By Nick Gerhardt
Northfield head coach Mike Luckraft bolstered the non-conference schedule this season to test his team’s mettle and the Raiders got the result they’ve wanted Saturday but had yet to achieve.
Northfield got the kind of win it has sought by dispatching Delano, ranked No. 13 in Class A by Let’s Play Hockey, in a 5-3 victory at Northfield Ice Arena in a game that had moments of adversity.
The Raiders (9-2, 3-0 Big 9) never trailed but benefitted from a disallowed go-ahead Delano goal 8 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the third period in a 2-2 game. Referees initially signaled a goal by Tigers forward Will Brown when he knocked in a rebound at the back post, however, after conferring with the linesman, the waved the goal off because the goal became dislodged prior to the shot going in the net.
“Those are the kind of games we’re looking for so we can find who we are in those tougher moments and figure out ways to compete and figure out ways to win some battles,” Luckraft said. “Obviously, we got a little bit of a lucky break with the net being off.”
Northfield responded less than a minute later when junior defenseman Ty Frank scored on a rush to put the Raiders ahead 3-2 with 7:33 remaining in the game. It marked Frank’s first goal since Dec. 10 in a 4-1 win over Faribault and it also came when Frank reunited with his defensive partner senior Mike Fossum, who assisted on the go-ahead goal. Frank and Fossum last paired together against Faribault but an injury to defenseman junior Elliott Pontow led Luckraft to adjust his defensive pairings. Pontow returned to the lineup Thursday against Rochester John Marshall.
“Point production was a lot higher than it has been in the last few games just because we’ve played with each other last year and just know where each other are the whole time,” Frank said on playing with Fossum. “We get the puck moving with each other.”
Delano (5-5, 2-0 Wright County) answered with a goal from sophomore forward Mason Hargarten with an assist from junior forward Teague Collings during a three-on-one rush with 4:22 remaining in the game.
With 1:51 left to play junior winger Cayden Monson scored the game-winner from the left side of the goal after collecting a pass from junior center Jake Geiger. Junior Kam Kaiser also assisted on the goal that gave Monson his 100th career point, making him what is believed to be only the 15th player in Northfield history to reach the milestone.
“It feels kind of surreal,” said Monson, who had two points in the game. “I didn’t even realize until I got to the bench and my linemate Kamden told me how many points I actually had. I had no idea.”
Luckraft called a timeout following the goal to give his top line a chance to rest and return to the ice. The Tigers eventually gained the Northfield zone and pulled their goalie shortly after the restart, but Kaiser scored an empty net goal with 1:20 left to play to push the lead to 5-3. Delano had another goal denied when a referee’s whistle blew play dead but the Tigers put the puck in the net shortly after the whistle. The puck wasn’t visible for a short span and led to the whistle but nearly as soon as the whistle came, the puck bounced free to the stick of a Delano player. It led to a scrum in front of the net and coincidental roughing penalties for the Tigers and the Raiders, plus a bench minor for Delano for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Northfield scored twice in the first period with Gabe Sawyer scoring a power-play goal with an assist from Andrew Winter 2:35 into the game.
Tigers senior forward Cade Bruett scored on the power play at 12:03 of the period with an assist from Collings to tie the game.
Kaiser scored his first goal of the game on the power play with an assist from Monson to go up 2-1 before Brown collected a turnover just inside the Northfield blue line to house a shot with 59 seconds left in the period to make it 2-2.
Raiders senior goalie Keaton Walock made 19 saves to pick up the win — just the second over a ranked opponent this season.
The Raiders lost 4-2 to No. 4-ranked Mahtomedi and 3-1 to No. 3-ranked Orono, but they have a 3-2 win over No. 18-ranked Monticello. Northfield will close out the regular season with games against conference opponents, which includes a meeting with No. 16-ranked Albert Lea.
“It’s a good win and it’s one that we definitely wanted,” Luckraft said. “We’ve been talking so much that in close games players typically have a tendency to do it themselves. It’s human nature. Ultimately the best way is to work together. Share the puck and fill empty space so the game-winning goal was that. Monson had it at the point, made a pass to Kam down below, then Geiger, who made a pass back in front to Monson, so he filled that lane.”
The Raiders will face Owatonna (4-6, 3-1 Big 9) Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. at Northfield Ice Arena.