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Jacks Sweep Peoria

The Lumberjacks picked up two wins over the weekend against the Peoria Mustangs. With the wins the Lumberjacks record improves to 7-1-2 on the season.

Friday 6-3 Win
Lumberjacks head coach Brad Willner posted his 400th win as the Lumberjacks doubled up the Mustangs. Six different players scored for Granite City including Ryan Smith, Logan Neu, Cole Buhl, Brandon Bissett, Brady Dahl and Lucas Carroll. Assisting on the goals were Braden Altena (3), Ryan Smith, Logan Nue, Will Mix, Keenan Lund, Andrej Jamnicky, Ben Haugo and Matthew Sprink.

Saturday 4-0 Win
David Mulligan stopped all 22 shots that came his way for the shutout and four different players scored for the Lumberjacks win as Lucas Carroll, Owen Sikich, Logan Neu and Ryan Smith all scored goals. Assisting on the goals were Justin Carlson (2), Eric Moser, Jack Petroske, Will Mix, Andrej Jamnicky and Matthew Sprink.

Lumberjacks Fall in OT to Alexandria

 

The Granite City Lumberjacks jumped out to an early 3-0 lead midway through the 1st period Saturday night in Alexandria but could not hold on at the Alexandria Blizzard down the Lumberjacks in overtime.  Lumberjacks goals were scored by Tucker Bjorlin, Owen Sikich and Will Mix.  Assists went to Casey Esselman, Matthew Sprink, Braden Altena and Cole Buhl.

Lumberjacks are back in action Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, against the Peoria Mustangs.  Both start times are 7:30pm at the Armadillo Deck Arena at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids.

Trio of former Jacks aim to star with NAHL’s Austin Bruins

One is from Texas, the son of a former pro basketball player. A second was ready to quit hockey a year ago. A third chose to bypass his senior year of high school hockey and has seen the decision pay off.

All three used the Granite City Lumberjacks as a springboard to the North American Hockey League, where this fall they’re likely to be teammates and key players for the Austin Bruins.

Suffice it to say Michael Piehler, Robbie Goor and Travis Kothenbeutel have jumped from the Jacks into status as Division I college prospects, and that’s more than many people might’ve thought even a short time ago.

“All three of them are great players,” Granite City coach and general manager Brad Willner said, talking about some of his most promising alumni heading into the 2016-17 season. “Travis is a real competitor and he works so hard that you knew good things were going to happen for him. Robbie was almost too good to be at our level. And Michael came to us as a raw talent and he really found his groove.”

They’re excellent examples, Willner says, of how the Lumberjacks can take a player who might feel his career is on the fringes of playing in college or beyond and give them the opportunity to target the teams that will help get them there.

The three Lumberjacks-turned-Bruins all took a different path to the same destination.

Piehler is from Plano, Texas, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Dallas. When he was born in 1996, the area didn’t resonate much when it came to producing hockey players. But Piehler is an example, perhaps, of the impact of the Minnesota North Stars’ relocation to Texas and how it has sparked interest in playing the game despite the Lone Star State’s history of producing football and baseball talent, especially.

And, for Piehler, whose father, David, played basketball at Southern Methodist and had a preseason stint with the Dallas Mavericks, choosing hockey went against family history. Not only is Michael’s father the boys basketball coach at Highland Park (Texas) High School, but Michael’s older brother played for him. Yet, when it was time to decide what he wanted to do, Michael chose hockey.

“I guess I went to so many basketball games that I got tired of the sport,” said Piehler, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward who will turn 20 in October. “I still play a little basketball sometimes, and I help out at my dad’s basketball camp during the summer. But hockey is what I want to play.”

Piehler played three seasons (2012-15) in the North American Prospects Hockey League, totaling 10 goals and 4 assists and 90 penalty minutes in 49 games for three different Dallas-area midget-level teams. He went to several NAHL camps last year, expecting to advance, and his confidence took a hit when he didn’t make a team right away.

