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Grand Rapids' goaltender Hunter Shepard makes a save on Benilde-St. Margaret's Seth Chumley in their game at Hockey Day in Minnesota. Photo by Adam Crane

Who says the weather was miserable at the 7th annual Hockey Day Minnesota celebration Saturday, Jan. 19 on Pokegama Lake? Certainly not the hosts. Because the more the weather deteriorated – and it most bone-chillingly did -- the better Grand Rapids felt about its chances of victory against defending state champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

As fingers numbed and toes ached from the 25-below wind chills, the Thunderhawks seemingly warmed up to the weather.

As the snow built up in the corners and blinded spectators and players alike, the local team only got stronger.

As the arctic winds blasted up to 40 miles per hour off of Pokegama Lake, Grand Rapids was definitely in its element.

“Back in the day, the same group of guys, we’d go out to elementary school rinks and grind it out there,” said Grand Rapids’ Cody Mann. “We had a blast and it was the same out here.”

Mann had reason to smile about those memories -- he created another for everyone in attendance Saturday.

Mann broke free for a breakaway with 2:31 remaining in overtime, completing the northern storm. He slipped the puck through the pads of Benilde-St. Margaret’s goaltender Andrew Sprang, setting off a blizzard-force celebration in front of the heavily pro-Thunderhawks crowd, which rejoiced in a 3-2 victory.

“This is how we grew up playing. This is how we made ourselves, playing on the outdoor rinks,” said Grand Rapids’ goaltender Hunter Shepard, who made 27 saves on 29 shots. “There’s a lot of pride. It’s good to bring this one home.”

After his goal, Mann headed straight for the plexiglass-free half wall, where the Thunderhawks’ fans were waiting to celebrate with him. Despite the blustery weather, the crowd after almost 57 minutes of game time was just as big and boisterous as at the opening puck drop. Just a little more numb.

“These fans make it so it’s a home ice advantage. If these fans weren’t as good as they were, this would have just been another game outside,” said Mann, who grinned through his postgame interviews, interrupted only by the gale-force winds that shook the tents both teams used as locker rooms.

“Look at the crowd we had. We have the best fans in the state,” agreed Shepard. “You can’t go anywhere else besides Grand Rapids and get 2,500 fans at an (outdoor) high school game. There’s no other place like it.”

It would have been easy for the local fans to pull the plug and head indoors. After the first period, Benilde-St. Margaret’s was rolling with a 2-0 lead – even more impressive because it came while the Red Knights were skating into the teeth of the wind.

Yet the fans stayed. This was their day.

Avery Peterson gave the Thunderhawks (11-4-3) life in the second, twice scoring on patient, puck-dangling moves. The game remained tied at 2-all through regulation, setting up Mann’s heroics.

“They were getting cold and we were, too,” said Mann. “But we were fighting through it.”


Jake Bischoff (22) and Grand Rapids emerged from Hockey Day Minnesota with a 3-2 overtime victory against Benilde-St. Margaret's.

Statistics, summary

Game recap

Cody Mann poked in the game-winner with 2:31 remaining in overtime to give host Grand Rapids a 3-2 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret's in a blustery afternoon Hockey Day Minnesota game on Pokegama Lake. Light snowfall and winds gusting over 40 miles per hour caused near white-out conditions at times.

Mann's goal set off a wild celebration in front of the heavily pro-Thunderhawks crowd, which stormed off the bleachers and joined in the pile along the shore-side half wall. Grand Rapids (11-4-3) rallied from a 2-0 deficit by scoring the game's final three goals. Avery Peterson scored twice in the second period for the Thunderhawks, both on patient puck-dangling moves on the hard lake ice.

Benilde-St. Margaret's (12-5-0) had earned a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals from Spencer Naas and Will Duda.

1. Avery Peterson, Grand Rapids
When the Thunderhawks need a big goal, they look to Peterson -- and more often that not, he delivers. With Grand Rapids trailing 2-0 after one period, Peterson scored a pair of unassisted second period goals to tie the score. On both, he showed his patience by walking through the Red Knights' defense and waiting...and waiting...and waiting...until he found an opening.

2. Cody Mann, Grand Rapids
Scoring the game-winning goal in overtime was a great way to cap Hockey Day Minnesota for the home team. Mann's breakway with 2:31 left in overtime ended with him sliding the puck past Red Knights' goaltender Andrew Sprang and set off a wild hometown celebration.

3. Hunter Shepard, Grand Rapids
Shepard allowed two goals in the first period, but shut the door after that on the potent Benilde-St. Margaret's offense. He finished with 27 saves on 29 shots and had several key saves while the Thunderhawks rallied from a 2-0 deficit.

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