BLAINE — The Rochester Ice Hawks picked a perfect time to play their best game of the season.
The Ice Hawks entered the North American Tier 3 Hockey League Showcase at the Schwan Super Rink with a modest 6-14-0 record. And in Thursday's opening round, the Ice Hawks drew a St. Louis team that came to Minnesota with a stellar 21-3-3 mark.
But the Ice Hawks traded blows with the Junior Blues for three periods and came out with a huge 4-3 victory to open the NA3HL Showcase.
"We played well, and it's awesome that we got that result," Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatis said. "We played hard and we played much smarter. What I also love is that I can tell these guys still have another level. We played well, but we are still capable of playing even better.".
Ice Hawks netminder Zach Mains was outstanding in the opening frame, turning away 15 St. Louis shots to keep the game at a scoreless tie entering the second period.
Rochester struck first, with Dan Trageser lighting the lamp just 1:42 into the second. Rochester's Griffen Buck and Justin Sweet assisted on the tally.
At the 9:13 mark, Rochester native Nick Paulson made it a 2-0 Ice Hawks lead. Sweet and Trey McMillen earned the assists.
The teams traded goals for the rest of the game. The Junior Blues scored a power-play goal late in the second to make it 2-1 entering the third.
The Ice Hawks made it a two-goal game again early in the third, with Rochester native Hunter Heightland scoring off assists from McMillen and Ian Smyth.
St. Louis came right back to make it 3-2 a minute later, but a minute after that, the Ice Hawks once again made it a two-goal game with Colby DeCarlo's goal. Ben Koester and Rochester native Dylan Boysen had the assists.
The Junior Blues, who lead the Midwest Division of the NA3HL, scored a late goal, but the Ice Hawks held on for the win.
Mains finished with 31 saves on 34 shots.
The Ice Hawks return to NA3HL Showcase action against the Metro Jets at noon today back at the Schwan Super Rink. The Jets are 20-3-2 and are atop the East Division.
"This was such a great way to start a brutal stretch of schedule," Fatis said. "We go from playing St. Louis to playing the Metro Jets, who are probably a top 3 team in the country. Then we get Granite City on Saturday, and we watched them skate to a virtual tie with the Austin Bruins. And after break, we have North Iowa, La Crosse and North Iowa again. But this is a great way to gain some momentum for this tough stretch. The mistakes were still there, but the effort was amazing. I love the direction we're headed."