“We’d seen him play in midget showcases and we liked him, so we tendered him,” Willner said of Piehler. “He didn’t light it up in midget, though, and I know it was hard for him when he didn’t make the team in Minot. I knew he was flying out of the Twin Cities on a Sunday and I got the chance to meet with him and his mom. Then, when I was in Dallas for our league meetings, I had lunch with his dad. I told them we’d move him up if we could and to give us a chance.”

They did, and that was all Piehler needed to impress Bruins coach/GM Kyle Grabowski and his staff. Piehler scored 25 points (14 goals/11 assists) in 21 games with the Lumberjacks before moving up. He scored 13 points (7 g/6 a) in 30 games the rest of the way for Austin. He also added an assist in a playoff win over Bismarck.

“He was our top scorer when he went up,” Willner said. “But it’s about more than wins and losses for us. Michael’s got a blistering shot and can beat goalies clean with his snap shot. He’s a big body and can lay people out. He’s the type of player we’re looking for, someone we can move up.”

And Piehler says it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t come to Granite City.

“It’s a whole different experience from what I was used to and it’s a great place to play,” Piehler said. “In junior hockey, it’s like you’re a pro. You go to the rink every day and practice and then get ready for games. They put an emphasis on me shooting the puck and (Willner) and his staff did a great job teaching me and perfecting the skills I already had. I built a lot of confidence with them and my teammates, and the fact that I was able to stay with Austin is something I owe to Granite City.”

Goor can probably say he owes his career to the Lumberjacks. A 6-3, 200-pound goalie from Anoka, he had a decent year in 2014-15 with the Twin City Steel, going 15-8-2 with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. However, he wanted a change the following season and initially went to camp with the NAHL’s Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets before landing with the Minnesota Iron Rangers of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.

“I was living at home and I wanted to move out and be on my own,” Goor said. “I was in the SIJHL for a week or two and I realized the living arrangements weren’t going to be up to par, so I basically quit for about a week. I told my dad I was going to go to college.”

He probably would have enrolled at Anoka-Ramsey Community College if not for a call from the Lumberjacks.

“They tried talking me out of it but I wasn’t budging,” Goor said. “They told me I’d regret it. Then someone called my dad and he came to me and said ‘I know hockey is your dream. Go chase it.’ ”

It didn’t take long in Granite City for Goor to show someone had missed on identifying his talent. He went 6-0-0 in 6 games with a 1.50 GAA and .936 save percentage before the Bruins called him up.

“Robbie was really too good to be at our level,” Willner said. “He came to us and was lights-out. He got called up and we never saw him again. But that’s OK. He’s a great kid and he’s still in contact with a lot of our boys and remains friends with players he was with for just a short time.”

During an off weekend with Austin, Goor even came back to Granite City and traveled on the team bus for a playoff trip.

“I’ve never been part of a team like that,” Goor said. “It was like a great big family. Brad’s one of the best coaches I’ve had and I had a blast there. It turned my game around.”

Goor was 5-5-0 with a 2.73 GAA and a .901 save percentage with the Bruins last year, primarily in a backup role to Kristofer Carlson, who has moved on to play college hockey at Providence. Goor feels his career is back on track, thanks to the short time he spent in Granite City.

“I knew I could play at the NAHL level, I just needed someone to give me a chance,” Goor said. “The Lumberjacks changed the way I look at the game. I tell people, ‘Don’t dog the NA3.’ I’m a perfect example. There are people in that league who can play. My ultimate goal is to play Division I or pro hockey or even Division III – just to play as long as I can.”

Willner believes Kothenbeutel, who played with the Lumberjacks from 2013-15, also has become a D-I prospect. He played before and after his junior season at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School, posting 20 points (10 g/10 a) in 24 games in 2013-14. In 2014-15, he chose to stay with the Jacks all season and scored 43 points (15 g/28 a) in 40 games. Kothenbeutel, who is 5-10, 165, was plus-28 in Granite City.

“He’s got Division I potential,” Willner said. “All Travis needs is to mature and get stronger and more developed.”

Kothenbeutel got a taste of the NAHL with the Bruins in 2014-15, scoring 5 points (3 g/2 a) in 8 games. Last season, he had 17 points (7 g/10 a) in 44 games.

