Cup dreams dashed

Minotauros’ storybook season comes to an end in Robertson Cup defeat

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot Minotauros players kneel on the ice after the final horn sounds from the Robertson Cup Championship in Blaine, Minn. The Tauros lost 2-1.

BLAINE, Minn. – Walking back to the bench before the start of the third period, Minot Minotauros head coach Marty Murray exchanged a passing five-high with a little girl wearing a Minotauros’ sweater.

Murray appeared calm and collected, just like always, before facing the biggest period of hockey his team had ever played in.

There was no reason to panic. The Minotauros had been in this situation plenty times before, and ultimately that turned out to be their crushing downfall.

Sluggish legs in the third period of the North American Hockey League Robertson Cup title game ended the Minotauros’ remarkable postseason run a period short of hanging a championship banner inside Maysa Arena.

Instead, the Shreveport Mudbugs won their first Robertson Cup Monday evening in a game of lucky bounces to defeat the Minotauros, 2-1, in a winner-take-all championship bout at the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.

Alex Eisen/MDN Minotauros goalie Samu Lonkila makes a save during the Robertson Cup Monday in Blaine, Minn.

“I think we just ran out of gas,” Murray said. “The guys left it all on the ice, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough in the tank. It’s disappointing, but we are proud of what we have accomplished.”

All three goals Monday came from shots near the blue line that maneuvered through and into bodies before somehow finding the back of the net.

The Minotauros opened the scoring 9:31 into the first period. Defenseman Nolan Sawchuk, playing in his final game with the team, snuck a puck in from in front of the Mudbugs’ bench.

It was his fifth goal of the postseason. Semifinal Game 3 overtime hero Ondrej Pavel provided the assist.

“We got off to a good start there in the first period,” Sawchuk said. “We had our legs going and it was nice to see that shot get through. We had a really good screen in front of the net and Ondrej (Pavel) won a big face-off.”

Alex Eisen/MDN

Mudbugs forward Brendan VanSweden even the score 6:17 into the second period from the same blue, except from the opposite side. VanSweden knocked the puck toward the goal, turned his back and was greeted by the shouts of his teammates.

Minotauros goaltender Samu Lonkila looked helpless as the puck floated over his shoulder and nestled into the net. It was the first of two bad breaks Lonkila was dealt in an otherwise stellar 23-save performance.

As Shreveport kept pushing, Minot just couldn’t keep up. The Mudbugs outshot the Minotauros 25-16 (19-8 in the final two periods).

“They came out hard,” Sawchuk said. “We sat back a little bit, couldn’t match their energy and they took it to us a little bit.”

Minot was playing in its fourth game in four days. Shreveport got a day off Sunday after taking care of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in two games in the NAHL semifinals.

Alex Eisen/MDN

“It’s not easy,” Murray said about the situation the Minotauros were in. “I’m tired as a coach, so I can’t imagine what the players are going through. It’s an unbelievable grind and the odds were stacked up against us with them having an extra day.”

Unable to get the puck out of their defensive zone a little over three minutes in the third period, Shreveport’s swarming pressure finally broke through Minot’s armor.

A banked pass off the boards by Ryan Burnett reached Dominick Procopio at the point in the center of the blue line. Procopio unloaded with traffic blocking Lonkila’s view and in that mix was Cole Quisenberry, who redirected the Robertson Cup game-winning goal.

“It was just a couple of seeing-eye pucks that got through and into the back of the net, just like our goal was,” Murray said. “We just came out of the wrong side of it.”

The Minotauros used up everything they had, but it wasn’t enough.

Alex Eisen/MDN

Shreveport exerted all the energy they had left by throwing sticks and gloves into the air when the clock finally hit all zeros, plus had the stamina to hoist the Robertson Cup around the Fogerty Arena.

The Minotauros watched the Mudbugs’ celebration distraughtly from the other side of the rink. A harsh conclusion to the season when having to witness what could have been.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

Alex Eisen/MDN

Alex Eisen/MDN

Alex Eisen/MDN