For the fourth straight year, the St. Louis Jr. Blues will be making their trip to Chicago’s southern suburbs to do battle for the NA3HL’s championship trophy, the Fraser Cup. And this season they did it despite the massive hurdle of having to play all of their division final games on the road.
The Jr. Blues traveled the eight-hour drive up to La Crosse, Wisconsin, on Thursday as they and the Coulee Region Chill agreed to play all three games of the series at Green Island Ice Arena due to that long distance between the two home cities. However, the challenge of an extended road trip did not faze St. Louis: they arrived loose and raring to go, which showed in their play on the ice: flowing, attacking, and with major contributions from all 20 players.
Friday night’s opener of the series started off even and finely poised: Coulee Region’s 100-point scorers Brady Lindauer and Tom Magnavite made their presence felt from the opening faceoff, while the Jr. Blues were making big hits and piling on the pressure on the Chill’s goalkeeper. The hosts struck first at 10:38, defenseman Connor Losen beating Mikaël Foucher, but it was the fourth line who leveled the terms for St. Louis, Dom Lesnock cashing in following a great attacking sequence at 12:08. The rest of the period would be all about Matt Monreal, playing in front of many family and friends who had made the drive from Milwaukee. The future SNHU Penman gave the Jr. Blues the lead at 13:40, and then with 1:27 to go he finished off a short-handed breakaway to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. While the 2ndperiod saw no change in scoring, it did see the Jr. Blues dictating the terms, forcing the Chill into a large number of turnovers and largely keeping Coulee Region from setting up in the offensive zone. While the Chill would pull back within one goal at the 9:09 mark, veteran forward Ivan Galaguzov would put the game to bed in just 58 seconds, scoring goals at 12:07 and 13:05. Jake Wiethaupt would add an empty netter late in the 3rd, and the Jr. Blues took Game 1 of the Central Division Finals by a 6-2 final. Foucher made 33 saves: the final shot total was tied, 35-35.
Coulee Region came out of the blocks for Game 2 knowing that they had their backs against the wall, and accordingly dominated the opening frame. They out-shot the Jr. Blues 23-7, and St. Louis could count themselves lucky to only trail 1-0 after 20 minutes, with some great goalkeeping from Jack Regan keeping Coulee from expanding that advantage. St. Louis would then slowly but surely work their way back into the game, and the equalizer finally came at 15:47 of the 2nd, coming from Dante Jones assisted by Matt Monreal. Then at 17:15 Galaguzov got his third goal of the weekend, after a well-forced turnover from Nate Sargent. Sean Hofstetter would cap off the Jr. Blues’ scoring rush with 20 seconds on the clock. While the Chill once again threw everything they could at the St. Louis net in the 3rdperiod, the Jr. Blues repelled the advance and went on to win 3-1 despite being outshot 48-32. Regan was unquestionably the standout performer on the night, making 47 saves and providing a strong platform for their second-period outburst.
This year, the NA3HL Fraser Cup Finals moves to a new home—Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, after spending the past four years at Canlan in Romeoville—and adopts a new, six-team format with the top two teams in each three-team group advancing to the semi-finals. The Jr. Blues are seeded fifth based on regular-season points totals, and are in Group B of the pool stage, with #2 seed Binghamton and #3 seeded Texas. St. Louis plays the Jr. Sens on Thursday, March 28 and the Brahmas on Friday, March 29: both games are 7 pm faceoffs. If you want to come and support the Jr. Blues in their quest for the Fraser Cup, visit www.na3hl.com/fraser-cup for hotel and ticketing information. Also, be sure to follow our social media channels for exclusive content and updates.