Oh, four-peat's sake: Familiar faces help Rochester Grizzlies lock up another division championship
Luke Morrisette continued his scoring streak, Tate Cothern was sharp in goal and the Rochester Grizzlies rolled past St. Louis on Saturday to win another NA3HL Central Division championship.
ROCHESTER — Luke Morrisette returned to the Rochester Grizzlies in December for moments just like the one the team had on Saturday night.
Morrisette, who played in 51 games for the Grizzlies last season, including all nine during the team’s run to the North American 3 Hockey League championship, started this season in the Eastern Hockey League, playing in suburban Boston.
By mid-December, the Mounds View native missed being close to home — with not only his biological family, but also with his hockey family in Rochester.
The Grizzlies welcomed him with open arms, and Morrisette hasn’t disappointed.
“He’s just an all-around player,” Grizzlies coach Chris Ratzloff said. “He really developed a lot last year and gained a lot of strength. He’s really a true power forward. The last two weeks he’s been fantastic around the net, two redirects and a couple of rebounds for goals.
“His leadership qualities are big. He’s not wearing a letter, but is just a much of a leader as any of the (captains).”
Morrisette continued his red-hot run with Rochester on Saturday, scoring a short-handed goal and assisting on another as the Grizzlies beat the St. Louis Jr. Blues 7-1 at the Rochester Recreation Center to clinch the organization’s fourth consecutive NA3HL Central Division regular season championship.
Morrisette has nine points in the past six games and 18 points in 18 games with the Grizzlies this season.
“Just the people and the culture we have here,” Morrisette said when asked what he liked about returning to Rochester. “Coach Ratz and coach (Tyler) Veen, and just feeling like this is the right place to be, close to home.”
Not only will the Grizzlies get to hang another banner, but the division championship assures them of home-ice advantage throughout the Central Division playoffs.
Rochester (33-9-5) will open a best-of-3 division semifinals series late next week against the Peoria (Ill.) Mustangs. A schedule for that series is expected to be finalized Sunday or Monday.
“It means a lot to the older guys, but it means a lot to us young guys, too,” Grizzlies goalie Tate Cothern, a Mayo graduate, said of winning the division. “There’s a lot of us rookies and none of us have really won before. It feels good to win something and these vets have done a great job of helping us.
“It means a lot, too, being from Rochester and having been to quite a few Grizzlies games when I was younger.”
Just how vital is home-ice advantage in the NA3HL playoffs for the Grizzlies?
The numbers don’t lie: In the five-year history of the franchise, Rochester is 8-0 in the division semifinals or finals at the Rochester Rec Center and just 1-3 on the road.
The importance of playing at home isn’t lost on the Grizzlies players, either. Morrisette and Cothern both pointed out how appreciative the team was to have a great crowd Saturday night, even when the No. 1-ranked University of Minnesota men’s hockey team was in Rochester, holding a scrimmage that was free and open to the public, at Graham Arena.
“Home ice is huge,” Morrisette said. “Even today, the Gophers were in town and we still have a packed barn here. It shows how much our fans care.
“(The division title) means a lot. We try to set a high standard here and coach Ratzloff pushes us to try to achieve what we know we can. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
That the Grizzlies swept the two-game weekend series against St. Louis was not unexpected. The Jr. Blues finished last in the Central Division with an 8-39-0 record and dressed just 15 skaters for Saturday’s game. But the 7-1 win Saturday, on the heels of an 11-2 win Friday, sends Rochester into the postseason feeling like it's playing its best hockey of the year.
Seven players scored once each and 11 players had at least one point on Saturday. Cothern took care of the rest on his end; the Mayo graduate making 11 saves to improve to 17-3-1 in his rookie season.
Cothern carries a 1.70 goals-against average (the second-best mark in the entire NA3HL) and a .927 save percentage into the postseason and has won nine of his last 10 starts. He locked up the starting job in mid-January and has excelled since then.
“These veteran guys here, they have helped me so much in my first season here,” Cothern said. “There’s not much I really have to do. I just have to keep us in it, because I know they’re going to put in a great effort. The next couple of weeks will be a good test.”
Though they earned home-ice advantage, the Grizzlies will have their hands full with Peoria. The Mustangs finished the regular season 25-18-3 and fourth in the division, and they were a handful for the Grizzlies this season.
Rochester went 5-2-1 against the Mustangs in the regular season, but Peoria earned two wins — one in overtime — in four games played at the Rec Center.
“It’s going to be tough,” Ratzloff said. “(Playoffs are) new life for them. Aside from home-ice advantage, it doesn’t matter where you finished in the regular season. Everybody comes in with zero wins now.
“It comes down to who wants it more and is going to do things the right way and take care of the details is going to come out on top.”
GRIZZLIES 7, JR. BLUES 1
St. Louis 0-1-0 — 1
Rochester 2-2-3 — 7
First period — 1. ROC, Spencer Klotz (Ty Petzke) 5:19. 2. ROC, Grant Dardis (Luke Jech, Ben Oakland) 17:55. Second period — 3. ROC, Ryan Berglund (Luke Morrisette) 3:17. 4. ROC, Austin Meers (Dardis) 12:47. 5. STL, Brady Burke (Matthew Mahoney) 17:13. Third period — 6. ROC, Luke Sawicky (Ruslan Ospanov) 3:35. 7. ROC, Morrisette (unassisted) 6:27 (sh). 8. ROC, Connor Stoffel (Sawicky) 12:17.
Shots on goal — STL 1-8-3—12; ROC 24-12-18—54. Goalies — STL, Brooks (L; 47 saves-54 shots); ROC, Cothern (W, 11 saves-12 shots). Power-play opportunities — STL 0-for-2; ROC 0-for-3. Penalties — STL, 4-8 minutes; ROC, 3-9 minutes.
Dominating the division
Since becoming a franchise, the Rochester Grizzlies have been a powerhouse in the North American 3 Hockey League. They wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title on Saturday. Here's a look at the Grizzlies' year-by-year finishes in their division:
|Season||Reg. season record||Division finish||Overall finish|
|2018-19||31-15-1||3rd||lost in div. semifinals|