Pioneers boys hockey season another grind

Of the 25 games on the Hill-Murray High School boys hockey schedule this season, only five are contests against unranked opponents. To say that the Pioneers will be tested every night out is a grand understatement.

Not that a team of the caliber of Hill-Murray should want it any other way. The Pioneers begin the season ranked No. 5 in the Let’s Play Hockey Class AA poll and return a solid nucleus of players from last year’s team.

“We have six key forwards, three defensemen and two very solid goalies back from last season’s conference and section champs and state-tournament experienced team,” said Hill-Murray head coach Bill Lechner. “Along with new young talent, we are excited for the season.”

Twenty of Hill-Murray’s games this season are against teams that at least received votes in the preseason rankings. Of those, 17 of those opponents were ranked in the top 20 and there’s a possibility of facing up to eight top-10 teams.

The highest-ranked team on Hill-Murray’s schedule is No. 2 Edina, which finished third in the state tournament last season. The Pioneers also play No. 7 Blaine, No. 8 Wayzata twice and No. 9 Benilde-St. Margaret’s. There are also two games against Mahtomedi, which is ranked sixth in Class A and a possible second-round match-up at the Schwan Cup holiday tournament against top-ranked Eden Prairie.

In addition to the schedule, Lechner said getting the new players blended in with the veterans is another challenge for this year’s squad.

“Our challenge will be to develop cohesiveness with the same unselfish goals to represent this year’s version of Pioneer hockey,” Lechner said.

Lechner enters the season needing 12 victories to reach 400 at Hill-Murray. His record as the head coach of the Pioneers is 388-114-16 and his overall career coaching record is 448-187-18.

Hill-Murray’s top three returning scorers from last year’s team are Marko Reifenberger, Dylan Mills and Brock Bremer. Reifenberger was second on the team last year with 18 goals and 35 points in the regular season. Mills is back after tallying five goals and 10 assists and Bremer scored three goals and nine assists.

Other forwards back this season after playing extensively last year are Luke Ranallo, Kyler Yeo, and Joey Bauman.

Hill-Murray’s defensive corps is led by Sean Ryan, Casey Staum and Austin Peterson.

The goaltending duties fall to the junior tandem of Jake Begley and John Eger.

The captains this season are Staum, Peterson and Reifenberger.

The Pioneers opened the season on Saturday with a non-conference game at Burnsville and got a stiff test from the Blaze. Hill-Murray rallied from a two-goal deficit to edge Burnsville 4-3.

Burnsville got off to a quick start with a goal only 53 seconds into the game but Hill-Murray answered when Ben Helgeson scored at 3:32 of the first off an assist from Yeo, son of Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo.

The Blaze went back in front six minutes later and made it a two-goal lead with their third goal of the first period at 10:18.

Hill-Murray turned the tables on Burnsville in the second period with a quick strike of its own. Helgeson tallied his second of the game, this time on the power play, just 1:04 into the period. Ranallo provided the assist.

The Pioneers tied it with 3:31 left in the second on another power-play marker, this one coming from Emmet Nath off assists from Sean Ryan and Derick Breezee.

With the game tied after two periods, Burnsville came out firing in the third but the Pioneers were able to turn back the challenge and pick up the game-winning goal. Peterson broke the tie with 7:31 left in the game with Ryan picking up the only assist.

Hill-Murray pulled out the victory despite being outshot 36-20. Pioneer goaltender Begley turned away 33 of those shots to pick up the victory.

With the season-opener under their belts, the Pioneers have this week off as they prepare for back-to-back games against top-10 teams next week. Hill-Murray hosts ninth-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Dec. 3 and eighth-ranked Wayzata on Dec. 5.

Brian Meyers can be reached at or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

2015-16 Hill-Murray High School boys hockey schedule
Nov. 21    at Burnsville            3 p.m.
Dec. 3    vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s    7:30 p.m.
Dec. 5    vs. Wayzata                7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8    vs. White Bear Lake        7:30 p.m.
Dec. 12    at Maple Grove            7 p.m.
Dec. 15    at Mahtomedi            7:30 p.m.
Dec. 17    at South St. Paul            7 p.m.
Dec. 19    at North St. Paul            7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22    at Tartan                7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28    vs. Wayzata at Schwan Cup    12 p.m.
Dec. 29    vs. TBA at Schwan Cup        TBA
Dec. 30    vs. TBA at Schwan Cup        TBA
Jan. 7    at Hastings                7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9    vs. Edina                7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14    vs. Tartan                7:30 p.m.
Jan. 16    vs. St. Thomas Academy        7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19    vs. Blaine                7:30 p.m.
Jan. 21    vs. Henry Sibley            7:30 p.m.
Jan. 23    vs. Stillwater            7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26    at Bemidji                6 p.m.
Jan. 30    vs. Mahtomedi            7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4    at Simley                7:30 p.m.
Feb. 6    at St. Thomas Academy        7 p.m.
Feb. 10    at Elk River            7 p.m.
Feb. 13    vs. Moorhead            2:30 p.m.

Let’s Play Hockey/Associated Press Class AA state boys hockey rankings (Released Nov. 18)
1 – Eden Prairie
2 – Edina
3 – Lakeville North
4 – Grand Rapids
5 – Hill-Murray
6 – Duluth East
7 – Blaine
8 – Wayzata
9 – Benilde-St. Margaret’s
10 – Bemidji
11 – St. Thomas Academy
12 – Minnetonka
13 – Elk River/Zimmerman
14 – Stillwater
15 – Prior Lake
16 – Holy Family Catholic
17 – Farmington
18 – Centennial
19 – Bloomington Jefferson
20 – Moorhead

Also receiving votes: Burnsville, White Bear Lake, Lakeville South, Maple Grove, St. Michael-Albertville, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, Anoka, Duluth Marshall, Cretin-Derham Hall, Eastview


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