COUGAR'S GAVIN NICKERSON CELEBRATES SCORING THE INSURANCE GOAL SUNDAY
By Frederick61 - 10/15/2015
The 2015-2016 season represents change for Tier 3 Junior A hockey teams based in Minnesota. The Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MnJHL) is gone and is replaced this season with the NA3HL (West and Central Division) and the USPHL Midwest Division (Western Conference). The NA3HL West Division will be playing their fifth season in Minnesota This season the division consists of five Minnesota based teams. Last season's MnJHL champs, the Rochester Ice Hawks, have joined the NA3HL Central Division. The Ice Hawks will be competing with last year’s Tier 3 Champions North Iowa for the Central title. All ten teams in the two NA3HL Divisions (Central and West) are part of YHH’s Tier 3 Junior A rankings this season. Most teams from last year’s MnJHL ended up in the USPHL Midwest Division. Seven MnJHL teams ended up in the Midwest's Western Conference-Forest Lake, St. Croix Valley (formerly Hudson WI Crusaders), Steele County, Blaine (formerly Maple Grove), Dells Ducks, Illiana Blackbirds, and the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. The Western Conference teams are included in this season’s YHH Tier 3 rankings. As part of our Tier 3 rankings process, YHH will post game stories on teams with the rankings and will post some game stories independently. This post is an independent one, updated rankings will be posted next week.
Before Sunday's game with the Cougars, Blaine’s coach Chad Ballard spent some time with YHH. In the interview before the game, Coach Ballard described how his team was being pulled together after transitioning from Maple Grove to Blaine. He was enthusiastic about his goal tenders and optimistic about the strength he saw developing in his defensive corps. But after watching Sunday's game, the Energy offensive will struggle over the next month. Still the offense has potential. Coach Ballard is always on the lookout for new talent. In his twenties, he obviously loves hockey and is quick to talk “x’s and o’s”. More importantly, this year he is all in on building a strong franchise. His energy level is high for the team. That will be needed to sustain the Blaine team through a tough month of October/November games, but Ballard's enthusiasm fits with the team’s nickname-the Energy. Chicago Cougars edge Blaine Energy 6-4 in a Sunday Matinee.
The Cougars got off to a great start in the league, not just winning their first nine games, but beating their opponents by an average score of 6+ to 2. Saturday’s game against the Energy was no different, the Cougars won 7-2 despite a strong game by Blaine goalie Blair Sanders/Kansas City MO (stopped 55 of 58 shots). During the warmups before Sunday's game, one reason was clear why the Cougars were off to a good start. They were big and experienced (though only four players were 20 years old). Period 1: Cougars are good
It took just two minutes into the opening period of Sunday's game for the Energy to draw a double minor penalty (served four minutes with each two minutes considered a minor penalty) for roughing. With Energy goalie Blair Sanders already under pressure by the Cougars offense in the first minute, things looked bleak for the Energy. Surprisingly, the Blaine rallied on the penalty kill. The Blaine defensive corps kept the Cougar wings wide on the penalty kill and reduced the pressure on Sanders around the net. The Energy killed the first two minutes and as the second two penalty minutes were ending, they struck for a shorthanded score. The scoring play started in neutral ice when Jake Steiner/Kansas City KS hit Niko Walsh/Chanhassen MN on a breakaway. Walsh drove the net and shot beating a Cougar defenseman's attempt to block his shot. The puck rebounded off Cougar goalie Michael Moore/Charlotte NC to Energy defenseman Thomas Indergaard/Fargo ND. Indergaard was filling the rush on the right side. He rapped the puck in the net to put Blaine up 1-0.
Chicago pressure resumed after the Blaine goal. The Cougar forwards had skills to position their body in contact situations forcing the Blaine defenders away from the puck and then controlling the puck with a long reach. A minute after the goal, they scored to tie the game 1-1. Nik Kropp/Northbrook IL beat the Blaine defense along the left boards, skated behind the Blaine net, and set up Jesper Lonnberg/Gislaved SWE also breaking from the left but across the top in the lower slot. Lonnberg reached for the puck and did a 360 turn flipping a short pass across the slot back left to Jonathan Dagnal/Pittsburgh PA in the slot. Dagnal one timed the puck past Sanders trying to recover from moving right and to return to the left. It was a neat play. The first period scoring was not over. Penalties on both teams slowed play over the next six minutes of the opening period. During this time, Blaine’s forwards developed some pressure and had two good scoring opportunities on breaking down the Cougar defense for solo rushes at the Chicago net. When both teams regained full strength, the Cougars started to control play. On a rush, the Cougars put the puck on Sanders’ pads skating right. The puck rebounded low in the right crease area. Tom Stanislavksi/Palos Hills IL used his reach to get to the rebounding puck and drive it through Sanders pads for the Cougar’s second score. Stanislavski scored from well below the end line. Anthony Beltrame/Melrose Park IL got the assist. The first period ended with Chicago leading 2-1. Sanders faced 22 shots in the opening period.
