ST. PAUL -- Despite a pushing out to a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, No. 3-seeded East Grand Forks Senior High fell victim to a No. 2 Gentry Academy comeback, losing 5-3 on Friday in the semifinal round of the Minnesota state Class A boys hockey tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.
East Grand Forks faced a tall task in defeating Gentry Academy as the Stars held a record of 17-0 coming into the matchup and had not given up more than three goals in a single game this year. Head coach Tyler Palmiscno and his squad knew that coming in and throughout the day.
“We were obviously the underdog and it would have been an upset. We did everything we needed to do through two (periods). We managed pucks well and made them uncomfortable when they had pucks. Then in the third their skill guys just made some plays,” he said.
The Green Wave struggled to come out of their own end in the early minutes, as a combination of quick Gentry offense and suffocating defense in transition limited the space for East Grand Forks.
Then came a break for EGF. Sophomore Jaksen Panzer collected the remnants of a broken Gentry breakout and scored on an odd-man rush. The goal sent a jolt through the Green Wave bench.
Shortly after came a power play opportunity after Tanner Lubinski was hauled down on a partial breakaway. With numbers, East Grand Forks was able to work with the puck and get back to a game with which they were more comfortable.
The hard work paid off and they caught Gentry with just one defender back again. This time it was Trey Ausmus who came away with the power play marker.
“I thought we had a good gameplan. I thought we executed it really well for the better part of that game,” Palmiscno said.
Holding a 2-0 lead, it was the largest deficit Gentry Academy had faced all year.
Then the Stars caught a break of their own. Logan Spencer went to the box for slashing with 57 seconds remaining in the opening period. No more than 20 seconds later, Barrett Hall floated a backhand past Cole Quirk on the rush and cut the Green Wave lead to 2-1.
Opening up the second frame, the Green Wave showed no signs of slowing down. Just under three minutes into the period, Ausmus unloaded from the point and Gentry goalie Alex Timmons was not quick enough, making it 3-1 East Grand Forks.
“Our goal was to pressure,” said Palmiscno. “That’s what we’ve done all year is be aggressive and pressure. I thought we did a good job staying above pucks coming back through the ice. They didn’t have very many outnumbered situations."
Restoring the two-goal lead proved to be crucial. Minutes later a shot from Shane Dean found its way past Quirk and brought the score to 3-2 with 11 minutes left in the second.
The setback had the Green Wave scrambling for a few minutes, but they gained their composure in the latter half of the middle period.
Despite carrying the man-advantage into the third period, it would be Gentry to find the edge right away, Hall’s second of the game, a shorthanded marker, came less than a minute into the third and tied the game 3-3.
“I thought their defensemen got really good in the third period,” Palmiscno said. “They drew us in a little bit and they were very poised with pucks. We did everything we could.
“At this point in the season, you just want to finish with your best effort. I can’t fault our players one bit. We left it on the ice and played extremely hard. They did everything we asked of them all year. Not much else we could have done.”
From there East Grand Forks could not find the offensive spark it had in the first two periods. Lanes closed again in transition and their defensive zone collapsed.
After extensive pressure, Andrew Mosley jumped on a loose puck and converted on a two-on-one, giving the Stars a 4-3 lead.
Then, a hectic shift brought three separate opportunities for Nick Sajevic to score and he did not miss on the third. His one-timer buzzed by Quirk from the slot and doubled the Gentry lead, 5-3. The tables were now fully turned.
A push from the Green Wave with the goalie pulled was too little, too late.
East Grand Forks ends their season with a 14-9 record with Landon Parker, Panzer and Ausmus leading the team with 45, 36 and 33 points, respectively. Fortunately, EGF has been in this situation before and trusts that it can make it back.
“I liked our leadership all year. Our seniors were dialed in from the start when we struggled but we kept getting better. It is unfortunate that we lost today because we were playing our best hockey of the year and that’s all you can do,” Palmiscno said.