“I learned a lot with the Lumberjacks that was important,” he said. “It’s a harder game when you move up. There are little things you might get away with in high school that won’t fly at the next level. In juniors, a lot of times a third line is as good as a team’s first. You don’t see that in high school and it was really important for me to get a chance to play with some of the guys I did for Granite City.”

Kothenbeutel was one of the top five scorers for the Jacks in 2014-15. Two of the others were David Kenney and Tanner Skaja, both of whom went to St. Cloud Technical High School and grew up in a different youth program.

“You never think you’re going to get to play with some of those good players you know from other schools, and that helped me a lot as a player, too,” Kothenbeutel said. “The situation wasn’t right for me to stay in high school my senior year and I became a stronger player with the Lumberjacks.”

While he didn’t play with them at Granite City, Kothenbeutel recognizes similar ability in Piehler and Goor.

“Michael is a great offensive player and Robbie always gives you the chance to win,” Kothenbeutel said. “Those guys are going to make a name for themselves, just watch.”

Quartet of Lumberjacks step up to college hockey this season

Heading into their 10th anniversary season, the Granite City Lumberjacks have averaged about four players per season moving on to play in college. So, not surprisingly, that was exactly the number from last season’s team that committed to schools for 2016-17.

Forward Adam Marty and defenseman Tyler Mros are headed to Bethel University, which already has had five Lumberjacks alumni play at the school – the most for any college that has recruited talent from Granite City.

Meanwhile, forward Tommy Hall is headed to Hamline University and defenseman Kevin Finley is moving on to Midland (Nebraska) University. Hall becomes the first Lumberjack to attend Hamline and Finley is the third Jack to attend Midland.

All four players played significant roles for Granite City last season, and three of the four were on the team in 2015, when the Jacks won the NA3HL’s Silver Cup.

Mros (a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, lefthanded shot) dominated on defense last season, scoring 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists) in 45 regular-season games.

“Playing for the Lumberjacks was the best decision of my life so far,” said Mros, last year’s captain, who is from Big Lake and turns 21 this September. “I went to Monticello High School and our team (combined with players from Annandale and Maple Lake) didn’t have the greatest reputation. I went to play junior hockey in Canada, but I hurt my shoulder after a couple of months. The Lumberjacks gave me a chance to get healthy and it didn’t take me long to see how the whole organization is like a family. It’s something special.”

Mros was more of a role player with the Lumberjacks in 2014-15. He delivered 8 points (2 g/6 a) and was plus-14 in 29 games. But winning a Silver Cup launched him on a second season that included a plus-20 rating. He also excelled at special teams as 10 of his points came on the power play (2 g/8 a) and he set up a short-handed goal.

“When we won the Silver Cup, I was like ‘Whoa, that flew by,’ ” said Mros, who is considering a biology/pre-med major at Bethel. “A couple of good buddies from that team went to Bethel (sophomore center Dallas Marvin and sophomore goalie Jesse Garcia), and I know now that I needed the extra time with the Lumberjacks to mature and be on my own. If I’d gone straight to college out of high school, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.”

Marty (5-11, 170, LH) went through a similar development with Granite City. Despite being the all-time leading scorer from his high school in Somerset, Wisconsin, he had an up-and-down rookie season with 7 points (2 g/5 a) and a minus-1 rating in 34 games.

“I did my research on where I could go and play and you can see that the Lumberjacks have had a great record the past couple of years,” Marty said. “Playing on teams like that were key for me to get a chance to play in college.”

Marty scored 26 points (13 g/13 a) in 46 games last season. He also finished plus-6 and had 8 power-play points (3 g/5 a) and 3 while short-handed (2 g/1 a).

“My first year, I was just fighting for a spot in the lineup,” said Marty, who will be 21 in December. “As you get older, your confidence level goes up. Last season, the coaches who scouted our games saw what I can do in tough situations.”

