East side supremacy doesn’t always come down to White Bear Lake versus Hill-Murray.
But it sure seems like it has become appointment viewing.
One of the state’s great rivalries was renewed for the fifth-straight time in the Section 4AA championship game on Friday, with Hill-Murray beating its arch rival 5-0 in front of a sold-out Aldrich Arena crowd estimated at 3,500.
“We have respect for all the other teams in the section,” said Hill-Murray defenseman Leo Gruba, whose first-period goal opened the scoring. “Stillwater has a got a great club, Gentry (Academy) does, too.
“But everyone knows it, right? The green and the orange game is just the coolest ticket in town.”
Gruba, who has a flair for joining — and sometimes leading — Hill-Murray’s offensive forays, assisted on Jack Senden’s shorthanded goal in the first period as the No. 1 seed and No. 2 state-ranked Pioneers grabbed a 2-0 lead.
Dylan Godbout, one of 10 Mr. Hockey Award finalists, scored a second-period power-play goal and Hill-Murray’s shutdown defense and junior goaltender Jack Erickson took over from there.
Hill-Murray beat White Bear Lake by the same 5-0 score last season but was unable to play in the state tournament when a Bears player tested positive for COVID-19 after the game.
“You can’t get too hung up on the past,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said about how last season’s bitter disappointment affected the team’s approach to Friday’s game or the upcoming state tournament. “It’s like, you feel bad for the seniors who missed out. But you have to move on.”
Gruba, also a Mr. Hockey finalist, made sure the Pioneers, who were denied the opportunity to defend their 2020 state championship, are doing just that.
“Everyone knows what happened last year, there was so much emotion,” said Gruba, whose two points give him 31 on the season, third most on the team. “The fact that we came out here and had great full game, 51 minutes, I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Erickson made 13 of his 25 saves in the third period as White Bear Lake (16-11-0) outshot the Pioneers (23-4-1) 13-7.
Despite the Bears’ territorial advantage, Hill-Murray’s Brendan Bonin and Jack Senden each added goals, sending the huge white-clad Pioneers student section into a frenzy.
“It was just a madhouse,” Gruba said. “We were calling for pucks and we couldn’t even hear it because it was so loud in here. It’s just the best.”