Hockey roundup: Slow start dooms the Willmar Cardinals

Prep hockey report for Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, in west central Minnesota. Ben Swanson makes 25 saves in Fergus Falls’ 4-0 Central Lakes Conference win at Willmar

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Willmar junior Charles Swart takes a shot against Fergus Falls on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at Willmar Civic Center.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The Willmar boys hockey team started slowly in a 4-0 loss against Fergus Falls on Monday at Willmar Civic Center Arena.

The loss snaps the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak and puts them at 0-7 in Central Lakes Conference play. Fergus Falls is 4-5 in the CLC.

“We didn’t have a great start. I thought we had a good second period,” Willmar head coach Jamie Hagen said. “In the third period, we were just zapped. We were out of gas. We get them again tomorrow night.”

Fergus Falls dominated in the first period, outshooting Willmar 20-5. The puck possession allowed the Otters to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

The Otters’ two first period goals came in a span of 1 minute, 46 seconds. Shane Zierdan scored on a cross-crease feed from Brayden Nelson at 7:11 and Zierdan passed his goal-scoring touch to Kellen Stenstrom, who scored at 8:57.


The Otters slow down the Cardinals, 4-0

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Willmar junior Henry Michelson fires a shot from the point against Fergus Falls on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at Willmar Civic Center.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

Needing a response, the Cardinals had a strong second period but did not have an answer for Fergus Falls goaltender Ben Swanson, who notched a 25-save shutout.

“I think we put 10 shots on goal in the first half of that period,” Hagen said. “We ran our forecheck really well. We were getting pucks through and wore them down.”

After Willmar’s attempt to get back into the game, Fergus Falls found its footing. Nelson finished off a feed from Michael Schmidt into the upper-half of the net at 10:08.

Otters defenseman Leighton Buckmeier cemented Fergus Falls’ victory with an early goal in the third period. Stenstrom had a secondary assist to earn a three-point performance alongside Nelson.

“They’re a really good team. We did some good things,” Hagen said. “I think we would have given them a better run if we had a little more fuel.”

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Willmar junior goaltender Mason Thole prepares to make a save against Fergus Falls on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at Willmar Civic Center.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

The Cardinals are dealing with a short bench. Ethan Stark, Griffin Heid and Gabriel LaRue are out of the lineup with injuries. Stark ranks No. 2 in points for Willmar with 13 goals and nine assists in 15 games.

Willmar junior goaltender Mason Thole got the nod between the pipes for the third time this season, making 38 saves. He made his return to the net Friday after being out seven weeks due to a re-aggravated foot injury.


“He’s battling,” Hagen said of Thole. “He played well for us tonight.”

Willmar plays Fergus Falls at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fergus Falls Community Ice Arena.

“We got a short bench,” Hagen said. “The message (in the locker room) was to go home and get some rest.”

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Willmar senior Arron Fischer fires the puck toward the net against Fergus Falls on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at Willmar Civic Center.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune


Fergus Falls 4, Willmar 0

Fergus Falls (10-7-1)           2     1     1 — 4
Willmar (7-11-0)                    0     0     0 — 0

FIRST PERIOD –  (1) FF: Shane Zierden (Brayden Nelson, Kellen Stenstrom), 7:11 … (2) FF: Stenstrom (Zierden, Nelson), 8:57.
SECOND PERIOD –  (2) FF: Nelson (Michael Schmidt), 10:08.
THIRD PERIOD – (3) FF: Leighton Buckmeier (Colin Becker, Stenstrom), 3:05.
GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS – Fergus Falls: Ben Swanson 25/25 … Willmar: Mason Thole 38/42


Willmar 2, Hutchinson 0

Willmar improved to 12-8-1 with goals from sophomore Gretchen Volk and eighth-grader Ryah Gorans in the victory at Hutchinson.

“It avenged a loss from the first game of the year,” Willmar head coach Eric Setrum said.


Cardinals sophomore goaltender Erin Eilers recorded her third shutout of the season, making 17 saves. She holds a 7-4-0 record between the pipes with a 1.36 goals against average and .950 save percentage.

“Erin was solid. She played very well — just what we’re looking for,” Setrum said.

Willmar plays Fergus Falls at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fergus Falls Community Ice Arena.

Willmar (12-8-1)                        1     1     0 — 2
Hutchinson (10-12-1)                  0     0     0 — 0

FIRST PERIOD –  (1) W: Gretchen Volk (Ella Kubesh, Samantha Poe), 9:51.
SECOND PERIOD –  (2) W: Ryah Gorans (Sophia Quinn, Chloe Lownsbury), 5:17.
THIRD PERIOD – No scoring.
GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS – Willmar: Erin Eilers 17/17 … Hutchinson: Kaiden Fitterer 15/17

Alexandria 3, River Lakes 1

Alexandria improved to 9-0-1 in the Central Lakes Conference with a win over River Lakes at Koronis Ice Arena in Paynesville.

River Lakes is 2-7-0 in the CLC and 7-14-1.

The Stars play Alexandria at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at Alexandria’s Runestone Community Center.

Michael Lyne joined the West Central Tribune as a sports reporter in May 2022, following his graduation from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in journalism and a minor degree in Spanish studies.

You may reach Michael at, or by calling (320) 214-4345.
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