Rock Ridge has bowled over three opponents in the past week, including No. 12A Little Falls and No. 2A St. Cloud Cathedral. Above, Levi Flatley and Little Falls’ Kyler Schmidgall collide in Rock Ridge’s 2-1 win. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

Rock Ridge road trip raises eyebrows

One year after making the jump from Class A to AA, Rock Ridge is rockin’ and rollin’ along after a three-win week that saw them beat Section 7AA foe Duluth Denfeld, No. 12A Little Falls and No. 2A St. Cloud Cathedral.

The wins improved their record to 6-1-0 on the season. In those six wins they have allowed one goal or less five times.  Their lone loss came against No. 3A Warroad 6-2.

“We stress defense all the time,” said Rock Ridge Head Coach Ben Johnson, in his third year at Rock Ridge and coming off an 18-9-1 season.

Last Tuesday they battled Duluth Denfeld, who has also been making noise in what has turned out to be a very competitive section 7AA. The section has belonged to Andover the past three seasons, and while they are still the favorites, they are 4-4-0 to start the season and the likes of Grand Rapids, Denfeld and Rock Ridge are loitering in the lobby waiting for the door to open.

Rock Ridge and Denfeld battled hard before the Wolverines broke a 1-1 tie with third-period goals by Zac Norberg and Kasey Lamppa. Lamppa, a 6’2” senior, has 13 goals and 19 points on the season. But it was the defense and goaltending that has been the calling card for the Wolverines. Senior netminder Ryan Rothfork stopped 24 shots against the Hunters including 10 in the third period.

On Friday night they traveled to Little Falls and outplayed the Flyers, outshooting them 37-26. After a scoreless first period Little Falls went up on a goal by Aaron Marod, but Rock Ridge got a pair of goals from Caz Carlson, both assisted by Lamppa for a 2-1 lead. Rothfork did the rest, holding the Flyers scoreless in the third on 10 shots. He finished with 25 saves.

Ryan Rothfork has been stellar in goal for the Wolverines. He has a 1.67 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The Wolverines carried their momentum into Saturday’s tilt as they headed down Highway 10 to St. Cloud to take on No. 2 St. Cloud Cathedral. Cathedral had won six straight, including a 3-2 win over Warroad and a 5-2 win over previously No.1-ranked East Grand Forks.

But the Wolverines proved up to the task, breaking a 3-3 with two goals late in the third period for a 5-3 win.

“Our game plan was to outwork them and stay disciplined,” said Johnson. “We know they are good and their top line is as good as any line in the state.”

It took just 16 seconds for Brant Tiedeman to put the Wolverines up 1-0.

“We scored the first shift of the game,” said Johnson. “That definitely gives our guys confidence when they can strike first.”

But Cathedral’s top line answered when John Hirschfeld tied the score at the 3:11 mark. But Rock Ridge took advantage of a slashing penalty and Sam Troutwine capitalized with a goal at 16:39 assisted by Carlson and Lamppa.

Cathedral struck again in the second with Hirschfeld netting his second of the day with Andrew Dwinnell assisting. But Troutwine answered with his second of the game and season, again on the power play, and again assisted by Lamppa for a 3-2 Wolverine lead after two periods.

The Crusaders tied it again a little over five minutes into the third when Cole Hwang scored, assisted by Landon Swenson. It stayed tied for the next seven minutes until Grady Dimberio scored his third goal of the season for a 4-3 Rock Ridge lead.

Rory Cope-Robinson races up ice in Rock Ridge’s win over Little Falls. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

They took a 5-3 lead at the 15:55 mark with their third power play goal of the game with Carlson scoring and Lamppa assisting. The Crusaders had 14 penalties on the day giving Rock Ridge 11 power play opportunities. Three players were given misconduct penalties. Cathedral netminder Nick Hansen was also injured at the 12-minute mark of the first period and did not return. Blake Keyser came into the game and made 17 saves.

In the end it was defense, once again, won the day for the Wolverines. Johnson said his team has bought into playing within a strong defensive mindset focused on shutting down the top lines of the opposition.

“It takes hard work to play that way,” he said. “We are striving to keep getting better defensively.”

The Crusaders suffered their first loss and fell to 6-1-1 on the season. They will battle No. 4 Orono on Tuesday in St. Cloud. Rock Ridge (6-1-0) will return home after a huge week and host Superior.

Johnson said the team entered the week with the mindset of it being a playoff series and trying to get two out of three. In what could have easily been an 0-3 week, however, turned into a 3-0 week. With a relatively young roster, it should be a good boost for a team that is off to a good start.

“Every ounce of confidence they can get will only help these young players as the season progresses,” said Johnson. “We don’t have those high-end Division I players that can change the game. Our kids have to play as a team and they have to work hard.”

 

 

Rock Ridge players had a lot to celebrate last week with three wins to improve to 6-1-0 on the season. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

 

Rock Ridge senior Ian Mikulich and Little Falls’ Carter Wilmes battle in the corner. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE