By Joe Tischler Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — It’s fair to say, the Mankato West boys’ hockey team has enjoyed playing at All Seasons Arena so far this season. In four prior home games, the Scarlets outscored their opponents 32-2 in facing all Big Nine Conference foes.
A tough non-conference test came to All Seasons Arena Saturday night, a New Prague team that will look to battle the Scarlets for a section championship come playoff time.
Casey Busch’s goal with 29 seconds remaining stunned the Scarlets as they dropped their first home game of the season 2-1 to the Trojans.
“This is an eye opener,” said West coach Curtis Doell. “We’ve got to figure out how to play 51 minutes of hockey. We can’t expect to play ten, eight minutes of hockey every game and win 6, 7-0 every time.”
This was an evenly played game indicative of the teams’ rankings in the Class A polls. The No. 6 Scarlets and the No. 12 Trojans proved that these two are the main contenders for the section championship.
“Credit to them, they’re a great hockey team,” said West senior defenseman Max Mettler. “We just have to work on the little things better. Every practice has to be top notch. Little things is what coach has been preaching.”
The game was scoreless heading into the second and despite an early offensive onslaught from New Prague, it was West that scored first. Christian Klemme had a nice pass to Mettler in front of the net that he backhanded past Trojans’ netminder Conner Wagner for a 1-0 lead 7:34 into the period.
New Prague countered quickly as Austin Kilian went five-hole on Scarlets’ goalkeeper Conor Wollenzien on the power play to even the score at one at the 9:12 mark.
The high-powered West offense has is known for scoring a lot of shots on net. Saturday night, New Prague held the Scarlets to only 16 shots on goal for the entire game.
“They (New Prague) gave up 16 shots on goal,” said Doell. “We have close to 16 shots on goal per period. They did the little things right. They didn’t turn over the puck.”
The game seemed destined to go to overtime until Busch’s shot from just inside the blue line lofted past Wollenzien for the game winner.
New Prague brought a quality of competition that the Scarlets had yet to see at home this season and even though they lost, this could prove to be good for them come playoff time.
“It’s good to have a little competition, but with that being said, you can’t take the easy teams lightly,” said Mettler. “You’ve got to keep going and going and prepare for games like this.”
West (11-2) next plays Tuesday against Rochester Lourdes at 7:30 p.m. at All Seasons Arena.