The Northwest Icemen picked up perhaps their most impressive win of the season while hosting the annual Holiday Classic Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 26-28, at the Barron Ice Arena – a tournament the team won by criteria.
The Icemen, now 5-7 on the season, opened tournament play with a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Beaver Dam (8-2) on Thursday night. The Icemen lost to Amery (8-4) 4-1 on Friday and walloped the Siren-based Burnett Blizzard (0-9) co-op 9-1 on Friday.
Amery and Beaver Dam also recorded big wins over the Blizzard, making for a showdown between the Warriors and Golden Beavers on Saturday afternoon. Amery scored first, but Beaver Dam took control, out-shooting Amery 39-18 en route to a 4-2 victory.
In the end, the Warriors, Beavers and Icemen were tied at 2-1 for the tournament. The home team earned the first place trophy on a close call that boiled down to the least amount of penalty minutes.
The Icemen, already halfway through the regular season, will next go on a two-day road swing. They’ll play at rival Ashland (6-4) on Friday, Jan. 3, and play the next day against the Jets at Jeffers, Mich. The Icemen lost an overtime duel to Ashland on Dec. 19. Jeffers defeated Ashland 6-2 on Dec. 21.
Icemen 5, Beaver Dam 4
The Icemen did their best to just stay in the game in the early going against Beaver Dam in front of a big home crowd. The Golden Beavers outshot their hosts 11-6 through the opening period and led 2-0 before the first intermission.
“We knew that Beaver Dam was going to be fast and that they would be able to shoot well,” coach Curtis Cutsforth said. “They didn’t disappoint. We struggled right away trying to match their speed and style of play, but once we got settled in, we were able to better neutralize some of the power rushes and fore check.”
The Icemen played a much better second stanza. Carson Kurtz notched the club’s first goal 48 seconds into the period on the power play. Fellow Barron senior Wyatt Boe scored 6 minutes later with help from Gavin Gordon.
The surge continued just 77 seconds after Boe’s goal. Lucas Anderson took an assist from Riley Cutsforth past Beaver Dam goaltender Noah Banes, who then gave way to Kirk Davis.
Ben Cramers pulled the Beavers even at 3-3 late in the second period, but Cutsforth answered 3:59 into the third. The game was tied again with 7:08 to play.
Connor Linsmeyer scored the game winner. With 2:04 on the clock, he took a double assist from Jordan Aronson and Gordon, and delivered a sharp wrist shot to the back of the net from close range.
The Golden Beavers continued to pressure the Icemen net and goalie Connor Morrison – ending the game with a 31-27 advantage in shots on net – but the Icemen trapped the puck alongside the home bench and burned the final seconds off the clock.
The Icemen went on the power play four times, scoring once. The Beavers were one-for-two with the man advantage. Ian Conlin and Ben Cremers both finished with a goal and an assist for Beaver Dam.
“Our passing game was on and it really helped us clear the zone and get through neutral ice better than we have been able to do all year,” the coach said. “Beaver Dam really liked to spread the ice out and pull our defense off of the line, however, that also gave us some great scoring opportunities with odd-man rushes to their net.
“Connor Morrison played a fantastic game and kept us in it throughout the entire game.”
Amery 4, Icemen 1
Playing on tired legs after Thursday’s battle, the Icemen were out-skated by rival Amery as Friday night’s contest wore on.
“We have always struggled against Amery and Friday was another lesson for us to build off of,” Cutsforth said. “Our legs had about half battery life in them – it seemed as we couldn’t come close to the tempo we skated with on Thursday.”
Gordon scored a shorthanded goal to give the home squad a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. However, the Warriors scored three goals in a lopsided second stanza to lead 3-1.
The Icemen put a much better third period together, but Amery limited scoring chances and eventually put the game away, going up 4-1 with just 1:39 to play.
Jackson Henningsgard, Grady Martin and Mac Smith had two points apiece for the winners, while Ethan Mork made 17 saves.
“Mork has one of the best gloves around, and with his size and mobility, makes it very tough to get a puck past him,” the coach said.
The Warriors’ power play was key, cashing in twice. The Icemen were scoreless on the man advantage. Amery served 6 penalty minutes and the Icemen 8. Morrison made 21 stops.
Icemen 9, Blizzard 1
The only thing in question during the Saturday night tournament finale against the Burnett Blizzard was if the Icemen could stay out of the penalty box long enough to win the tournament. In the end, the Icemen served 2 minutes shorthanded and won the tournament tiebreaker by the slim margin of 2 minutes over Amery.
“We held the penalties to only one,” the coach said. “We had to focus on not really playing the way we normally do. Most of the time, we like to be more physical and harassing when we don’t have the puck, but in this particular game, we had to avoid any potential physical play that could be deemed a penalizing play.
“Our focus was on physical positioning of our bodies and sticks. There were only a couple of times that we were caught out of position and one of those times they capitalized.”
The Icemen controlled play throughout, racking up 47 shots on net while allowing just six. Collin Krance scored twice over a 14-second span late in the first period for a 5-0 Northwest lead. The home team was up 8-0 after two periods.
Krance finished with a three-goal hat trick, while Boe piled up four assists for a playmaker award. Aronson added two goals and an assist, while Kurtz (two assists), Gordon, Cutsforth and Samuel Negus all had a goal apiece.
The Icemen scored on three of six power plays. Chance Lessard netted the guests’ lone goal.
Cashton Kapp was in net for a Blizzard team that totaled 14 penalty minutes. Morrison earned the win.
“Ideally, it would’ve been nice to win all three games over the weekend for a straight first place finish,” the coach said. “But considering no team went undefeated, we will take our first place finish on our ability to not only play competitive but keep our composure throughout all three games.”