In addition to Marvin and Garcia, Mros and Marty will another former Lumberjack, junior forward Taylor Brown, with the Royals. Marvin (4 g/12 a) was third in scoring last season with the Royals. Garcia was their No. 1 goalie.

This coming season, they’re all likely to go head-to-head in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference against Hall, who’ll play for St. Cloud native and former Minnesota Gophers forward Cory Laylin with the Pipers.

Hall (5-7, 160, LH) played at St. Cloud Cathedral before embarking on a junior career during his senior season. He played for three other NA3HL teams before joining Granite City for 13 games last season. He averaged a point per game (5 g/8 a), was plus-7 and totaled 40 PIM.

“I got traded three times and I was kind of upset by the time I got (to Granite City),” said Hall, 20, who previously played for the North Iowa Bulls, Alexandria Blizzard and Minnesota Wilderness the past two seasons. “But I fit in well during the time I was there. And I’m going into college with confidence because of what I learned from (Lumberjacks coach and general manager) Brad Willner. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He taught me a lot about mental preparation and he’s a nice guy. But he holds you accountable, too.”

In 76 career regular-season games in the NA3HL, Hall had 47 points (15 g/32 a) and was plus-32 with 94 PIM. He’s looking forward to trying to replicate that at Hamline, which in 2017 will practice and play home games in the new Minnesota Wild practice facility.

The Pipers produced two All-Americans last season in forwards Brandon Zurn and Charlie Adams, both of whom signed minor-pro hockey contracts immediately after Hamline was eliminated from postseason play.

One way or another, Hall could follow in their path to pro sports.

“I’m excited about Hamline because it’s a good program and they have the major I wanted,” said Hall, who plans to go into sports management with a business minor. “I’ve already been able to work at some camps this summer with (Laylin). I can’t wait to get going.”

Finally, Finley (6-2, 200, RH) is from Alexandria and played 72 regular-season games for the Lumberjacks during the past two seasons. He totaled 24 points (3 g/21 a), was plus-36 and had 108 PIM.

“Playing with Granite City allowed me to mature as a hockey player,” Finley said. “They have a great staff. I can’t say enough about what they did for me. I always thought the biggest jump in hockey was from bantams to high school, but now I think it’s from high school to juniors. You’re on your own and it’s basically your job to play. I needed to see what that was like in order to get this opportunity.”

With the Warriors, who went 16-12-8 last season, Finley likely will get a chance to stand out. Midland coach Jason Cirone, who previously coached in the NA3HL, calls Finley a “big-body defenseman,” and someone who “will make us harder to play against.”

“(Finley) comes from an organization (Granite City) that wins, and that will rub off on our guys and make us a better team,” Cirone said.

Finley plans to major in business at Midland, a Division I program in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

“They treat it as a varsity sport,” Finley said of the school in Fremont, Nebraska. “It has a nice feel.”

The Lumberjacks will begin figuring out who will replace the four college prospects when training camp opens at the end of July.

“(Mros) was a shutdown defenseman who could quarterback the power play, walk across the top of the zone and get shots through,” Willner said. “(Marty) was a great two-way forward and we parked him in front of the net on the power play. (Finley) has grown a lot, has great offensive skill and can just hammer the puck. And (Hall) is an agitator to play against. He scored some big goals for us in the last minute of games where he’d come down and rifle one over the goalie’s shoulder. When he turns it on he can be dynamic.”

Replacing those four will be key if the Lumberjacks hope to continue their success in the NA3HL. During 2011-12, they had the second-best record in the league, won the West Division title and eventually the playoff championship, too. From 2012-14, only two league teams had better records each season. After winning the Silver Cup in 2015, the ‘Jacks missed a chance to defend it in 2016 and have their sights set on a return in 2017 – perhaps with the help of a few more future collegians.

Twin City wins tough contest against Granite City, 3-2

In a game where neither team could get a cushion, Twin City escaped with a 3-2 victory over Granite City.

No lead was more than one goal during the contest, and the winning goal was scored by Yannick Zehnder at 17:37 of the second period.

The win by Twin City clinched the best of three series at 2-0.

