The Two Rivers boys’ hockey team is playing with a renewed spirit this season under first-year head coach Brandon Ferraro and the results are showing on the scoreboard.

After struggling to get over the .500 mark the last few years, the Warriors were 16-8-1 overall through February 18 and 5-5 in the tough Metro East Conference. Two Rivers even broke into the top 10 rankings in the state in Class A for a time this winter. Despite recent losses, the Warriors have a different look and feel under a coach who seems to know what makes them tick.

“I’ve coached 96 percent of them before (varsity),” said Ferraro, who coached many of them in youth hockey.

The Warriors are holding onto more good players who come through the team’s feeder programs and Ferraro likes some of the intangibles on his club.

Two Rivers hockey
Two Rivers senior Joe Shepherd celebrates after slapping in a power play goal to open the scoring in the first period of the Warriors’ 4-3 home win over Highland Park on February 18. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We want kids who believe in themselves and who are good teammates,” he said. “We don’t have a ton of numbers, but it’s pretty good for this area. You just want to get the right kind of people.”

And there’s one more thing. “Every time we go out there, we want to be known as a hard-working team,” Ferraro said.

Winning more than before

The Warriors have won some key games this season and have had a couple of near-misses. They’ve beaten league rival South Saint Paul twice, bested Bloomington Jefferson 2-1 and tied Luverne 2-2. They lost a 3-1 toughie against Hastings and raised a lot of eyebrows by losing only 1-0 to mighty Hill-Murray.

Though they have also had their down moments, such as a 6-0 loss to Mahtomedi, the Warriors have shown that they don’t belong in the bottom reaches of the conference anymore.

“We haven’t found an identity yet,” Ferraro said, “but I’d like us to be known as a good passing team. Passing the puck is a big part of winning hockey games.”

“We haven’t found an identity yet,” Ferraro said, “but I’d like us to be known as a good passing team. Passing the puck is a big part of winning hockey games.”

Good goalkeeping, defense a plus

If another major component of winning is good goalkeeping, the Warriors appear to have twin protection in their nets in junior Brady Altier and senior Tyler Ouren. They had goals-against averages of 2.02 and 1.85, respectively, while combining for five shutouts and splitting their time in the net almost equally. “They both deserve good playing time,” Ferraro said.

The goalies have some stalwart defenders in front of them as well. Ferraro likes his backline talent so much that he has no problem going with six defensive regulars. Seniors Matthew Rash and Fostin Woolsey compose the first tandem, followed by juniors Isak Christopherson and Vince Schuehle, and junior Andrew Eckmann with sophomore Will Geddes.

Ferraro said being deep on defense can reap big dividends as a season wears on. “Those guys are key,” he said.

Scoring has also improved

Up front, the Warriors have some skilled forwards they haven’t often possessed in recent years. The first line can really light it up. Junior center Will Auran provides nice playmaking between senior wings Casey Ball and Joe Shepherd. The hard-nosed Ball moves well laterally and was leading the team in points with 23 goals and 14 assists through mid-February. Auran and Shepherd added 18 and 17 points, respectively.

The second line features sophomore forward Eddie Auran, who was second on the team in points with 15 goals and 10 assists. His linemates are junior Nate Rohrer (17 points) and sophomore Preston Gamer (22).

The third line has junior center Nico Ferraro, the coach’s son, along with senior Will Karlen and either senior Ben Cobbett or junior Jack Staples.

Penalty killing and experienced players

Coach Ferraro is ecstatic about his team’s penalty-killing abilities, which he said ranked among the state’s best for much of  this season. He gave kudos to Will Auran and Ball, along with Rohrer and Nico Ferraro, for their steady work in penalty-killing situations.

Senior Mason Moynihan and junior Josiah Myers provide duty as spare forwards.

Two Rivers has good experience with 10 seniors and nine juniors. The key to the Warriors’ aspirations when the Section 4A playoffs begin on February 23 will be how well they apply the lessons they’ve learned this season.

But no matter what, Ferraro believes his team is building a strong foundation. “We have coaches here who are in the community and care about the community,” he said. “And our school is selling itself. We have a good facility and you get a good education here.”

— Bill Wagner


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