by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Moving up to Class AA this year, the Rogers Royals and their new coach had to beef up their schedule to include some section opponents, starting with Champlin Park to open the season.
The Royals passed that first test with a 4-3 victory over the Rebels on Thursday evening at home, boosted by two third-period goals from Jacob Walker. The Royals overcame an early 2-0 deficit and a hat trick by Champlin Park’s Bryce Plunkett.
“I thought the effort was extremely good,” said Justin Strunk after winning his head coaching debut with the Royals. “We moved our feet really well. We won battles all over the ice and challenged them all game. Champlin Park is a very good team, and we knew it was going to be a battle right down to the wire.”
The Royals, who play in the Mississippi 8 Conference, have three more Northwest Suburban Conference teams on their non-conference schedule (Anoka, Maple Grove and Osseo) because are all in their new section 5AA. It helps that Strunk has has a good read on NWSC teams from six years as an assistant at Maple Grove.
Plunkett scored two quick goals for Champlin Park, at 1:26 and 7:43 of the first period, before Jason Roberge got Rogers on the board at 8:43 on a power play, assisted by Travis Brown and Matt Hellickson.
The lone goal of the second period was a deflection by Brandon Cecil at the 12:00 mark, after Brown, senior defenseman, cranked up for a slap shot from near mid-ice. Nate Weber also got an assist.
“I think Travis had his head up and saw that someone would try block his shot so he went for the deflection, and got it,” said Strunk.
With the score 2-2 entering the third period, Walker scored swooping past the goal at 4:54 on a play also involving Spencer Marchand and Alex Lorman.
Plunkett, a senior forward, drilled his third goal past Jackson Nelson at 7:12, knotting the score 3-3.
But Walker regained the lead at 14:37 when the senior forward punched one past several players and between the legs of Rebel goalie John Brey, who initially made the stop but the puck slipped through. Marchand assisted.
Rogers outshot the Rebels 46-22. The Royals were 1-for-4 and Champlin Park 0-for-2 on power plays.
The Royals will play at Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday.