HDM: Freshman plays hero in St. Paul Johnson’s 6-5 win over Luverne

St. Paul Johnson defeated Luverne 6-5 on Saturday at Holman Field.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Growing up on the East side of the Twin Cities, St. Paul Johnson defenseman Carl Fish used to replicate this scenario on the ice at neighborhood rinks around the capital city.

"I didn’t have a rink in my backyard, but I would go up to parks," Fish said. "I’d recreate moments of going to (the state tournament) and getting the game-winning goal."

They’re pipe dreams shared among many young, impressionable Minnesotans. Saturday, on one of the state’s biggest stages — and an outdoor one, no less — Fish’s came to fruition.

Fish’s heavy wrist shot from the right point found the back netting at Holman Field’s temporary, refrigerated rink with 1 minute, 2 seconds left, giving the Governors a 6-5 win against Luverne in one of Hockey Day Minnesota’s wildest clashes yet. Johnson (11-5-1) won its fourth straight game despite blowing a 5-1, second-period lead.

"Boy, that third period was a classic, huh?," said Governors coach Moose Younghans, a St. Paul lifer himself, whose club improved to 2-1 all-time in Hockey Day matchups. "We’re still alive, and we’re hoping we can build on that for the rest of the year."

Traditional St. Paul power Johnson and southwest Minnesota up-and-comer Luverne (16-3-0) — which played in its first state tournament last season — tied the second-highest-scoring game in Hockey Day history while playing in the middle of the active St. Paul Downtown Airport tarmac. Most of the onslaught came in the second frame, as Johnson built a four-goal lead on markers from Fish (two goals), Tyler Willier, Justin Howell, Christian Sanda and Connor Busse.

After a scoreless first period, the Cardinals had taken a 1-0 lead on a goal by Chaz Smedsrud, the state’s leading scorer. Early in the scoring onslaught, which included four goals in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the frame, Luverne had a goal disallowed.

Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 Coverage

Busse’s goal came during a 5-on-3 due to simultaneous Luverne penalties. The Cardinals, averaging more than eight goals per game, were put in a spot they’re not used to while playing in their corner of Minnesota, where the competition isn’t as deep, coach Derrick Brown said.

"Usually, we’re up 5-1," said Brown, whose team ranks 15th in Let’s Play Hockey’s Class 2A poll. "It’s bittersweet. We’re pretty upset right now. But, overall, the experience was great. It was huge for our program. We were thrilled to be here."

And Luverne, making its Hockey Day debut, didn’t fold. Andrew Verhey sandwiched a pair of goals around Nick Behrend’s score at the 14:55 mark, and Nick Harder tied things up after a slick setup from highly touted freshman Jaxon Nelson.

It was 5-5 with less than four minutes to go.

But then, on a day when the Governors wore camouflage jerseys and socks, players entered the ice from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, and a reporter-estimated 2,000 fans gathered to celebrate the Minnesota National Guard and the rest of the American military, the only freshman on Johnson’s roster served as the hero.

"It’s sensational," said Fish, who took a pass from Willier and threw it at the net, watching it bang off the post and in. Luverne’s bench clamored for a no-goal with a Johnson player in the crease, but the officials ruled he’d been incidentally pushed there. "I always dreamed about it, but never thought it would happen. When they said we were going to play at Hockey Day, I thought it might come true, and here it is."

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