Blaine, MN – There’s something distinctive and unique about holding the Robertson Cup championship game of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) at venerable Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, MN. Opened in 1982, it’s named after former Blaine mayor, Francis “Fran” Fogerty who was instrumental in the development of the facility that serves the communities of Blaine and Spring Lake Park. It’s an extraordinary example of community involvement and pride and they’ve held the last two Robertson Cup Championship games at this venue.
The interior of the south rink (there are two ice sheets) is proudly decorated with former players that have impacted high school, collegiate and professional hockey. Players like the Brodzinski boys, Brandon Bochenski, Nick Bjugstad, and Riley Tufte are some of the well-known products of this facility and have created a special legacy for Fogerty.
You have to love a place that has a bottleneck of fans and youth/senior hockey players entering and exiting the same doors on their way to and from both the south and north rinks. It’s still a place that allows fans to exit during intermission to have a cigarette break outside along the railing of the entrance ramp. And yes, it’s a little quirky to walk across the street to the picnic area to use the restroom as there is a shorter line. During championship Tuesday, it must have been girl’s youth hockey controlling the north rink as large numbers were departing the rink lugging their gear to the parking lot.
So, as an old-school type of guy, I’m impressed that the North American Hockey League sees value in holding the apex of their season at Fogerty Arena. Would they have filled a 5000 seat facility? Probably not and that’s the point. This 2000 seat rink was filled to capacity and then some with fans from Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Shreveport, Louisiana of all places. The fan support for these two teams that showed up for the play-in games four days prior was incredible. Clad in their team’s colors, jerseys, and holding various props, they were loud and boisterous and a welcome sight after the past 18 months. I’ve been to the last two NAHL championships and haven’t been disappointed.
For reference, the NAHL consists of four divisions – Central, East, Midwest, and South with teams located from Aberdeen, SD in the west to Maine in the northeast, Fairbanks, AK in the north to Corpus Christi, TX in the south. The play-in games on June 18th featured the Twin Cities Minnesota Magicians facing the Aberdeen Wings and the Maine Nordiques facing the Shreveport Mudbugs in a best of three series. I was there to see Aberdeen and Shreveport dispatch their rivals in two games setting up what I expected to be a closely contested championship game.
The championship game was predictably entertaining as the Central Division champion Aberdeen Wings carried a historic 51-4-0 regular-season record against the South Division champion Shreveport Mudbugs and their 38-11-2 record.
The game featured 26 collegiate commits and four of the top ten points producers in the league in Aberdeen’s Payton Matsui (Alaska-Fairbanks), Clayton Cosentino (Air Force Academy), and Thomas Manty (Brown University), and Braiden Dorfman (Dartmouth), Shreveport’s leading scorer. The game also featured the league’s top two goaltenders in NAHL MVP and Goaltender of the Year, Jake Sibell (Niagara University) who posted a ridiculous 1.19 GAA and .952 SV% during the regular season, and Cole Hudson (University of Vermont) who was second with a 2.16 GAA and .923 SV%.
The two squads had not faced each other all season and it was obvious from the drop of the puck that Shreveport was not intimidated by the lofty record of the Wings who had only lost once on the road all season. An energetic and high-tempo first period had both teams throwing their weight around with Shreveport finishing their checks and earning the best of the play keeping the high-powered Wings without a shot on goal for the first eight minutes of the contest.
The period was accentuated by some physical play foremost was the Wings and Union College commit Cullen Ferguson getting steamrolled by Air Force Academy commit Sean Bunting with 4:40 to play in the period. By collegiate standards, the hit most likely would have drawn a game misconduct and five-minute major but no penalty was called. Meanwhile, a bloodied Ferguson, Aberdeen’s most steady defenseman, was escorted off the ice by two teammates and did not return to the contest.
Despite two man-advantage opportunities for the Mudbugs and one for the Wings, neither team converted with Shreveport outshooting Aberdeen 13-9 in a scoreless period one.
The lull in scoring did not continue into the second period with Shreveport’s Bunting in the spotlight once again. A mere 54 seconds into the period Bunting captured an errant clearing pass at the blue line and the 6’0″ 190 forward powered his way by two defenders and slid the puck under Sibell for a 1-0 Mudbug advantage. The momentum continued for the Mudbugs adding another goal 8:43 later with Giovanni Procopio tipping a shot from the left point to give Shreveport a 2-0 lead midway through the game.
It was a double edge sword for Aberdeen’s Liam Fraser who drew the Wings to within one goal tipping a shot from the point on a power play past Cole Hudson to narrow the lead to 2-1 but incurring a double-minor for high-sticking with 54 seconds remaining in the period to place the Wings at a disadvantage to begin period three.
With three minutes on the man advantage to start the final period, Shreveport converted quickly and extended their lead to two goals and a 3-1 lead on a power-play goal by Joe Mack just 47 seconds into the session. But, Aberdeen would respond again 3:26 later on Liam Fraser’s second goal of the game as he tapped a puck from the goalmouth in traffic past Hudson and watched it slide slowly inside the right post.
However, that was as close as the Wings could get as the tight-checking Shreveport defense limited the high-powered Aberdeen offense to just six shots on goal in period three. Mudbugs defensemen Aiden Metcalfe put an apostrophe on things with a rink length empty-net goal to send Shreveport into celebration mode capturing their second Robertson Cup since 2018 and precluding the Aberdeen Wings from back to back championships.
This game was a perfect culmination of the 2020-21 NAHL season. Kudos to the NAHL. It was a great show.
Shreveport Mudbugs 4 at Aberdeen Wings 2 – Status: Final
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 – Fogerty Ice Arena-South
Shreveport 0 2 2 – 4
Aberdeen 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period- No Scoring. Penalties-Arquiett Abd (high sticking-minor), 2:46; Kolcon Shv (hooking-minor), 11:57; Ferguson Abd (interference-minor), 13:11.
2nd Period-1, Shreveport, Bunting 1 0:54. 2, Shreveport, Procopio 5 (Hedden, Sciarrino), 9:37. 3, Aberdeen, Fraser 2 (Russell, Cosentino), 13:05 (PP). Penalties-Gatto Shv (boarding-minor), 11:11; Fraser Abd (high sticking-double minor), 19:06.
3rd Period-4, Shreveport, Mack 2 0:46 (PP). 5, Aberdeen, Fraser 3 (Vertes), 3:13. 6, Shreveport, Metcalfe 1 19:55 (EN). Penalties-Brimmer Shv (tripping-minor), 4:49; Manty Abd (high sticking-minor), 9:32.
Shots on Goal-Shreveport 13-11-11-35. Aberdeen 9-6-6-21.
Power Play Opportunities-Shreveport 1 / 0; Aberdeen 1 / 0.
Goalies-Shreveport, Hudson (21 shots-19 saves). Aberdeen, Sibell (34 shots-31 saves).
Referees-Sam Heidemann, Jack Young.
Linesmen-Michael Ifkovits, Austin March.