White Bear Lake was reveling in the early evening glow of a Hockey Day Minnesota gone splendidly in their hometown, as a mere minute of clock time was standing between the Bears and a prized victory over their most bitter rival.
Then, the fireworks came. Literally, followed by figuratively.
With 60 seconds remaining in the third period, a pyrotechnic mishap caused fireworks to be sent into the sky prematurely, forcing a delay as crews cleaned debris on the ice while the smoke slowly cleared.
Hill-Murray, trailing by a goal, used the break to regroup and recharge its top players. Tops amongst them, leading scorer and senior captain Brady Ingebritson took charge with six minutes of furious play that finalized a chapter sure to be remembered even in this storied series.
Ingebritson scored the tying goal with 45 seconds remaining, then grabbed the spotlight again in overtime with the game-winner to lift Hill-Murray to a thrilling 3-2 victory Saturday evening at Polar Lakes Park in White Bear Lake Township.
“It just got me fired up, it made my adrenaline go,” Ingebritson said of the fireworks delay. “I’m at a loss for words for this. Hockey Day Minnesota, against White Bear Lake … you couldn’t ask for it much better.”
With Hill-Murray having replaced goaltender Jack Erickson for an extra attacker, Ingebritson rushed the net with the intent to block White Bear Lake goaltender Leo Gabriel's view of the puck.
A shot from the point kicked out and in front of Ingebritson, who buried his seventh goal of the season. Ingebritson's goal only added to the intrigue building at the end of a long and cold day of outdoor games where temperatures hovered in the low single digits.
In the extra session, Ingebritson’s crash-the-net formula worked again with another greasy goal, and it lifted Hill-Murray (8-8-1) to its first signature win of a season that’s mostly been an uphill climb.
The victory certainly was the most memorable among the four times the Pioneers have been asked to take center stage on the state’s unofficial winter holiday.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “It’s the best one. Respectively to the other ones we’ve been in, this has been by far the best. The hard part was, this was such a cool venue, it was tough to keep the kids focused on playing a hockey game.”
Unranked Hill-Murray held a convincing historical advantage (60-27-3) in the rivalry of east metro bluebloods but entered this one underdogs against the No. 10-ranked Bears. The teams traded scores in the opening two minutes before settling in for a long haul of stagnated offense and creatvitity.
Things began to look up for the Bears when Nolan Roed, White Bear Lake’s leading scorer and a St. Cloud State commit, scored his 19th of the season with 6:46 remaining,
But in a host town appreciated for its hockey history that dates to 1912 and a high school team it has fielded since 1926, it was the team Pioneers who dug deep.
“Every year, this is a great rivalry that’s always physical,” Ingebritson said. “If you can add some skill and score some goals, then anyone can win this game. We were at the right spots at the right times.”
It also sets up the Pioneers for a more favorable position down the line. Either a White Bear Lake or Hill-Murray team has played in their section final dating to 1982, when it was White Bear Lake Mariner that clinched its lone appearance at the state tournament.
Hill-Murray teams are built for the long haul, with a strength of schedule intended to either break the team or have its players ready for March. Having upped its record of 4-8 on Jan 12 to a .500 mark at the end of January, Hill-Murray might be finding its stride after a brutal schedule in which the Pioneers faced nine of the state’s top-12 ranked teams.
“It’s easy to say, after you win, that you’ve got the perfect formula, because we don’t,” Lechner said. “But in retrospect, when we set up our schedule, people can look (early on) and think, well Hill-Murray must not be very good this year. And we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve been (competing) with a lot of young guys. And now we’re more battle-tested, which helps us for the long run.”
Ingebritson agreed, adding that a growing sense of confidence has become contagious within the team.
“I think we’re playing our best hockey right now, and it’s only going to get progressively better,” Ingebritson said.
WHITE BEAR LAKE - Brady Ingebritson’s rebound goal in overtime lifted Hill-Murray past White Bear Lake 3-2 on Saturday as the teams took their rivalry, long one of the state’s best, outdoors at Polar Lakes Park as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.
Ingebritson, a senior forward, scored with 46.7 seconds left in the third period to send the game into the extra session. That goal came following Nolan Roed’s rebound goal late in the third appeared that to have the victory locked up for the Bears.
Hill-Murray’s Boden Sampair scored in the opening minute and Aiden Welch countered for the Bears less than a minute later as the game had the look of an pending scorefest.
However, tight checking, strong goaltending and bouncing, rolling pucks turned the game into a in defensive battle for most of three periods until Roed, a junior forward committed to St. Cloud State, corralled a loose puck and swatted it into the net for his team-leading 19th goal of the season.
It was the 91st meeting between the teams in a series that dates to 1963 and Hill-Murray leads 60-28-3. Three of the Pioneers’ wins have come in the last three Section 4AA championship games.