White Bear Lake skated past Stillwater Wednesday night to advance to the Section 4AA final where they will try to dethrone Hill-Murray who has won the past four titles. LPH PHOTO BY BRENNAN SCHACHTNER

Historic rivals to face off for Section 4AA crown

It’s a movie we have seen plenty of times before: Hill-Murray versus White Bear Lake in front of a packed house at Aldrich Arena. The mighty Pioneers with their tradition and history of state tournament appearances and championships against the always tough Bears with a talent-rich program of their own — 20 state tournament appearances, and a strong hockey tradition. It is certainly not considered a David going up against a Goliath. But history repeats itself in that these two programs seemingly show up more often than not in the Section 4AA final game at Aldrich Arena with everything on the line. When they do, Hill-Murray has held the edge, winning 16 of the past 23 contests.

Top seed Hill-Murray ran over Gentry Academy in the section semifinals, coming back after being down 2-0 to win 4-2.

The Pioneers are winners of the past four section titles. The Bears’ last trip to state was in 2019 when they beat the Pioneers 3-2. The following year the Pioneers returned the favor with a 3-2 section final win and then won back-to-back-section titles in 2021 and 2022 by scores of 5-0.

Last season White Bear Lake had the top seed, but fell to Gentry Academy 5-1. Hill-Murray, despite a .500 record, beat Gentry to advance to the state tournament where they lost to eventual state champion Minnetonka 4-3 in overtime in the quarterfinals.

This year’s Hill-Murray team brings back most everyone off last year’s squad, yet they don’t have the star or scoring power they usually have. There is no Mr. Hockey or Reed Larson Award finalists, no potential NHL draft picks, and it isn’t a roster full of Division I commits. But they do have a deep roster of skilled, capable players, and sometimes sharing the scoring load bodes well for winning games. Boden Sampair leads the team with 21 goals and 20 assists. Landon Cottingham might not be a Reed Larson Award nominee this year, but there’s a good chance he will be next year. The junior blueliner has 10 goals and 30 points. Seven more Pioneers have at least 20 points.

White Bear Lake counters with Mr. Hockey candidate and St. Cloud State commit Nolan Roed. Roed, the younger brother of Hobey Baker candidate Lleyton Roed (Bemidji State), is having a strong season with 32 goals in 27 games and 55 points. He has five points in the first two games of the section playoffs including two snipes against Stillwater in the semifinals where the Bears avenged a 5-0 loss to the Ponies earlier this season with a convincing 5-1 win. In their regular season finale against Cretin-Derham Hall, Roed tallied four goals and an assist in a 5-3 win.

White Bear Lake has plenty of firepower in their offense.

 

But it isn’t a one-man show in White Bear Lake. Will Distad, Dylan Beutow, Tyler Lalonde, Jack Stanius and Maverick Timmons are all capable of lighting the lamp and have done so all season, just not at the clip of their teammate Roed

Where White Bear Lake is really strong is in goal where junior netminder Leo Gabriel has posted seven shutouts on the season and a .923 save percentage. As was witnessed in Edina last evening with Chanhassen’s Kam Hendrickson against Minnetonka, goaltending this time of year can be the make or break difference when two good teams face off against each other.

Hill-Murray counters with Andrew Lane, a senior captain with a .891 save percentage and 14 wins on the season.

White Bear Lake will be searching for their first state title in school history despite being to the tournament 20 times. That road always goes through Hill-Murray, who more often than not have put up road blocks to keep the Bears at bay.

Simon Seidl is one of several key players in a strong nd balanced Hill-Murray offense. LPH PHOTO BY BRENNAN SCHACHTNER

Yes, it is a movie we have seen many times before, two formidable foes dueling it out as their faithful followers hang on every dangle, pass, shot and score.

It is one of the best rivalries in high school hockey, which is why the game reportedly sold out online in just seven minutes.

While the section script up to this point has been somewhat predictable, you just never know if there will be a surprise ending and what team will come out on top.

Get your popcorn ready. This should be a good one.

Semifinal Results

Gentry Academy’s Justin O’Brochta gets behind a Hill-Murray defender to break in on goal in the semifinals. LPH HOTO BY BRENNAN SCHACHTNER

Hill-Murray 4, Gentry Academy 2

Gentry Academy scored twice during a five-minute major penalty and led 2-1 with six minutes left before top-seeded Hill-Murray scored three unanswered goals to escape with a 4-2 win over the No. 4-seeded Stars.

Justin O’Brochta and Ryder Betzold both scored during the five-minute major and had opportunities to net a third and go up 3-0. But the first period ended 2-0 in favor of the Stars despite the Pioneers outshooting them 19-7.

Hill’s Caden Zasada scored the lone goal of the second period, and the first 11 minutes of the third went by without a goal as the Pioneers trailed 2-1 with time ticking away and a possible upset on the table.

But a cross-checking penalty gave the Pioneers the power play they needed and Boden Sampair took advantage with his 21st goal of the season to tie it 2-2 with 5:58 left to go. Just under three minutes later Sampair assisted on the go-ahead goal by Chaz Lentz, his 12th, as the Pioneers clung to a 3-2 lead. Lucas Mann added an empty net goal to secure the 4-2 win.

Hill-Murray, as has been tradition in 4AA, will face White Bear Lake Friday at Aldrich where they will seek their fifth straight section title and eighth in the past nine seasons. White Bear Lake defeated Stillwater 5-1 Wednesday.

Nolan Roed has 32 goals and 55 points and is a Mr. Hockey Finalist. LPH PHOTO BY BRENNAN SCHACHTNER

White Bear Lake 5, Stillwater 1

Three goals in the first period was too much for Stillwater to come back from as White Bear Lake advanced to the section finals with a 5-1 win Tyler Lalonde, Will Distad and Nolan Roed all scored for the Bears. Distad’s goal was short handed.

Stillwater’s Luke Meyers scored the lone goal of the second period, and that was all the Ponies would get past Leo Gabriel all evening as the j junior turned away 28 shots to preserve the win.

Blake Ekerle added an insurance goal in the third and Roed notched his 32nd of the season for good measure into an empty net for the 5-1 win, pitting the Bears against their arch rival Hill-Murray in the section finals.

Tanner Olsen and Jack Stanius each added a pair of assists for the Bears.

Stillwater finished their season with a 15-10-2 record and will graduate just four seniors.