Rangers roar to life, just miss 7AA finals
Hockey boys stun Grand Rapids, push Andover to overtime
With a host of returning talent, expectations were high for the Ranger boys’ hockey team this winter. Forest Lake meandered to an 11-13-1 record in the regular season, but showed its potential during an exciting postseason run last week.
The Rangers upset No. 11 Grand Rapids last Tuesday and pushed No. 15 Andover to overtime before bowing out in the Section 7AA semifinals on Saturday.
“The honest truth – and it’s what I’ve been telling the kids all year – is that when they’re on their game, they’re as good as anyone,” said coach Aaron Forsythe.
Sixth-seeded Forest Lake was a heavy underdog heading to Grand Rapids, and probably with good reason. The Rangers were hit-or-miss all year, while the Thunderhawks entered the playoffs seeded third at 19-6. Plus, Grand Rapids had whipped Forest Lake 6-0 in a December contest.
Forsythe did not know whether to expect the squad that had recently played so well in a tight loss to White Bear Lake and a win over Hastings or the squad which closed the regular season with a dud at home against Stillwater.
As it did in the December matchup, Grand Rapids jazzed up its home crowd with a first-minute goal.
“You don’t want to start a game off like that, but our kids never wavered,” Forsythe said. “On the bench, the talk was all constructive and positive.”
The Rangers quickly answered, as Wes Kilpela outworked two defenders in the corner and centered the puck to Trevor Thompson, who put it home for his second goal of the season.
The teams again traded goals in the second period. Lucas Kohls scored off assists from Cody Rogala and CJ Franklin 13:09 into the period to make it 2-2.
The game took on a physical tone, with the Rangers dishing out most of the heavy blows. Played was delayed extensively in the third period as Thunderhawk standout Curtis Simonson had to be helped off the ice. Soon afterwards, Kohls struck again. The program’s all-time points and goals leader took a pass from Franklin, came down the right side of the ice, slowed to set up a shot and fired the puck into the top corner.
All hands were on deck over the final 6:37 as Grand Rapids went on the attack. Shot after shot was deflected by a defender or saved by senior goalie Brian Levorson.
“Brian had a great game,” Forsythe said. “He made some really big saves in that third period. You have to get really solid goaltending to move on in sectionals.”
Franklin delivered a huge check to break up the final Grand Rapids scoring chance and the upset was in hand.
The win earned the Rangers their first trip to Duluth for the section semifinals since Amsoil Arena opened in late 2010. With top-ranked Duluth East looming on the other side of the bracket, they faced second-seeded Andover Saturday noon. The Huskies brought a record of 18-6-2 and an offense putting up over five goals per game.
A combined four first-period goals hinted at a barnburner. The teams came out of the first 17 minutes with a 2-2 tie. Thompson and Kyle Parker found the net for the Rangers.
The Huskies notched two more goals, but the final six minutes of the second period belonged to Forest Lake. Andover got sloppy with penalties and paid the price. Kyle VanTassel, Brett Gravelle and Jack Schmidt all connected on powerplay goals, the final one coming with three seconds on the clock. The outburst gave the Rangers a 5-4 lead at the second intermission.
The powerplay unit had been floundering heading into the game, to the point that the coaching staff intentionally left it out of the previous practices.
“We were struggling so much that we thought not practicing it at all maybe was the answer,” Forsythe said.
Forest Lake’s tenuous lead would not hold. Andover opened the scoring for the third straight period and took a 6-5 lead with 6:23 to go. Brandon Rogers became the sixth Ranger to light the lamp, scoring the equalizer with just 1:31 remaining.
Through three periods, Forsythe felt his team controlled play for the most part. Indeed, Forest Lake held a 36-30 advantage in shots on goal. In the overtime, however, the Huskies took control. Andover’s David Tollette put home the game-winner 5:22 into the extra session.
Despite allowing seven goals, Forsythe felt Forest Lake played well. Four of Andover’s goals were scored on good shots during rushes, he said.
“We pretty much carried the pace of play the entire game until the overtime,” he said. “Our forecheck was working well at Grand Rapids and against Andover. We made small changes but it had big results in both games.
“It was one of those games where you come back in the locker room and tell the kids, ‘Hey, we did everything we could do to win.’ You want to be able to tell them you’re proud of the effort.”
It was the end of the line for Forest Lake’s eight seniors: Kohls, Franklin, VanTassel, Taylor Bisbee, Eric Herbert, JT Jurasin, Tommy Tyson and Cody Valley.
Kohls set several career records this season. He is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 130 points. With 62 career goals, he is tied with Bryan Peltier for the all-time lead. Kohls also holds the all-time assist mark with 68, thanks to a four-assist effort in his final game.
Franklin is third all-time in scoring with 115 points, fourth in goals scored with 54 and third in assists with 58. His 27 assists in 2011-12 are tied for second most in a single season.
On paper, Forest Lake was expected to score more than 3.2 goals per game, and it hoped to allow less that 3.5. In the end, it came down to inconsistency, Forsythe felt.
“When we were off, we were just very vulnerable as a team,” he said. “Unfortunately, we lost 14 games, and in about nine of those the fact was we just didn’t show up.”
The boys came to play in the postseason, though – just ask Grand Rapids or even Andover.
“I would’ve been very confident playing in the finals against Duluth East,” Forsythe said.