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Boys Hockey: Hot goalie gives Northern Lakes win over Brainerd

Brainerd vs Northern Lakes Thursday, Dec. 9

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Northern Lakes goalie Ethan Kunz denies Brainerd's Kalvin Stengrim for one of his 54 saves in a 4-2 Lightning victory over the Warriors Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Despite losing the shots-on-goal battle 56-17, the Northern Lakes Lightning pulled out a 4-2 win over the Brainerd Warriors Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Essentia Health Sports Center.

Lightning goalie Ethan Kunz tallied 54 saves to lead Northern Lakes’ to a win over a Class 2A opponent.

“Ethan played a heck of a game,” Northern Lakes head coach Craig Larson said. “I think it was his first game and varsity start and you know it was a big win. Kind of a monumental win for him and certainly for our team.”

It was the first meeting between the two teams in many years and each coach agreed to play for a traveling trophy starting this year called the Lakes Area Battle Paddle.

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The Lightning's Christian Crutcher holds up the new traveling trophy called the Lakes Area Battle Paddle after the game Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. The Northern Lakes Lighting took the trophy with their win against Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“This is a rivalry that I think can come back,” Larson said. “We haven’t played each other in over 10 years and it was pretty lopsided. I think this is the first time Northern Lakes has beaten Brainerd, especially in this building. Great crowd though. Both student sections were big and active. It’s a good win for our program and it’s a good place for hockey right now for both communities.”

Warriors head coach Howie Borden said it was a fun game to be a part of.

“I think that any chance you have to grow hockey in two close communities you do it,” he said. “The lakes area needs to grow hockey, so it was a no-brainer putting them on the schedule.”

Although frustrated that more pucks didn’t go in the net, Borden said it was positive to see the Warriors around the net as much as they were.

Warriors Boys Hockey vs Northern Lakes Lightning Gallery

“It’s our first game with over 20 shots,” he said. “We ran into a hot goalie and I can take nothing away with how their goaltender played. He’s their player of the game. For us, it’s about capitalizing on other team’s mistakes and we didn’t capitalize and they did.”

Darby Boelter tallied two goals for Northern Lakes to lead the offensive effort. Max Roby scored both goals for Brainerd which was his third and four of the season.

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“Roby is very gifted offensively,” Borden said. “With the season, we’ve been challenging him on playing a 200-foot game. He’s improved on that every game.”

With a 3-1 lead headed into the third period, Boelter scored his second goal at the 5:38 mark of the period to give the Lightning a 4-1 lead.

“Darby just works his tail off,” Larson said. “He got that first one five-hole and I believe the second one was five-hole, so he’s a speed player and he gets up and down the ice well.”

Roby followed it up at the 12:44 mark with his second goal to make it 4-2, but the Warriors could not get much past the hot goalie Kunz.

Northern Lakes scored on its first shot on goal when Boelter found the net going five-hole on Warriors’ goalie Jed Klang.

The Lightning only registered three shots in the first period, but hit the post multiple times to apply pressure on Brainerd’s defense.

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Northern Lakes went up 2-0 on a power-play goal by Christian Crutcher. Prior to the goal, the Warriors had a chance to even the game shorthanded with a point-blank shot which was saved by Kunz.

Brainerd finally got one past Kunz when Roby scored with Ryan Kennedy getting the assist.

With 48 seconds left in the second period, the Lightning made it 3-1 when Zach Ehnstrom scored on a shot from the top.

“That’s a D man that runs up and gets in the play,” Larson said. “Crutcher had one earlier and then Ehnstrom got one as well and when you get two goals from your defenseman it’s a positive.”

Northern Lakes only produced nine shots on goal to Brainerd’s 34, but took a two-goal lead into the second intermission.

“We were trying really hard to score more on the rush than we were trying to set things up tonight, which was kind of planned,” Larson said. “It’s why we didn’t get many shots on goal.”

It was the first win of the season for Northern Lakes. The Lightning are coming off a season where they made the Class 1A State Tournament for the first time as a program last year.

“We’ve only played two games so far and we are 1-1,” Larson said. “We lost a game to Fergus Falls which was kind of a big one. You can’t overlook any games.”

The Warriors’ next game is against Fergus Falls Tuesday, Dec. 14.

“We have to continue to grow in every aspect of the game,” Borden said. “Right now, we just have to keep coming back with the same effort. We’ve gotten consistently better every game.”

Northern Lakes 1 2 1 — 4
Brainerd 0 1 1 — 2

First period: NL-Darby Boelter (Karter Lee) 5:17
Second period: NL-Christian Crutcher (Quady Bernu) PPG 7:23, Brd-Max Roby (Ryan Kennedy) 10:29, NL-Zach Ehnstrom (Taylor Berg, Logan Verville) 16:12
Third period: NL-Darby Boelter (Karter Lee, Zach Ehnstrom) 5:38, Brd-Max Roby (John Finnegan, Kalvin Stengrim) PPG 12:44
Shots on goal: Brd 13-22-21 56, NL 3-6-8 17
Goalies: Brd-Jed Klang (7 saves), Liam Luther (6 saves); NL-Ethan Kunz (54 saves)

Northern Lakes 4, Warriors 2

Key: Ethan Kunz made 54 saves to stop Warriors

Overall: Brd 0-4, NL 1-1.

Next: Brainerd at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14; Northern Lakes at Becker 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.

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