Five-goal comeback was one to remember

Willmar's 9-8 sudden-death victory over Sartell in boys hockey last Thursday must go down as one of the most unlikely wins in Cardinals athletic history. Down by five goals with less than 15 minutes left in the third period, it also ranks among t...

Willmar's 9-8 sudden-death victory over Sartell in boys hockey last Thursday must go down as one of the most unlikely wins in Cardinals athletic history. Down by five goals with less than 15 minutes left in the third period, it also ranks among the greatest-ever comebacks.

It brings to mind Willmar's dramatic win in the 1987 Class AA state baseball champion game at the Metrodome when the Cardinals scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun Hopkins 5-4.

Although the hockey win last week was played out on a smaller stage, the players were no less overjoyed. This was a team that hadn't won a conference game in six tries and only one the year before. This looked like just another loss, maybe even a little worse since the Sabres weren't having a very good season either.

Coach Reed Larson changed goalies (Kevin Maxfield for Jeff Reed) after Sartell scored 19 seconds into the second period for a 4-1 lead. The Sabres didn't let up, extending the lead to 8-3 with a goal 1:32 into the third period.

Even at that point, Larson insisted his team had not given up. Between periods, he and assistant coach Chad Akerson had reminded the boys that they had scored a bunch of goals against Wadena in the third period and could do that again.


"The way they came out for the third period, we could see the determination," he said. "It's the first time I'd seen that this year. It was a positive attitude, a belief."

Scot Gregg's goal at 3:00 "lit the fire" that started the five-goal avalanche. Mitch Schneider made it 8-5 at 5:46. Then it was the Tyler Wahl line with help from defenseman/winger Danny Swanson getting the next three in a span of 2:09 seconds. It was a new line: Wahl, a senior and the team's leading scorer, paired with two JV regulars, sophomore Josh Mead and freshman Rory Schneider.

The rash of goals had the 50 Cardinal fans at the Sartell arena cheering wildly. The Cardinals' bench stayed on its feet the entire rally. For the players it was sweet payback for the Sabres' public address announcer who had followed each hometown goal with the exclamation "Woo-HOO!"

"That was so annoying," said Larson. "I think it really got under our players' skin."

Overtime was set up for Willmar when Joel Schendel was tripped in the last minute of regulation. Senior Alex Berghuis stuffed a rebound off a shot by Mead with Josh Aslesen also getting an assist. Just 21 seconds had elapsed in overtime.

There was a victory pile in the corner and the 65-mile bus ride home flew by. Word spread fast. Coaches and players with cell phones were rung up on the bus by well wishers.

For the first time all season, the Cardinals seemed to have the wind at their back. Monday's practice was one of the best all season, Larson reported. Spirits and expectations are on the rise, the coach added.

Willmar will host River Lakes tonight at the Civic Center.


Rau recalls Hornets

Among the hometown fans watching the Willmar boys play Edina Friday night was Dean Rau (WHS '64).

He was a lanky starting forward on the 1963-64 team that lost to the Hornets 57-47 in the Region V semifinals at Williams Arena. The next night, Willmar whipped St. Cloud Tech 75-62 to finish 22-1 for the second straight year but short of the Big Dance each time.

"There were 14,000 people in the building each night," recalled Rau, an orthopedic surgeon. "It was the high point of my athletic career."

By all accounts, center Ron Pederson was the star of that Willmar team. Dr. Rau may not recall but I looked it up in the archives and he scored 29 in the St. Cloud Tech win and made the WCCO All-State team. The next year he went to Harvard and played on the freshman team.

Willmar got another shot at Edina in the 1968 Region V final, this time losing to 6-7 Bob Zender and the Hornets 66-54. Edina went on to win the state title that year. Gary Syverson scored 19 and Mark Roth 13 to lead the Cards.

In 1983, Willmar got some satisfaction, beating the 21-0 Hornets 51-47 before 15,565 at the St. Paul Civic Center in the Class AA quarterfinals. Paul Van Den Einde had 18 for Willmar.

The teams didn't meet again until last week.


On the fly

n Mandi Samuelson, freshman wing for the Concordia Cobbers, broke her collarbone sliding into the end boards after leaving her feet to make shot in the second period of Saturday's 5-2 win over St. Olaf. She had assisted on her former Cardinal teammate Alyssa Dahl's team-leading fifth goal in the first period.

n Sarah Willis, sophomore at Gustavus Adolphus, is in three sports: last fall she joined cross-country and is now in her second year of Nordic. This spring she will play fastpitch again.

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