Starting an untested sophomore goaltender in a section championship hockey game had all the makings of disaster for Warroad High School coach Albert Hasbargen and his defending Minnesota Section 8A champion Warriors.
“I didn’t get any sleep last night,” Hasbargen said. “The last time I looked at the clock it was 4:30 in the morning.”
He had no choice but to start Andy Foster in Warroad’s biggest game of the season Thursday night, however. Senior goalie Shawn Storey quit the team after starting and winning in the section opener.
All Foster did was stop all 25 shots the Thief River Prowlers threw at him — 16 of them under heavy pressure in the third period — as the Warriors beat the Prowlers 2-0 to advance to the state tournament with their fourth straight section title in tow.
“His practice yesterday wasn’t very good,” Hasbargen said of Foster.
Foster was very good Thursday night in front of 2,300 fans at the EGF Civic Center, considering his opposing netminder was Zane Gothberg (24 saves), voted as the state’s best senior goalie.
Warroad’s two big offensive guns fired bullets past Gothberg.
Senior wing Brett Hebel, with his back to Gothberg, grabbed a loose puck, did a spin-o-rama move and blazed home a wrist shot from 10 feet at 6:18 of the opening period for his 26th goal of the year and a 1-0 lead.
Then Mr. Hockey finalist Brock Nelson leaped into the air just inside the blue line to grab a clearing effort late in the second period. Warroad’s scoring leader snapped a low shot just inside the post and past Gothberg at 15:29 for his 47th goal of the season.
“We just needed to get a goal somewhere, and it didn’t happen,” TRF coach Tim Bergland said. “It’s not a good feeling right now. We can hang our heads high because I thought we played hard.”
Warroad (24-4) won the most important rubber match from the Prowlers (19-8-1) after the two teams split 2-1 decisions during the regular season.
But nobody expected 16-year-old Foster to come up aces in Warroad’s most important game of the season.
Yet he was calm, cool and collected throughout. In the third period alone, he stopped Micah Ranum’s close-in attempt to stuff the puck past him, turned back Ryan Crosson’s end-to-end rush and kicked out a couple of howitzers from the left point by Jacob Malwitz.
Don’t count Foster among any doubters of his ability to perform under pressure.
“It was in my mind all the way through that if you work hard enough,” he said, “you’ll make it here.”
He made it big time Thursday.
So his dream comes true as a first-year varsity player.
“I’ve always wanted to get to state and win a section title,” Foster said.
Foster had a bead on everything the Prowlers threw at him. “They were shooting good and screening,” he said. “I just happened to see the puck. Everything turned out good.”
Warroad’s defense limited the Prowlers to nine shots on net through two periods in building a 2-0 lead. It was plenty enough to survive an onslaught of 16 shots at Foster in the third period.
“They (Warroad) played a great defensive game,” Bergland said. “We had our chances. We didn’t bury the puck. We didn’t get the breaks, or whatever cliché you want to say.”
But the bottom line is that Foster delivered the game of his life.
“That young man had a lot of pressure tonight,” Hasbargen said. “He stepped up to the challenge.”
This was the third time in the last four years Warroad has defeated Thief River Falls in the title game, and this has been the biggest margin of victory.
It’s Warroad’s 18th section title and the seventh in the last eight years.