Goaltending gem slows down WarHawks


WILLMAR—A strong performance by Rochester goaltender Luke Murphy spoiled a strong night by local high school graduates as the Willmar WarHawks fell to Rochester 3-2 in overtime on Saturday night.

The WarHawks came out firing from the drop of the first puck, ripping 18 shots on Murphy in the opening period but the Rochester netminder turned each of those attempts away, setting the tone early for the night.

It was the visiting Ice Hawks who got on the board first with a TJ Albano goal at the almost exact midway point of the game in the second period. Former Willmar Cardinal Eli Slagter made sure it didn't stay that way for long, though, scoring less than five minutes later to tie things back up. Two-and-a-half minutes later, WarHawk newcomer and New London-Spicer graduate Blake Shuck ripped a shot from the blueline that found its way into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead in his Willmar debut.

When asked after the game if he expected to score in his first time on the ice in almost three months, he chuckled and quickly said he didn't.

"I didn't even know how to react, I was just shocked," said Shuck, a defenseman who played for River Lakes last season and joined the WarHawks early last week. "It was a fun time."

Tanner Dahle, another Willmar graduate, earned an assist on Slagter's goal.

Rochester's Justin Gibbons got the Ice Hawks back on the board late in the second, though, with a power play goal to tie things up in the final minute.

From that point on, Murphy kept a clean tally despite overwhelming offense from the home team. Willmar outshot their opponents 13-2 in the final period and 47-25 overall.

"We did everything right, we just didn't bury the puck, it's as simple as that," WarHawk winger Jordan Cooper said. "It's one that we should've won but you have to play the whole game."

Rochester's Lake Powell delivered the dagger 33 seconds into the overtime period with a shot from the point that just snuck by Willmar goaltender Luke Fry.

"I'm pretty disappointed with the result," said WarHawk forward Max Oelkers. "They were blocking a lot of shots and gave their goalie plenty of open looks, too. He didn't have to make a ton of tough saves, we just needed to get in front of net a bit more and take more shots."

It proved to be a night full of emotion as well with the return of former WarHawk Evan Burke and former head coach Chris Blaisuis, now the head boss of the Ice Hawks. Burke spent plenty of time on the ice as one of the top defensemen for the Ice Hawks and made sure to greet all of his former teammates.

"It was nice to come home," Burke said. "It feels like coming home, I was here for a year and a half so it was nice to see all my teammates. It felt nice. It was pretty weird to look in the stands and know everyone because in Rochester there's no connection, I don't know anybody there yet."

Cooper made sure to have fun with his former teammate whenever he saw him on the ice Saturday night.

"It was fun, whenever I saw him to just say, 'Hey, keep your head up there,' and just joke with him," Cooper said.

"I miss the guy," Oelkers said. "It was sad to see him on the other team but it was good to see him again."

Burke and the Ice Hawks got the better of the WarHawks Saturday but this budding rivalry is far from over with two more games left on the slate, including Willmar's next game which is at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Rochester.

Rochester 3, Willmar 2 OT

Rochester 0 2 0 1 — 3

Willmar 0 2 0 0 — 2

FIRST PERIOD — No scoring

SECOND PERIOD — R: TJ Albano (Luke Steele, Brandon Pahl) 10:08 pp ... W: Eli Slagter (Keegan Bauman, Brandon Holt) 14:52 pp ... W: Blake Shuck (Braden Shea, Tanner Dahle) 17:30 ... R: Justin Gibbons (Josh Hoffman, Nick DuLong) 19:27 pp

THIRD PERIOD — No scoring

OVERTIME — R: Lake Powell (Ryan Stokes, Steele) 0:33 pp

GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS — Rochester: Luke Murphy 45/47 ... Willmar: Luke Fry 22/25