Hulne: Packers hit a rough patch on the ice

Published 6:40 pm Thursday, March 4, 2021

When it rains, it pours. Just ask the Austin boys hockey team.

The Packers were in the middle of one of their best periods of the season when everything took a turn for the worst. With Austin trailing Albert Lea just 1-0 in the first period, a hard hit by the Tigers put a Packer player into the boards and his collar bone was broken. Minutes later, a check near the corner saw an AL player limp off the ice, and everything erupted when an AL  player began cross checking, leading to a fight that saw three players on each side, and AL’s head coach, ejected.

While cooler heads did not prevail, Austin head coach Jason Merritt said revenge shots are not something the Packers partake in.

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“We didn’t retaliate at all, because that’s not something that we do,” Merritt said. “It was a rivalry game. It sounds dumb, but we were finally starting to figure a little bit out. We were starting to play better and figure out the system. We weren’t out to intentionally hurt anybody.”

The Tigers responded with 11 goals in the second period against a shorthanded Packer team, and another Austin player eventually was ejected for misconduct. The Packers lost by a final score of 15-0 and after cancelling all three games this week, they’re hoping to finish their final home game against Mankato East with 10 skaters at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Austin also has a game scheduled at Winona for Thursday.

“We have to play at least one game before the tournament or our season would be done,” Merritt said. “It’s rough, but it is what it is. Our hope is to get that game against East in and limp through with whatever we’ve got.”

Austin had just seven skaters, including the back-up goalie who had to switch positions, left in the game at the end of the AL contest. Despite that, Merritt was not allowing his team to seek revenge.

“We never tell them to play dirty and we want to play the game like we teach it,” he said. “They’re responsible for their actions and we don’t have an arm long enough to reach out and stop them.”

The Packers have a record of 0-13 overall and the team has a lot of underclassmen. Merritt said that a realistic turnaround is still a couple of years away, but he is happy with the work his kids have put in this season.

“The year’s been tough for everybody,” Merritt said. “Part of getting beat as bad as we havehas made us move kids around to different positions, just to see if it worked. It didn’t and we went back to plan A. They’ve tbeen working hard and they’re trying their best, which is all we can ask of them. Some of them are getting to that level, but it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in one year.”

Merritt isn’t looking to complain or pass the blame on anyone. He would welcome being involved with the pee wees and bantams more often in the future if it helps the program grow.

“These kids have never won and that’s a hard thing for them to learn,” Merritt said. “We haven’t been successful at any level and that makes it harder at the high school level.”