Alex Egle was all over the ice for Twin City, as he registered two goals in the win. Egle\’s tallies came at 18:36 into the first period to make the score 1-0 Twin City and 1:44 into the second to make the score 2-1 Twin City.

Twin City\’s offense rang up 39 shots on Granite City\’s net.

More assists for Twin City came via Joe Costello, who had two and Paul Stehr, Tyler Nystrom, Nicholas Campbell, and Luke Perunovich, who contributed one each.

Granite City kept Twin City\’s goalie busy throughout the game, and Nathan Siclovan made 35 saves on 37 shots.

Granite City was helped by Tanner Skaja, who racked up one goal. Skaja scored on the power play 4:45 into the second period to make the score 2-2. Granite City had taken the advantage when Twin City\’s Campbell got sent off for tripping. Eric Moser provided the assist. Granite City also got a goal from Casey Esselman as well. In addition, Granite City received assists from Tyler Mros and Alex Durand, who each chipped in one.

Twin City incurred 10 minutes in penalty time with five minors. Mac Berglove made 36 saves for Granite City on 39 shots. Granite City incurred eight minutes in penalty time with four minors.

Granite City’s comeback falls short, Twin City wins 4-2

Granite City almost clawed its way back from a three-goal deficit, but Twin City managed to pull out a 4-2 win in the end.

Twin City led by three goals at one point and ended with the victory. The largest advantage in the game came when Twin City\’s Joe Costello scored at 11:45 in the second period to put Twin City up 3-0.

After the loss made the series score 1-0 in the best of three series, Granite City faces elimination next time out.

Twin City was helped by Jay Paul, who registered one goal. Paul scored 19:47 into the third period to make the score 4-2 Twin City. Paul Stehr picked up the assist. Twin City also had goals scored by Fritz Belisle and Trevor Woytcke, who scored one goal each. More assists for Twin City came via Alex Egle, who had two and Nick McKeeby, Tyler Nystrom, and Nicholas Campbell, who contributed one each.

Granite City\’s offense rang up 35 shots on Twin City\’s net. Granite City did not rack up many penalties in the contest, totaling only one minor for two minutes in penalty time.

Granite City was helped by Matt Flom, who finished with one goal. Flom scored on the power play 13:01 into the third period to make the score 3-1 Twin City. Granite City earned a power play opportunity when Stehr was put in the box for cross checking. Tanner Skaja provided the assist. Granite City also got a goal from Braden Altena as well. In addition, Granite City received assists from Kevin Finley, who had two.

Nathan Siclovan rejected 33 shots on goal for Twin City. Twin City incurred six minutes in penalty time with three minors. Mac Berglove made 25 saves for Granite City on 28 shots. Granite City registered one goal on three power play opportunities.

Granite City uses big games from Skaja and Marty to down Alexandria, 7-4

Behind two goals and one assist from Tanner Skaja and one goal and one assist from Adam Marty, Granite City downed Alexandria 7-4.

Skaja scored the first of his two goals short handed at 14:43 into the third period to make the score 6-4 Granite City. Granite City was on a disadvantage when Andrej Jamnicky went off the ice for tripping. Braden Altena assisted on the tally. Skaja\’s next tally short handed made the score 7-5 Granite City with 10 seconds left in the third period. Marty scored on the power play 6:06 into the third period to make the score 5-4 Granite City. Granite City had gained a power play chance when Jacob Odegard was whistled for roughing. Matt Flom picked up the assist.

The win by Granite City clinched the best of three series at 2-1.

Granite City additionally got points from Marty, who also had one goal and one assist. Granite City also had goals scored by Casey Esselman, Tommy Hall, Will Mix, and Alex Durand, who each put in one. In addition, Granite City received assists from Spencer Nelson and Chase Di Bari, who each chipped in one.

Granite City was unable to stop Alexandria from sending pucks towards the net, and Alexandria eventually piled up 31 shots on goal.

