Hundreds of hockey players, scouts, and families converged on the Schwan Super Rink in the St. Paul suburb of Blaine, Minnesota for the NA3HL Showcase this past weekend, and one of the biggest stories there had to be the St. Louis Jr. Blues, them of the 22-game winning streak and seemingly unstoppable run of form. After a nine-hour bus ride up, two practices at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, and trips to the Mall of America and a Minnesota Magicians NAHL game, the club was ready to pit their wits against some of the best sides from three other divisons: the South, West, and Frontier.
First up for the club was a Sunday tussle with the Texas Brahmas, who had won 20 of their last 21 games and like St. Louis were atop their division. And while the first few minutes were evenly matched, the men from Fort Worth scored twice in the 1st period to put the Jr. Blues on the back foot for the first time in quite a while: they had not conceded first since October 29, and the last time they had been down by two goals was in their lone loss against Peoria on September 9. St. Louis would eventually get on the scoreboard at 3:28 of the 2nd, when Ivan Galaguzov picked up his 20th goal of the season assisted by line-mates Jake Cox and Jack Hatton, but at 5:09 the Brahmas would restore the two-goal cushion. However, after that the Jr. Blues buckled down and took control of the game, Cox making it 3-2 off a dirty-area goal from Mark Capkovic and Dylan Carroll at 9:05 and then Galaguzov tying the game up at 12:21 on an odd-man rush, assisted by Hatton and Tom Yurisich. The 3rd period was all St. Louis, Dan Dunaway scoring at 4:03 from Matt Monreal to give the Jr. Blues the lead, and then two excellent goals: Carroll on a rocket wrist-shot from Dawson Marshall and Yurisich at 12:30, and then Dante Jones on a break-away from Capkovic at 13:54 saw the Jr. Blues score five unanswered goals to win 6-3 and stretch the winning streak to 23. Blake Bjella picked up the win, stopping 14 of 17 shots as the Jr. Blues out-shot the Brahmas 51-17.
Next on the docket was the New Ulm Steel, who came in second in the tough West Division behind the Granite City Lumberjacks. This was a much tougher affair from the first game, and towards the end of the period it appeared that the Jr. Blues had not missed a beat from the Texas game when Hatton scored two goals roughly two minutes apart, the first assisted by John Shivley and the second from Cox and Galaguzov. However, in the second period the Steel’s size began to wear on the Jr. Blues, and they scored three times, including twice with less than a minute to play, to take a 3-2 lead heading into the 3rd. Despite several great efforts from the Jr. Blues, the Steel would score once more and end the winning streak with a 4-2 win. Hunter Smith stopped 31 of 35 shots in the loss as the Jr. Blues were out-shot 35-26.
Tuesday morning saw the Jr. Blues pack the bus to head back home, but not before a breakfast-time game versus the Yellowstone Quake, whom the Blues had lost to in the finale of last year’s Showcase. Just like the previous two games, it started as an all-action, well-matched affair, with both goaltenders making some great saves early. It would not be until the 11:41 mark of the 1st until the Jr. Blues struck first, Monreal re-directing a Hunter Muzzillo shot from the blue-line to make it 1-0, and then at 15:46 Matt Hohl stepped into a loose puck when coming in off a change to double the Jr. Blues lead. Two more goals came for the Jr. Blues in the 2nd period, Hatton’s 24th of the season from Cox and Galaguzov, and the same line scoring again at 15:16, this time Galaguzov taking credit with Cox and Hatton assisting. The Quake would pull one back later in the second, but the scoreline held firm at 4-1 and the Jr. Blues would finish the showcase with two wins and one defeat. Bjella made 25 saves as St. Louis outshot the men from Wyoming 33-26.
After the game was over the Jr. Blues released players for the holiday break: they will return to St. Louis after the new year to prepare for their final meetings of the season with the Peoria Mustangs in the first week of January. Game times are January 6 at 4 pm and January 7 at 1 pm.