceau) 16:46 (shg).
Second period: Brd, Joe Frazer (Carl Sneep) 12:45. HM, Mike Hoeffel (Nick Larson) 13:39 (shg).
Third period: HM, Joey McEnaney (Brian Arrigoni) :27. HM, Bryant Skarda (Gabe Guentzel) :47. HM, Nick Larson (Derek McCallum) 3:37 (ppg). HM, Joey McEnaney (Brian Arrigoni, Vince Unklesbay) 10:06.
Shots on goal: Brd 9-9-5-23; HM 4-7-12 23.
Power plays: Brd 0-5; HM 1-4.
Goalies: Brd, Nick Whichello (37:37 minutes, 14 shots, 9 saves), Landon Snider (13:23, 9 shots, 8 saves); HM, Joe Phillippi (51:00, 23 shots, 22 saves).
Records: Brd 5-3-1, HM 11-0-0. Next game: Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at Brainerd 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com
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