Alexandria was helped by Logan Nelson, who racked up two goals. Nelson scored the first of his two goals at 17 seconds into the second period to make the score 3-3. AJ Gullickson provided the assist. Nelson\’s next tally made the score 6-5 Granite City with 4:34 left in the third period. Alexandria also got points from Trent Olson, who also registered one goal and two assists and Tyler Frischmon, who also tallied one goal and two assists. Alexandria also got a goal from Aaron Ryback as well.

Granite City\’s Mac Berglove stopped 27 shots out of the 31 that he faced. Granite City incurred 40 minutes in penalty time with 10 minors. Derrick LaCombe rejected 20 shots on goal for Alexandria. Alexandria incurred 26 minutes in penalty time with eight minors.

LaCombe stymies Granite City, Alexandria wins 3-1

Derrick LaCombe stood on his head and made 31 saves to lead Alexandria to a 3-1 victory over Granite City.

With the win, Alexandria avoided elimination to make the series score 1-1 in the best of three series.

Alexandria was led by Steven Gustafson, who tallied one goal. Gustafson scored 7:23 into the third period to make the score 2-1 Alexandria. Alec Seeger picked up the assist.

Alexandria\’s offense rang up 35 shots on Granite City\’s net.

Alexandria also had goals scored by David Carey and Tony Arias, who each put in one. More assists for Alexandria came via Logan Norman, Alex Bowe, and Aaron Ryback, who contributed one each.

Granite City stifled Alexandria\’s power play, and did not give up a single goal while down a man. Granite City forced Alexandria goalie LaCombe to work between the pipes, taking 32 shots.

Granite City was led by Tanner Skaja, who scored the team\’s only goal. Skaja scored 7:35 into the first period to make the score 1-0 Granite City. Braden Altena assisted on the tally.

Alexandria incurred 28 minutes in penalty time with four minors. Mac Berglove rejected 32 shots on goal for Granite City. Granite City incurred 28 minutes in penalty time with four minors.

Granite City rides Berglove to victory over Alexandria, 3-1

Granite City relied on the sparkling performance of Mac Berglove in net to grab a 3-1 win against Alexandria.

After the loss made the series score 1-0 in the best of three series, Alexandria faces elimination next time out.

Granite City was led by Andrej Jamnicky, who had one goal. Jamnicky scored 16:38 into the second period to make the score 2-0 Granite City.

Granite City put up an impenetrable defensive front on the penalty kill, and did not allow Alexandria to score on any of its three power plays.

Granite City also had goals scored by Adam Marty and Tommy Hall, who each put in one. Other players who recorded assists for Granite City were Tanner Skaja, Chase Di Bari, and Matt Flom, who contributed one each.

Alexandria was led by Logan Nelson, who scored the team\’s only goal. Nelson scored 4:51 into the third period to make the score 2-1 Granite City. Tyler Frischmon assisted on the tally.

Berglove recorded 27 saves for Granite City. Granite City incurred eight minutes in penalty time with four minors. Alexandria\’s Derrick LaCombe stopped 26 shots out of the 29 that he faced. Alexandria incurred eight minutes in penalty time with four minors.

Breezy Point uses shootout to best Granite City, 4-3 (1-0 SO)

Ryan Mezera was all over the ice for Breezy Point, as he racked up two goals in the win.

Breezy Point put up an impenetrable defensive front on the penalty kill, and did not allow Granite City to score on any of their seven power plays.

Others who scored for Breezy Point included Tyler Larwood and Austin Langworthy, who scored one each. More assists for Breezy Point came via Seyia Hayata, who had three, Nick Blanchette, who had two, and Reise Kieffer, who had one.

Granite City were led by Matt Flom, who finished with one goal and one assist.Flom scored in the first period to make the score 1-0 Granite City. The goal was assisted by Tanner Skaja and Tyler Mros.Granite City also got points from Skaja, who also registered one goal and one assist. Lucas Carroll also scored for Granite City. In addition, Granite City received assists from Braden Altena and Mros, who contributed one apiece.

Wes Paupore made 26 saves for Breezy Point on 29 shots. Breezy Point incurred 14 minutes in penalty time with seven minors. Granite City ended with 25 minutes in penalty time with five minors and one major.