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Snuffed Out

By Loren Nelson, 02/04/21, 10:00PM CST


Red Lake Falls' bid for rare victory over Thief River Falls denied

Thief River Falls goaltender Brett Holmer made 35 saves in the Prowlers 6-0 victory over Red Lake Falls on Thursday night. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media

Red Lake Falls’ chance to light a beacon for the smallest of the state’s hockey-playing small schools was snuffed out Thursday as the Eagles, who have assembled one of their best teams in decades, lost 6-0 to Thief River Falls at Cardin-Hunt Arena in Red Lake Falls.

Brett Holmer made 35 saves and senior forward Zach Dalzell scored twice for Thief River Falls, which improved to 3-3-1 despite being outshot 35-18. Red Lake Falls, featuring two of the state’s top six scorers in brothers Zak and Ty Kennett, dropped to 6-2-0. 

Thief River Falls’ victory was its 25th straight over northwestern Minnesota neighbor Red Lake Falls, dating to a 1-1 overtime tie on Dec. 28, 1998. The series between the teams began in 1955-56, Red Lake Falls’ first season playing varsity hockey. Research of school yearbooks, newspaper articles and high school hockey websites and multiple interviews of coaches, players and media members representing both towns and teams and multiple eras has failed to uncover a Red Lake Falls victory over Thief River Falls.

Holmer became just the fourth goaltender this year to register 35 or more saves in a shutout, joining Irondale’s Elijah Kaasa, South St. Paul’s Cole Sitar and St. Francis’ Jake Kolb. Red Lake Falls was averaging more than five goals per game. 

“It probably wasn’t a 6-0 game, by any means,” Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland said. “We were in a lot of penalty trouble, especially in the first half of the game. (Holmer) made some big saves when we needed him to.”

Thief River Falls, which had scored just one power-play goal in 16 opportunities, went 2-for-2 with the man advantage. Red Lake Falls, which had been converting power play opportunities at about a 50-percent success rate, went 0-for-4.

“Special teams can win games for you, for sure,” said Bergland, a former Prowlers standout who went on to play in the NHL for five seasons.

Zach Dalzell and Brendan Bottem each scored power-play goals, and Dalzell, a senior forward, finished with two goals and Bottem a goal and two assists. 

Holmer’s best work came in the first period during one of Red Lake Falls’ power plays, stopping a back-door tap in attempt by Ty Kennett. He remained sharp in the third, stopping a flurry of shots with about 4 minutes remaining, causing Red Lake Falls players two bow their heads in frustration. 

“Holmer is tough,” Red Lake Falls coach Trevor Page said. “He’s big and he can move.”

Thief River Falls has a population of 8,790 compared to 1,372 for Red Lake Falls. The enrollment at Thief River Falls’ Lincoln High School is 518. Lafayette High School in Red Lake Falls has 99 students. Thief River Falls played three forward lines to Red Lake Falls’ two on Thursday night.

“Tonight it was pretty obvious we did have the top line,” Page said about his trio of the Kennetts and sophomore Evan Girdler, who also ranks among the state’s scoring leaders. “When they were out there they were controlling the puck. Depth was a factor, and that’s what we’ve always had, depth issues.”

Thief River Falls, which won state championships in 1954 and 1956 back in the one-class era, has rotated with East Grand Forks and Warroad in recent history as the top team in Section 8A. The Prowlers have made 12 state tournament appearances in all, including five in the 2000s. Red Lake Falls has advanced past the section quarterfinals just twice, both times during the much-criticized two-year Tier I and Tier II experiment. The Eagles reached the Section 8 Tier II semifinals in 1992 and finals in 1993.

“Obviously we do have an advantage in terms of numbers,” Bergland said. “But even though they always have numbers issues, they turn out a lot of good, quality hockey players out of Red Lake Falls. We’ve had some darn good games with them over the years.”

Red Lake Falls and Thief River Falls played four straight games that went into overtime in the mid- to late-1990s. The Prowlers won one of those games and the other three ended in ties.

The teams are scheduled to play just once this season, but a section playoff rematch is possible given both will likely be seeded in the No. 3 to 6 range.

"I would absolutely love to play them again, and our guys would too, that's for sure," Page said.

Red Lake Falls senior Zak Kennett, one of the state's scoring leaders, was held off the scoresheet on Thursday against Thief River Falls. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media

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