The 2018-2019 season is off to a great start for the Irish boys' hockey team as they stayed undefeated Thursday night with a 5-2 win at home over the Chaska Hawks. The game was a blowout with Rosemount leading 4-0 late in the second period before Chaska got on the board and penalties were plentiful with both teams combining for 10 power plays and 27 penalty minutes on 13 infractions. The irish are now 3-0 with non-conference wins over the Hawks and Bloomington Jefferson (3-2) and a South Suburban Conference victory at Eastview in a 7-6 shootout.
Grounding the Hawks
Rosemount controlled all of the first period and scored midway through the period on a 2-on-1 goal by sophomore Adam King assisted by fellow sophomore Luke Levandowski. Less than a minute later, Keith Fletcher of Chaska was given a major penalty for spearing (hitting an Irish player with his stick) and then ejected. Senior Jackson Sabo took advantage with a power-play goal a minute into the penalty, assisted by fellow seniors Max Carter and Patrick Hayes and the Irish led 2-0 after heading into the second period.
Chaska started the second period on a power play leftover from the first but could not convert. Sabo scored his second goal of the game 4 minutes, 45 seconds into the second after he deflected in a goal off of his shoulder (assisted by sophomore Joel Carlson and junior Mason Campbell). Four minutes later Carter scored from long-range with help from junior Mason Wheeler and senior Josh Klopp for a 4-0 Rosemount lead. However, Chaska got on the board 9:56 into the second period after a scramble in front of the Irish net. Rosemount led heading into the third 4-1.
Chaska cut Rosemount's lead to 4-2 midway through the third period but the Irish added an insurance goal with just over two minutes left when Levandowski scored an empty-net goal (assisted by King who returned the favor from earlier). Chaska outshot Rosemount 31-22 but the Irish had and converted the more dangerous opportunities. Rosemount also was able to convert on one of its five power play opportunities.
After the game, head coach Rick Saintey praised the play of his defense and especially junior goalie William Tollefson.
"I think a lot of our strength lies in our defense," he said. "We have a good d-core that's here, we tried to find a goalie and we found one, he's played really good for us the last couple games, he's stepped up and done exactly what we've asked him to do."
However, one spot that the Irish will need to clean up is the penalties.
"That's the one thing I'm trying to do here as a coach, as a program is trying to establish that discipline," Saintey said. "Understand the importance of staying out of the box because you can't leave a team like this on the power play because they are so high-end, teams like Eastview and Chaska can beat you if you're in the box."
The Irish had more penalties against the Hawks than they had in their wins against Eastview and Bloomington Jefferson combined (four of them).
Rosemount hosts Burnsville on Saturday, Dec. 8, and then welcomes Prior Lake on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Continuing last year's momentum
Heading into his second year as head coach of the Irish boys, Saintey said his goal is to continue what they started last season.
"It goes back to last year, trying to continue that winning culture, kids learning how to win on the road, win at home," he said. "Get some of our young guys engaged and understand how important it is to win, especially early in the season so you can understand when it comes later in the season."
Helping that progress is a solid core of returning players who saw the success the team is capable of last year.
"I think it's a huge part of our program, to get these older guys mixed in with these younger guys and understand the winning culture," Saintey said. "Get these young guys to buy in. The leadership has been tremendous, we have a great group of seniors who lead this team, our captain we rely on him a lot and he does a lot of good things for us, our assistant captains follow suit."
Through three games, he praised the play of Levandowski as a young player who has stood out. He has three goals and two assists for the Irish and is second on the team in points.
In terms of goal-setting, Saintey said that they work during the first half of the season to set themselves up for the second half after the New Year.
"We break down our groups as much as we can, our season as much as we can," he said. "Our goal for the first half of this season is to find an identity for our team. We want to make sure we find 'what are we trying to accomplish' going in the second half of the year, after the break."
In Saintey's first season (2017-2018), Rosemount had exploded for a 20-4-1 regular season record, including a 12-game winning streak in the middle of the season. They finished second in the SSC, just a half-game behind champion Eastview who they lost to three times last year but have already beaten so far this season. One of those losses to the Lightning was in the second round of the Section 3AA playoffs.