St. Louis Park sophomore Matt Harkema slips past Duluth defenseman Seamus Mackinaw to beat goaltender T.J. Vallie for a second-quarter goal. Photo by Loren Nelson
There’s no telling what St. Louis Park coach Kevin Reed might yell from the sideline during the heat of battle.
Reed, aptly nicknamed “Hollywood,” might crack a joke, he might bark out a goofy code name for the next offensive set he wants run, he might call sophomore Matt Harkema “an 800-pound gorilla.”
Matter of fact, he did call Harkema an 800-pound gorilla on Friday, June 7, during an MBSLA semifinal against Duluth at Minneapolis Washburn High School.
The Orioles play undefeated and No. 1-ranked Hudson in the championship game at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Washburn.
Harkema is a big kid, easily standing above six feet and weighing in at more than 200 pounds. A prolific goal scorer, Harkema usually does his damage by unloading cannon shots from just outside the crease. The game plan changed against the previously unbeaten Chargers.
Sophomore Matt Harkema, left, celebrates after scoring one of his four goals against Duluth. Photo by Loren Nelson
“We were just trying something new and taking it from X (behind the net) instead of just putting me on the crease every time,” said Harkema, who scored four goals in the Orioles’ 11-7 victory, propelling them to a sixth straight MBSLA title game.
Harkema opened the scoring 28 seconds into the first quarter and scored twice during a second quarter in which St. Louis Park outscored Duluth 6-1. His four goals give him 56 in 14 games this season.
“He just has some good hands, good handles in tight,” Duluth coach Scott Wishart said. “We weren’t prepared for bodying him at that point. Good player.”
The Chargers’ halftime adjustments were as effective – they outscored St. Louis Park 5-3 over the final two quarters – as they were too late.
“We definitely put our biggest defender on him,” Wishart said about Duluth’s heightened awareness of Harkema. “We figured we would give him all he could take.”
Harkema was held to a single second-half goal, but his bulldozer runs from behind the net already had cleared a path to victory.
“He’s pretty versatile,” Reed said. “It’s just a like size thing and I feel like we were a little bit bigger as a team. So one of our game plans was to go in and really try to push them around. And really make our presence felt.
“It worked out a lot for big Matt. He had a little different flavor to him today.”
St. Louis Park midfielder Carlos Siguenza quarterbacks the Orioles’ offense. Most often his job is to find Harkema sliding into openings in the slot. But not against the Chargers.
“We just recently starting telling him that he is a big enough guy to take it from X and push his way through to the front of the net,” Siguenza said. “Now he is starting to do it, and it is working every time.”
The victory sent the Orioles to a sixth straight title game appearance. St. Louis Park has won two titles in that span.
“Every year it feels better,” Siguenza said. “You become more and more used to it. It becomes less nerve wracking for you. You just get excited and not so much nervous.”
-- Loren Nelson
St. Louis Park sophomore Matt Harkema scores a first-quarter goal against Duluth. Photo by Loren Nelson
Sophomore Matt Harkema scored four goals, and eighth-grader Brody Ilstrup had three as St. Louis Park reached the MBSLA championship for the sixth consecutive season with an 11-7 triumph over previously unbeaten Duluth on Friday, June 7, at Minneapolis Washburn High School.
The Orioles advance to play Hudson in the championship game at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Minneapolis Washburn. St. Louis Park won MBSLA titles in 2008 and 2010 and was runner-up to Orono in 2009, MontiQuois in 2011 and Delano in 2012.
Senior Carlos Siguenza scored twice in the opening two minutes of the second quarter to spark a 6-1 advantage in the session for the Orioles (12-2). Harkema also scored twice in the second quarter for St. Louis Park, which led 8-2 at halftime.
Duluth’s Dan O’Connell, Brody Carlson and Bryce Holak scored to open the third quarter as the Chargers (13-1) closed to within 8-5. St. Louis Park regained control with consecutive goals from Ilstrup, Harkema and David Diedrich spanning parts of the third and fourth quarters and making the score 11-5.
St. Louis Park’s Willy Harkema made nine saves while Duluth’s T.J. Vallie made 13 stops.
-- Loren Nelson
1. Matt Harkema, St. Louis Park
Affectionately dubbed the “800 pound gorilla” by his coach, Harkema was every bit his namesake. He was an immovable object around the net and buried a game-high four goals. He spent most of his night around the crease and couldn’t have been more effective in that position.
2. Carlos Siguenza, St. Louis Park
Siguenza had a big impact on the score sheet with two goals and an assist but the impact he had on the game was immeasurable. The St. Louis Park offense ran through him for much of the game, and he also took the majority of face-offs. He took a beating from the Duluth defenders all night, but that didn’t stop him from driving to net and making plays for the Orioles.
3. T.J. Vallie, Duluth
The Duluth goaltender was tested early and often by the St. Louis Park attackers, but he stood tall, making 13 saves. Vallie kept the Orioles off the scoreboard for the first 8 minutes of the third quarter, allowing his team to go on a 3-0 run and make things interesting. If not for the steady performance of Vallie, the game would not have been as close as it was.
-- John Kelsey