Period 2: The Energy strike back The Energy came out of the locker room and pulled a interference penalty in the first minute of play. Blaine killed that penalty and two minutes after went on a power play but could not score. For the first nine minutes of the second period, the game was evenly played. The
Cougars rush was slowed at the Blaine blue line and their offense thrown off stride further into Blaine’s defensive zone. Blaine's rushes were boxed outside around the crease keeping their forwards from getting position for the good shot. Then a second Cougar penalty in the period resulted in a Blaine score. Thirty nine seconds into the Blaine power play, the Energy had set up in the Cougar’s zone low left. They moved the puck to Aaron Hocum/Kodiak Island AK in the left of the slot. Hocum’s shot beat a partially screened Moore on the left side to tie the game 2-2. Erik Engdahl/Bloomington MN and Jamison Bach/Dell Rapids SD got the assists. The Energy’s tie lasted three minutes. A Blaine holding penalty put Chicago on the power play. A minute into the power play, the Cougars’ Nickerson broke free in the slot and one timed a Cougar pass by Sanders for a 3-2 Chicago lead. Stanislavski and Cody Hrabak/Palos Hills IL got the assists. After taking the lead, Chicago cranked up the pressure for the rest of the period. Sanders took over and kept the Cougars off the board. At the end of the second period the Cougars led 3-2 and had outshot the Energy 45-17. The question going into the third period was could Chicago finally beat the Energy defense and blow the game open. It did not work that way, instead the Cougars won by being opportunists. Period 3: “How did he do that!”
Blaine hit the ice at the start of the third period opening up their offense by going deep. For the first three minutes, they tried the home run play, trying passes two thirds the length of the ice to hit a forward drifting behind the Cougar defense. They came close and it had the effect of loosening up the Chicago defense at the Blaine blue line. It resulted in two scores in two minutes. The first score came on a 2-on-1 rush where Blaine’s Bach carrying the puck used a fake to the off wing to open up the Cougar goalie. Bach's quick shot beat Moore through the 5-hole to tie the game 3-3.
With less than 15 minutes left in the period, Blaine drew a crosschecking penalty. A minute into the Cougar power play, Chicago drew a penalty creating a 4-on-4. The Cougars had dominated two previous 4-on-4 situations, but this time. Thirty second after the Chicago penalty, Blaine’s Walsh swept around the Cougar defense and broke left across the crease beating Moore with a top shelf shot into the upper right corner to give the Energy a 4-3 lead. Parker Caskey and Jacob Kantor/East Islip NY got the assists. After that, Blaine went on roll partly aided by their goalie Sanders making one of those “how did he do that!” saves.
Protecting a 4-3 under eight minutes on the clock, the Energy gave up the tying goal. Joey Palermo/Medinah IL got the score; Kropp got the assist. Things were going the Energy’s way. With less than four minutes left and the score tied 4-4, a Cougar forward drew a crosschecking penalty. Chicago killed that penalty and drew a second penalty a minute later. The Energy offense went on a roll and again attacked the Cougars in the Chicago's zone until the Cougar defense knocked the puck loose in the neutral ice. Chicago's Dagnal picked up the loose puck and beat the Energy defense. Skating straight down the slot, Dagnal made a quick cut left and beat Sanders. Dagnal's shot hit the upper right part of the Blaine net. It was the game winning goal.
Ten seconds after scoring to take a 5-4 lead, Chicago drew another penalty. Over the next 90 seconds of power play, the Energy forwards hammered the Cougar net until Chicago’s Nickerson knocked the puck loose at the Cougar blue line. Nickerson used his long reach and body to block and escape the lone Energy defender. He soloed in to beat Sanders for a shorthanded insurance goal putting Chicago up 6-4 and ended the scoring. Blaine’s goalie Blair Sanders had a busy night facing 74 Cougar shots. What is Next?
The Midwest Western Conference leading Chicago hosts the Steele County Blades, Illiana Blackbirds, and the Dells Ducks the next three weekends. They also have a single game with Forest Lake scheduled. In mid-November, Chicago will travel east to play four games against USPHL USP3 Division teams. The Cougars will play North conference leaders the Jersey Shore Whalers and South Conference leaders the Richmond Generals. On that trip, Chicago will play two more South Conference foes the Potomac Patriots and the Daytona Racers. Four other teams included in YHH’s consolidated rankings, the Dells Ducks, Illiana Blackbirds, Decatur Blaze, and the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings will play a similar schedule against USP3 foes. Note that the USPHL considers the Premier Division their top league; the USP3, Elite, and Midwest Divisions are Junior A Tier 3 leagues, but teams from all four divisions are ranked nationally as Tier 3 teams.
Blaine gets no relief this weekend. The Energy travels to Lake Delton WI to play last season’s MnJHL playoff champions Dells Ducks at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena. The Ducks are currently in second place in the Western Conference.
World Hockey Association Franchise: The Chicago Cougars are in their first season playing Tier 3 in the Western Conference but have a long heritage.
The original Cougars were one of the World Hockey Association’s original franchises playing in the WHA 1972-1975. The WHA was formed to compete with NHL and did so for eight seasons before they were absorbed by the NHL in an expansion move. In their first WHA season, the Cougars beat the Minnesota Fighting Saints (playing out of the old St. Paul Auditorium before they moved to the St. Paul Civic Center with the clear boards in 1973) in a number of overtime games at the auditorium.
About The USPHL
The United States Premier Hockey League of 2022-23 is the nation’s largest junior amateur ice hockey league and the only league to span the continental United States, from Maine to California, and from Florida to Washington State.
The USPHL includes over 100 organizations comprised of 11,000 players spanning the ages of 6 through 20, including Youth and Midget Division teams in the Tier 1 Hockey Federation.
Overall, across all its divisions, the USPHL see more than 3,100 alumni playing college hockey each year and more than 250 playing pro hockey, including in the NHL.
The league’s top level, the Tuition Free Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference, led all North American Tier II leagues with three players selected in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and has seen more than 200 NCAA Division I commitments since its 2017 inception. The NCDC will also expand to include the NCDC West, with teams in Colorado, Utah and Idaho for 2023-24.
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