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Down Goes Delano

Delano squads have struggled to get past major hurdles at past state tournaments.

Delano forward Bryce Peterson (11) carries the puck past Southwest Christian/Richfield forward Johnny Erhart (26) in the first period Feb. 13, 2024, at the Chaska Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wachter)

Amid Delano’s four trips to the Class 1A state boys hockey tournament, the Tigers have yet to clear a major hurdle despite three trophies in the school’s trophy case.

Delano hasn’t won a quarterfinal game at state, going 0-4 all-time amid regular section-final appearances since 2015. All of the Tigers’ state tournament success came after quarterfinal heartbreak with three consolation titles. The only time the Tigers didn’t win the consolation bracket crown occurred when the MSHSL didn’t offer it in 2021, returning to play out of the pandemic.

That said, Delano is a “program that has been on the rise for the last 10 years or so,” as senior defenseman Brayden Coppin put it. A fourth-year varsity player, Coppin knows well that “it means a lot to the community to see us doing well and making it” to The Tourney.

“I think it makes a big impact on the youth teams especially,” Coppin said. “It pushes them more and more to be able to do what we are trying to do.”

Delano skaters this season wanted more than a state appearance and to flip the program’s narrative of reaching state, losing in the quarterfinals, shining in the consolation bracket and wondering “what if” the puck bounced their way in the quarterfinal.

Delano forward Andrew Bruett (23) works the puck toward the Southwest Christian/Richfield goal in the first period Feb. 13, 2024, at the Chaska Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wachter)

Unfortunately for the Tigers, flipping the script will have to wait at least one more season. After defeating Hutchinson 5-2 in the Class 1A, Section 2 quarterfinals, No. 2-seed Delano lost 6-3 to Minneapolis, the 3 seed, in the section semifinals.

Delano’s first trip to state was in 2017, when it lost 3-2 to Monticello. Delano lost 6-4 to Greenway/Nash-Kee in 2019, 5-2 to Mahtomedi in 2020 and 2-1 to Little Falls in 2021, all in the state quarterfinals.

“Making it past Wednesday into Friday and Saturday at the X would be a huge accomplishment for Delano hockey,” senior forward Teague Collings said. “There is so much tradition and success with our program and to finally get over the hump into the final weekend would be incredible.

“To not only do it for ourselves but the people who have come before us, brothers, fathers, uncles [and] all the alumni that have worked so hard for this program to get to see us succeed with their constant support would be surreal.”

Coppin said being “the first Delano team to do it” was “more than enough motivation” this year. Both Collings and Coppin played as freshmen on that Tigers squad that last fell to Little Falls at the X. Delano fell in the Class 1A, Section 2 final the past two years by scores of 3-1 to Minneapolis in 2022 and Orono 4-1 in 2023.

“My expectations are very high for this team,” Tigers senior defenseman Vincent Cappelleri said. “This is a very close team and we know we can go far into state but need to take it one game at a time.”

Delano did well one game at a time in the regular season amid a 16-8-1 record and a Wright County Conference title. The Tigers ranked No. 7 in Class 1A as of Feb. 21.

“We have made strides to getting better every week and I feel we have grown as a team over the length of this season,” Collings said.

Delano had a fast team but a young team with eight sophomores and 11 juniors. Junior forward Mason Hargarten led the Tigers in scoring with 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists). Collings was right behind with 11 goals and 17 assists.

“We play at a high tempo and compete all over the ice,” Collings said. “Our weakness as a team is a lack of experience as we are a young team with a small senior class and lack some of the playoff experience.”

Delano defenseman Eddie Lins (24) fires the puck at the Southwest Christian/Richfield goal in the first period Feb. 13, 2024, at the Chaska Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wachter)

Delano took some early lumps with a 6-3 loss at Warroad 9-0 at East Grand Forks in November. The Tigers went on a seven-game winning streak afterward before a 5-1 loss to perennial power Hermantown in December. Since, the Tigers went 10-6-1, and only two of those were blowout losses, against Class 2A foes Chanhassen and Holy Family.

“A few ups and downs, and a few growing pains, but that is to be expected with a young team like this,” Coppin said.

The Tigers found a groove in February with a 6-0 win over Hutchinson, a 7-0 rout of Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, and 4-1 win over Southwest Christian/Richfield. Delano allowed 2.78 goals per game and had a 88.5% penalty kill, and Tigers skaters averaged 3.78 goals per contest.

Delano goaltenders Evan Geyen and Ethan Engelmann have been equally solid. Geyen had an 10-7-1 record amid 2.94 goals allowed and an .889 save percentage. Engelman allowed 2.46- goals per game with a .912 save percentage amid his 6-2 mark.

“We are a defensively sound team and are very, very tight-knit, for sure the closest I have ever felt to a group of boys,” Coppin said. “We do anything and everything together, and I think that makes us a tough team to play against because we would do anything for one another.”

Delano players believed they are a tough out for anyone when the postseason arrives, too.

“Everyone knows that Delano always plays a tough game and hardworking game. It just adds to the drive to do great things and work hard,” Cappelleri said.

Matthew Davis is an experienced Sports Reporter and has covered Olympic, professional, collegiate and high school athletes for various newspapers and websites. He won a North Dakota Newspaper Association sports reporting award in 2008. He has a degree in Mass Communication from North Dakota State University.

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