Battle tested: Packers escape a second period hole to third straight win

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

It may be early in the season, but the Packers are showing that they are not ones to back down.

After a season opening come-from-behind overtime win last week, Austin boys hockey team showed the will to win again as it bounced back from a two-goal deficit to defeat St. Paul Johnson 5-3 in Riverside Arena Tuesday night.

The Packers closed the second period with a flurry as Naryk Rector scored his first career goal and Isiah Hemann scored to tie the game at 3-3 and Ghavin Schaeffer gave the Packers the lead for good when he scored a power play goal early in the third period.

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Schaeffer was knocked to the ice right after scoring, but he and his teammates kept their cool and never responded as the Packers closed out the game.

“It was pretty rough out there and I thought they were pretty dirty. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. You’ve got to stay strong mentally, as well as physically,” Gahvin said. “We have a strong, battling team this year and it’s been pretty fun to win these games.”

With the win, Austin put together its best three-game start in at least 15 years. Austin head coach Troy Schaefer said that goaltender Daran Plunkett has been a big reason for the improvement.

“Our goaltender has made a difference. Daran has been unbelievable and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where we’d be at this point,” Austin head coach Troy Schaefer said. “We still have to work hard on defense and we can’t be standing around doing nothing. We have some tough games coming and we’ll see where we’re at with those.”

The Governors (0-4 overall) scored three times over an eight minute stretch in the second period, but Plunkett was unfazed. Even though his team was down 3-1, Plunkett stopped every shot from that point on and he stopped all 10 shots he saw in the third period.

Plunkett, who is Austin’s No. 1 goalie for the first time as a junior, finished with 30 saves.

“I got to play a decent amount in my freshman and sophomore year. Being down 3-1 tonight wasn’t really that a big of a deal, because I know that the majority goals are uncontrollable and you’ve just got to bounce back and move onto the next one.”

Plunkett also gave credit to the camaraderie the Packers have built this season.

“This year, we’ve all played with each other since we were six or seven,” Plunkett said. “The team chemistry has been amazing and we all get each other.” 

The Packers (3-0 overall) had won just five games in the previous three seasons combined. The last time Austin won more than four games in a season was when the Packers went 8-18-1 overall in 2018-2019. Austin hasn’t posted a winning record since 2005-2006, when the team finished with a record of 16-10-1 overall.

The Packers have just one senior on this year’s team, which means the squad could be on the rise for these next two seasons.

“We have a good group of sophomores coming up next year and we’ll have a pretty solid team next year,” Schaeffer said. “It feels good to be on a team that wants to battle and play.”

SCORING SUMMARY

SPJ 0  3  0  – 3

Austin 1  2  2  – 5

First period

(A) Gabriel Reyes (Kyler Flanders) 8:25

Second period

(SP) Joaquin Ochocki (Thomas Halverson, Alexander Themes) (power play) 4:22

(SP) Christian Olanda-Ruiz (Jozef Cunningham) 9:00

(SP) Riley Heddle 11:20

(A) Naryk Rector (Elijah Krueger, Gahvin Schaefer) 15:12

(A) Isaiah Hemann (Reyes) 16:09

Third period 

(A) Schaefer (Cody Peterson) (power play) 2:21

(A) Bradley Lagerstedt 15:49

Power plays: Austin – 1-for-5; SP – 1-for-3

Shots: Austin – 45; SP – 33