Mahtomedi's Nick Lerach fires a shot at the White Bear Lake net and goaltender Doug Ptacek. Photo by Loren Nelson
Four and a half miles, or about nine minutes, separate the downtowns of Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake. Cut the time and distance in half if making the trip across White Bear Lake by snowmobile or boat.
Mahtomedi used conventional transportation to reach White Bear Lake High School on Thursday, May 2, then built upon what is fast becoming one of the state’s great boys’ lacrosse rivalries.
“ ‘Battle of the Lake’ is what everyone calls it,” Zephyrs senior goaltender Joe Rutkiewicz said after making 18 saves in the 7-5 triumph over the Bears.
White Bear Lake High School has an enrollment of 2,257, about twice that of Mahtomedi. Because of the disparity of size in the two schools, they compete in separate conferences and don’t regularly meet in most sports. Lacrosse, of course, being an emotionally charged and highly entertaining exception.
“Oh, it feels really good,” Rutkiewicz said about beating the Bears. “White Bear is definitely our biggest rival, and this is a game everyone looks forward to throughout the entire year. We look for this win.”
Last year White Bear Lake edged the Zephyrs 7-6 in a thrilling game in front of a huge crowd at Mahtomedi High School. Thursday’s cool, windy weather may have cut into the fan turnout, but the style of the showdown remained unchanged. Tight defense, heavy hits and solid goaltending again overshadowed the play of the offenses.
Mahtomedi's Jake Erickson, right, leans into White Bear Lake's Thomas Arko. Photo by Loren Nelson
“We have really solid D,” said Mahtomedi senior attack Jake Erickson, who scored three goals. “That’s one of our strong points this year, as far as bodywise they are pretty big. And our side we had a little bit of a problem getting around their D for a while, but after we figured it out we were pretty successful I would say.”
There aren’t a lot of secrets between these teams. They have been doing battle multiple times a year since they were old enough to strap on helmets. Players from both teams join forces on summer elite teams. White Bear Lake coach Brandon Husak, who coaches one of those elite teams, said he worked with about eight Mahtomedi players last summer.
All of which leads to a mutual respect between players and coaches. Husak and Mahtomedi’s Brian Strauss, who missed Thursday’s game because he was out of town on a work trip, have talked about creating a trophy for the series.
“It means a lot to us,” Husak said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get the game in. The simple fact is we needed it. With our strength of schedule we don’t see many other teams that are of Mahtomedi’s caliber.”
New section assignments this spring – the Minnesota State High School League expanded the lacrosse state playoffs from four sections to eight – only promises to fuel the rivalry. White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi both reside in Section 4, and there’s a strong possibility the teams could play again this season with a state tournament berth on the line.
“It feels pretty good,” said Mahtomedi senior midfielder Mac Rathmanner, who was already looking ahead to a potential postseason meeting. ”We’ve been waiting for this game since last year. We’re going to see them again though in the section finals.
“They are a great team, we have to be even better next time we see them.”
Senior attackman Jake Erickson scored three goals, and senior goaltender Joe Rutkiewicz stopped 18 shots as Mahtomedi handed White Bear Lake its first loss of the season, beating the arch-rival Bears 7-5 in the unofficial "Battle of the Lake" on Thursday, May 2, at White Bear Lake High School.
Erickson and senior midfielder Mac Rathmanner each scored crucial goals in the fourth quarter, allowing the Zephyrs to hold off a late White Bear Lake rally and square their record at 1-1.
Erickson's third goal was a beauty. He took the ball behind the net, used a spin move to escape his defender then scored while face-to-face with Bears' goaltender Douglas Ptacek.
Rutkiewicz, in his first season as a starter, finished with a sparkling .782 save percentage. Ptacek also played well, stopping 20 of 27 shots for a .741 save percentage.
-- Trevor Squire
1. Jake Erickson, Mahtomedi
A hockey standout gifted with soft hands and a goal scorer’s nose for the net, Erickson’s considerable skill set translates well to the lacrosse field, where he scored three goals in a defensive struggle with the Bears.
2. Joe Rutkiewicz, Mahtomedi
The senior goaltender is 2-for-2 in standout performances this season. He followed a stellar debut outing against Benilde-St. Margaret’s by stopping 18 of 23 shots against White Bear Lake. Rutkiewicz’s razor-sharp positioning made it difficult for the Bears' shooters to find openings, and numerous balls slammed into various parts of Rutkiewicz’s body.
3. Nick Truen, White Bear Lake
The senior midfielder was a force on faceoffs, winning a majority of them while square off mostly against Mahtomedi senior standout Mac Rathmanner. Truen also scored with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining to pull the Bears to within two goals.
-- Loren Nelson