A night that began dejectedly for a key player of the Woodbury boys hockey team concluded joyously as the Royals scraped together a 4-4 tie against Stillwater in a crucial Suburban East Conference matchup on Thursday night at the Bielenberg Sports Center.
Colin Keefe's natural hat trick in the third period hoisted the Royals up from a 4-1 deficit and into a final deadlocking against the Ponies, a team that -- like the home team -- entered the year with a sub-.500 record but have been on a tear in the initial month of 2010.
Yet, matters appeared dire for Woodbury against the red-hot Stillwater squad as the hosts trailed by three goals entering the final 17 minutes of regulation play.
Both teams entered the league showdown on respective six-game SEC unbeaten streaks -- the Ponies were 5-0-1 in their last half-dozen, the Royals entered the night 6-0 in January -- but through two periods, it appeared that it would be the visitors that would keep their happy run alive.
Stillwater took advantage of a Woodbury team that spent most of the opening period short-handed to stake itself to a 2-0 advantage and promptly increased that edge to 3-0 with a goal on its first shot of the second frame before it had taken so much as a single minor penalty.
Woodbury could not take advantage of its first two power plays, yet did muster a goal from Connor Delaney, assisted by Jonathan Gehrt and Andrew Herbert, midway through the middle stanza.
Yet, any momentum the hosts appeared to have gained from Delaney's strike seemed to evaporate as Stillwater re-gained its three-goal margin on a score with just 16 seconds remaining in the period.
Enter Colin Keefe.
The Royals forward had spent much of the first two periods in the penalty box after incurring a 10-minute penalty for an inadvertent check in the back on a Ponies player, yet the senior would make the third interval his with a flurry of offensive prowess.
Keefe jammed home Woodbury's second goal of the night on the power play just less than three minutes into the third, with an assist going to Andrew Herbert. The tally began a stirring amongst the Royals fan base that had been absent for much of the evening.
Those assorted students and parents clad in blue truly came to life as Keefe scored goal No. 2, assisted by Walker Hyland, at 12:15 to pull the Royals to within a single mark with just under five minutes to play.
However, it appeared that Stillwater -- buoyed by goaltender Tristan Pennella, who made 28 saves on the night -- would still escape with a one-goal triumph as the clock ticked under one minute to play...
...Until Keefe struck again with 41 seconds to go, assisted by Ty Nowicki and Delaney, as Woodbury drew even in front of a collection of stunned Pony players and fans.
While the overtime session passed without further incident, the night was sufficiently saved for the conference-leading Royals by Keefe's exploits and a Woodbury defense that allowed just 16 shots on net -- only eight from the second period on -- in what was a rough night for the home team's goaltending tandem.
Even with its first non-win of the new year, Woodbury maintained its lead in the SEC as the Royals improved to 11-6-2 overall and 9-1-2 in league play.
Stillwater remained in a fourth-place tie with Forest Lake -- Woodbury's next opponent, with the Royals traveling to face the Rangers on Saturday night.
The Ponies and Rangers shared a 7-3-2 conference mark with SAHS amassing a 9-7-2 overall record and FLHS settling at 10-5-2 all told after being upset by Roseville (5-12-1 overall, 3-8-1 SEC) on Thursday.
Cretin-Derham Hall (13-6, 9-3) held on to its second-place spot in the SEC with an 8-1 defeat of Park (4-13-1, 3-8-1), with White Bear Lake (10-7-1, 7-3-1) holding down the No. 3 spot after topping East Ridge (3-15-1, 0-12) by a 7-1 score Thursday night.
There are six games remaining in the regular season for the two-time defending SEC champion Woodbury squad, with every one of those half-dozen contests in conference play.
The Royals now embark on a two-game road trip that begins at Forest Lake and concludes next Thursday at Hastings. After that, coach Wes Bolin's crew enjoys three of its final four at home, including back-to-back games against White Bear and Cretin at Bielenberg on Feb. 13 and 18, respectively, to close out pre-sectional play.