Achiever Academy's top line of Cory Sprague, Baron Thompson (26) and Ryan Finnegan (19) combined for all eight goals in an 8-4 win at Bagley/Fosston. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
Achiever Academy coach Nick Klaren knew his team would face a few scheduling difficulties this winter.
The Aces, a new program based out of Eagan, didn't officially get word they'd be competing at the high school level until September, long after most other programs had finalized their schedules. So Klaren and the Aces became vagabonds, traveling just about anywhere and everywhere for games. They've been to all corners of the state and only played six home games.
Klaren has called on just about every connection he has to fill out a schedule of 23 regular season games, including phoning an old college teammate. Kittson Central coach Robert Carr played with Klaren at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in the late 1990s and agreed to host Achiever Academy Monday night in the far northwestern corner of the state -- and Bagley/Fosston coach Jacob Seuntjens decided to make it a two-fer by playing the Aces Tuesday night on their way back to the Twin Cities.
Not surprisingly, in both games Achiever Academy seemed to have "bus legs" at the start. Monday night at Kittson Central, the Aces fell behind 4-0 before rallying for a 7-5 victory. Tuesday night in Bagley/Fosston, the hole wasn't nearly as deep, but the end result was the same. The Flyers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but Achiever Academy scored the final five goals in an 8-4 sweep of the trip.
"We haven't faced that much adversity so far," said Klaren, whose team has a 14-7-1 record. "Last night's game (against Kittson) was a turning point. It was a prominent win that said we can come back from deficits like this.
"We don't want to keep putting us in that position, though," he laughed. "To start out flat like that, in some cases, it's really tough to come back. Some teams pack it in. Fortunately, with this young team, they learned. They have that confidence, coming together as a team and working off one another and building."
It's likely the Aces didn't know any better.
The team is led by a high-powered top line of sophomores Ryan Finnegan and Cory Sprague and eighth-grader Baron Thompson. Klaren described his prolific top line as composed of like lions waiting in the weeds for the deer to stroll by. Tuesday night, the role of surprised deer was played by Bagley/Fosston, which twice held two goal leads over the Aces. But the Flyers couldn't keep the lions at bay.
"Once we tied it up, the guys were on a roll," said Klaren. "They know where each other is and they can find each other all over the ice. They have great vision for each other.
That big line scored all eight goals Tuesday night and combined for 14 points.
Thompson finished with four goals, including a hat trick in a big third-period outburst. He's not built like a freshman, standing 6-foot-2 with broad shoulders and an aggressive attitude.
"It's his hard work and his effort," said Klaren. "He gets mad and he plays better. He has the determination to get it done. Some eighth-graders don't have that, to be honest. He works on it every single day to be better than the guys he's lining up against."
Finnegan had six points on two goals and four assists. He's a diminutive playmaker who leads the Aces in assists and points. "He knows where his teammates are," said Klaren. "He knows how to protect himself and he can find his teammates. That's what his job is. His job is to set up his linemates and he can do that."
Sprague added two goals and an assist and is "one of the hardest workers on the team," according to Klaren. "If there's a brick wall in front of him and there is a puck behind it, he's determined to break it down and get a goal."
Baron Thompson scored four goals and linemates Cory Sprague and Ryan Finnegan each added a pair as Achiever Academy rallied for an 8-4 victory over Bagley/Fosston Tuesday night at Albert Kaiser Arena. The Aces (14-7-1) twice trailed by two goals, but scored the final five goals of the game, including all four in the third period.
Bagley/Fosston (7-16-1) came out of the gates fast on its home ice, as Christopher Clark and leading scorer Aaron Leintz tallied goals in the opening five minutes to give the Flyers an early 2-0 lead. Leintz finished with two goals and Zach Thoma also scored for the Flyers.
But Achiever Academy, a first-year program based in Eagan, kept chipping away.
Thompson, a rugged eighth-grade forward, scored 5:08 into the third period to give Achiever Academy its first lead. He added two more in the third and finished with five points (four goals, one assist). Combined with Finnegan and Sprague, the Aces' top line posted all eight goals and a total of 14 points.
1. Baron Thompson, Achiever Academy
Thompson is just an eighth-grader, but he certainly doesn't look it on the ice. He's 6-foot-2 and broad-shouldered -- and knows how to find the back of the net. His third period hat trick allowed the Aces to rally from a 4-2 deficit to beat Bagley/Fosston, 8-4. Thompson finished with four goals and an assist in an overwhelming offensive effort.
2. Ryan Finnegan, Achiever Academy
Probably the smallest player on the ice in most of his games, Finnegan knows how to use his craftiness and smarts to find every inch of space he needs. A great playmaker, the sophomore had a six-point night (two goals, four assists) and consistenly frustrated the Flyers as they tried -- and couldn't -- line him up for a clean hit.
3. Cory Sprague, Achiever Academy
The third member of the Aces' top line to get billing as one of the stars of the game, Sprague added two goals and an assist. He leads the team in goals with 34 and has seven hat tricks. Combined, the trio scored all eight goals.
Honorable mention: Aaron Leintz, Bagley/Fosston
While it was tough to compete with Achiever Academy's top line Tuesday night, Leintz did his best for the Flyers with a pair of goals. He leads the team in scoring on the season and showed great patience offensively in the game. Quick and with good size, Leintz is a threat any time he's on the ice.