New Richmond and Somerset seem to always play close, action packed hockey games.
That was the case again on Thursday at the Somerset Ice Arena. The Spartans scored first, but New Richmond scored twice, two minutes apart in the second period, to earn a 2-1 victory. The win moves New Richmond to 3-1 in the Middle Border Conference standings while Somerset slips to 1-3. The Tigers play at MBC leader Amery on Thursday, when the Spartans will be playing at the Northwest Icemen.
Somerset scored its goal in the first period, but that’s when the Spartans missed their chance to take control of the game. The Spartan goal came with 5:42 left in the first period. Sophomore Antonio Gomez pressured a New Richmond defender into a turnover in the Tigers’ zone. Gomez dropped a pass to A.J. Simpkins, who skated in full speed to beat Tiger goalie Blake Milton. It was the only one of Somerset’s 25 shots to get past Milton.
The Spartans’ chances were hurt when Gomez suffered a knee injury late in the second period and wasn’t able to return.
Both coaches recognized that the first period was Somerset’s window of opportunity.
“That first period, if we could have capitalized on our chances, we could have had a two, three or four goal lead,” said Somerset coach Dan Gilkerson.
New Richmond coach Zach Kier ventured “maybe in the first period we were too amped. We were throwing the puck around. We just weren’t clicking.”
The Tigers were turning the puck over so frequently that one of the team members yelled at his teammates that “this isn’t the Oprah Show and they can’t be giving everything away.”
In the second period the Tigers gradually began to gain momentum. Somerset goalie Kaleb Bents was giving up very few rebounds, but the Tigers finally got ahold of one with three minutes left in the period. Caden McDonald put a shot on goal from the left circle. Ryder Flatten fought through several Spartan defenders to get the rebound for the tying goal.
The Tigers were called for a penalty a minute later. Perhaps the best facet of the Tigers’ game Tuesday was its penalty kill. Tiger sophomore Sam Olson got the puck in the Spartan and skated around the perimeter of the Spartans’ zone. He came off the left boards and fired a shot that just got above the catching glove of Somerset goalie Kaleb Bents and under the crossbar.
Kier said the penalty kill is an aspect the team believes is a strength.
“We teach them to be aggressive. We try to force people to make mistakes,” Kier said.
One change the Spartans unveiled was moving leading scorer Beaudee Smith back to defense. Gilkerson said the team needed an older presence to help on the breakout, leading to the move. He said it will also mean that Smith will be on the ice approximately 75 percent of each game.