The running theme of the St. Cloud Apollo boys hockey season has been defense that stifles its opponents to minimal shots on goal.
There’s a budding trend for the offensive side of Apollo’s game that began to show down the stretch of the regular season: there are often two Bissetts on the scoresheet.
Tuesday night at the Municipal Athletic Complex, there was one.
Brandon Bissett’s goal with 12:44 remaining in the third period was the game-winning goal that lifted the Eagles over Sartell 2-1 in the Section 6A quarterfinals.
“Sartell is a good team, solid all around,” said Bissett, a junior forward with 15 goals. “They have a lot of good players who can do damage, so it feels good to beat them.”
Apollo has won six in a row and improves to 20-4-2.
St. Cloud Apollo goalie Nick Althaus (32) narrowly makes a save on a shot from Sartell’s Keenan Lund (31) in the first period Tuesday night, Feb. 17 at the Municipal Athletic Complex.
The fourth-seeded Eagles will face top-seed Alexandria on the Cardinals’ home ice at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals.
Brandon’s little brother, freshman forward Noah Bissett, didn’t crack the box score Tuesday. His effect on the game took place behind the scenes.
Noah Bissett’s 5-foot-8, 135-pound frame took a beating, but it worked to his team’s advantage.
“Noah’s scrappy, he’s pesty,”Apollo coach Pete Matanich said. “Everyone wants to kill him. He’s one of those guys that gets under the other team’s skin. He does a great job taking it, too.”
Noah Bissett was on the receiving end of a check that resulted in a charging penalty for Sartell, and sent Bissett to the locker room. He said he had a headache and he was bleeding a little bit, but he returned before the end of the first period.
After a scoreless first period, he drew another penalty for the Eagles when he took a cross check in the back of the neck from Sartell’s Austin Gohl.
The pain finally paid off when Tanner Breidenbach netted his 10th goal of the season for his team-leading 33rd point 20 seconds after the penalty early in the second period.
“It hurt, but I felt alright,” Noah Bissett said. “It’s part of the game. I felt a lot better when Tanner scored.”
Added Brandon: “I’m proud of him. That was me when I was a freshman. It’s good to see how he’s improved and how he keeps his cool when guys are hitting him.”
Sartell took advantage of its own power play five minutes later after Hunter Simonson was called for roughing.
The Sabres won a faceoff to the right of Apollo goalie Nick Althaus and it took Gohl three seconds to put the puck in the Apollo net.
“(Spencer) Zwiener got a shot on net right off the faceoff,” Sartell coach Ryan Hacker said. “The puck was trickling behind Althaus and Austin hammered it in.”
The Sabres are a team that likes to use their speed to get up the ice and wear teams down. Apollo didn’t allow that to happen and Sartell (17-6-2) lost all three games between the two this season.
“Apollo gets in your face, slowing you down and grinding it up,” Hacker said. “They get in the corners and slow the game down. We like to play a little more up-tempo.
“We gave up six goals in three games against them, but when you only score two, you’re not going to win very many games. Next year, we have to find a way.”
The Eagles had scored five goals (two on the power play and three short-handed) in eight periods against Sartell this season, but none even strength until Brandon Bissett got loose on a rush.
He let a wrist shot fly after he crossed the blue line and it beat Sartell goalie Carter Kasianov.
“Gino (Lucia) drew the defenseman away from me so I shot and it went 5-hole,” Brandon Bissett said.
Kasianov finished with 23 saves and Althaus had 15.
The Eagles are excited to face Alexandria, who has given Apollo a lot of heartache over the past 12 months.
The Cardinals eliminated the Eagles in double overtime of the section semifinals last year and won on a goal with 1/10th of a second left in the game a month ago.
“Hopefully, we can get back at them and prove to them we’ve gotten better,” Brandon Bissett said.
The younger Bissett had three goals and six assists in the last four games of the regular season, after he was called up to play on the top line.
“To play on the on the top line takes a lot of responsibility,” Noah Bissett said. “I think Coach has a lot of faith in me.”
Added Matanich: “We moved him up and he got quite a bit of reps the last few weeks to get him used to playing consistently at the varsity level.”