The game puck easily could have gone to Noah Urness. Roseau’s sophomore wunderkind did, after all, scoring the winning goal in the third period. And, for good measure, add a length-of-the-ice empty netter in the closing seconds.
“He’s a special player,” Roseau coach Greg Lund said about Urness, nicknamed Ernie, after the Rams beat Minnetonka 5-2 Friday in the opening round of the Tonka Thanksgiving Preview at Pagel Activity Center. “He’s going to be getting a lot of looks (from college coaches) sooner rather than later.”
Gavin Gunderson would have been a worthy game-puck recipient, too. The senior forward scored in the second to put Roseau ahead 2-1 and added a third-period goal that made it 4-2. His high-drama, high-decibel goal celebrations alone merited some sort of prize.
And what about Rams' goaltender Carter Christianson? Among his 23 saves were two third-period breakaway stops.
Senior forward Max Strand turned in a terrific two-way performance, as he always does. Same goes for senior defenseman Thor Byfuglien, who controlled play at both ends of the rink.
With all those worthy candidates, Roseau’s captains looked an altogether different direction for their game MVP. They tossed the game puck to their coach, Lund, a Roseau native, who made his debut guiding the program. Lund was the town’s Bantam AA coach last season before taking over the varsity program late this fall.
“It was Byfuglien’s idea,” said Gunderson, who, like the rest of the team, signed off on honoring their new coach. “He’s definitely got a lot of pressure on him, but I think he’s the right guy to take on the challenge. We’re all excited to have him, and we’ve been putting in the work, too.”
Conditioning has been the theme in Lund’s first couple weeks leading the program. The Rams skate, skate and skate every day at practice. Then they skate some more.
“We’ve been conditioning a lot the last couple weeks, and that's been definitely helping,” Gunderson said. “So we’ll continue to do that and hopefully we’ll keep winning.”
Roseau got better as the game went along, shrugging off a shaky first period en route to a solid second and even better third. Which isn’t to say Minnetonka didn’t have some prime scoring chances in the closing minutes. The Skippers, in fact, had several of them.
“I thought we controlled play most of the game,” Minnetonka coach Sean Goldsworthy said. “But they defend, they're hard to play against. And they have enough guys who can hurt you, if you make a mistake or two.”
Goldsworthy gave all his forwards and defensemen significant ice time. That will continue as he tries to get a handle on the identity of a Skippers club with several sophomores thrust into key roles.
“We’re coming into the season knowing we are going to be playing a lot of bodies, so we're not into shortening the bench,” Goldsworthy said. “We’re going to play 18 players every night here for a while. We're not interested in winning November.”
Winning at any and all times of the year is the expectation in Roseau, which has seven state titles. Especially for this team, which is loaded with high-end seniors. Lund said when he took the job guiding the varsity he figured it wouldn’t be all that different than leading town’s top Bantam team. Wrong.
“When I took the job I got all these texts and phone calls and stuff and I’m like, 'Holy Cow,' ” Lund said. “It's it's a big deal. But it's been fun. I can feel my phone going off in my pocket right now. There’s a lot of congrats going on.”
The pinnacle of Lund’s night came when he unexpectedly was handed the game puck. It meant a lot to him, knowing it came from the players.
“That was pretty special,” Lund said. “I might have had a tear in my eye. I kind of got the heck out of (the locker room) before that happened.”
Roseau goaltender Carter Christianson made 23 saves in Friday's 5-2 win over Minnetonka. Photo by Loren Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com