Minnesota Hockey Magazine https://minnesotahockeymag.com Minnesota's leading online hockey destination. Tue, 10 Mar 2020 02:28:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-IMG_8923-1-32x32.jpg Minnesota Hockey Magazine https://minnesotahockeymag.com 32 32 The Owen Factor https://minnesotahockeymag.com/the-owen-factor/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/the-owen-factor/#respond Tue, 10 Mar 2020 02:28:24 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33719 11-year-old Owen Nei combines passion for hockey and raising awareness for Gillette Children’s

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When Owen Nei met Devan Dubnyk last year, he asked the Minnesota Wild goaltender to sign the back of his Wild jersey with the number 99 on it.

“He said, ‘You’ve got some really big shoes to fill,’” Owen said. Number 99, of course, was worn by Wayne Gretzky.

Owen and Dubnyk met again after the Wild’s game against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 23. Dubnyk and some of the other Wild players stopped to sign autographs for the Blaine Bantam Bantam B2 team. Owen was there, too, representing Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

When he saw Dubnyk, Owen presented the same 99 jersey wanting an autograph.

“He was like, ‘Can you sign this?’ And I said, ‘Buddy, I signed it right here,’” Dubnyk said, chuckling. “And he said, ‘Will you sign the other number now?’

“So, he’s got both the nines on the jersey signed in the middle by me.”

Wild fans might not know the 11-year-old Owen or his story, but they’ve probably seen him. He appears in the Hiway Federal Credit Union Hockey Kids4Kids commercial with Dubnyk that’s shown in the arena during Wild games and during the FSNorth broadcasts. Hockey Kids4Kids was started three years ago to inspire youth hockey teams to participate in community service. Youth hockey teams hold fundraisers to benefit Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul to help kids who may not be able to play hockey because of medical conditions or injuries.

This year, 23 youth programs raised $24,608 bringing the total funds raised over three years to more than $75,000.

Owen is one of the Gillette Children’s kids and has become a bit of a representative for the Hockey Kids4Kids program. His parents found out at the 19-week ultrasound with Owen that he had aqueductal stenosis, where the ventricles in his brain that carry spinal fluid were blocked between the third and fourth ventricles, compressing the brain tissue, according to his dad, Chris. With almost no brain tissue, Owen’s parents were advised to abort the pregnancy and declined.

Owen had surgery right after he was born addressing Goldenhar syndrome, which is a rare malformation of the cranial structure. Owen has had 15 surgeries in his young life and is deaf in his left ear. A CT scan at eight months old showed 100 percent of his brain tissue was back.

“He just kept hitting milestone after milestone cognitively,” Chris said. “And he’s a super-smart kid.”

The Hiway Federal Credit Union Hockey Kids4Kids commercial shown at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 23, 2020. (Heather Rule)

Chat with Owen for even a few minutes and it becomes clear how much his passion for hockey spills over. Let’s start with the basics: How long has he been a hockey fan?

“Probably since day one,” Owen said.

Yes, since the day he was born, Owen confirmed. With two older siblings who play and a dad who coaches, Owen’s always been at the rink, his dad said.

Even with the connection with Dubnyk, Owen maintains former Wild forward Mikael Granlund is his favorite player. He still keeps up with him, even after Granlund was traded to Nashville last season.

“I just like the style of his playing,” Owen said. “And he seems like a nice guy, and I’ve always wanted to meet him.”

Owen was in the suite with the Blaine team (one of the top fundraising teams and selected at random to receive a party at Xcel Energy Center) for the 4-1 Wild loss to St. Louis. The Wild scored their only goal as Owen was in the middle of an interview with a certain reporter in the suite. Upon hearing the goal horn and cheers from fans, Owen immediately perked up and started trying to get a glimpse of what happened.

With the interview about wrapped up, he was told he was free to go back to his seat. He jumped up and couldn’t get there fast enough, it seemed. That enthusiasm is part of what they refer to as the “Owen Factor” in the Nei household, Chris said.

Owen Nei and his dad, Chris, at the hockey rink. (Chris Nei)

“The Owen factor is that he’s given us a perspective on life of what’s important,” Chris said. “He’s always positive and he’s got a big heart, and he’s super tough to go through all those surgeries.”

Owen plays the game, too, as a member of the St. Paul Capitals C squirts team. He has the approval of his pediatric neurosurgeon to play, although the doctor was concerned because Owen’s spinal column was a bit smaller and he’s at a higher risk for being paralyzed from a traumatic injury, according to Chris.

But at the squirts level, the play is so slow and players are small enough and close to the ground that it isn’t much of an issue right now. He can play into bantams, until checking starts, his dad said. Owen is a decent skater, with a backyard rink for practice, and has good hand-eye coordination in spite of his condition, according to Chris.

This year, Owen’s dad told him if he wants to keep playing hockey, they’ll just figure out a way to make that happen.

“Let’s take it one day at a time,” Chris said. “You’ve defied the odds already. Who’s to say you can’t play?”

Dubnyk can see how much Owen loves the game and doesn’t think it’s a question of Owen wanting to play.

“Certainly, there’s quite obviously nothing that will be slowing him down,” Dubnyk said. “So, he’s going to do everything plus more and more than people think he’s capable of doing.”

Owen has some goals in mind, too, like playing Division-I hockey, winning a national championship and winning the state high school tournament.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL,” Owen said. “And score a goal in the NHL and just make great friends.”

Dubnyk said he’s fortunate to be able to raise money for Hockey Kids4Kids, but it’s Owen’s inspiration that drives it all.

“Kids’ innocence and strength is just the most incredible thing in the world when they’re faced with adversity,” Dubnyk said. “They don’t feel sorry for themselves. They just go.

“It’s a special thing to see and obviously you wish that he didn’t have to do it, but he can certainly teach a lot of us a really good lesson.”

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Why Not Us? https://minnesotahockeymag.com/why-not-us/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/why-not-us/#respond Sun, 08 Mar 2020 05:41:30 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34143 Minus top defender, Hill-Murray seizes title opportunity in 4-1 win over Eden Prairie

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SAINT PAUL – Hill-Murray senior Charlie Strobel recalled hanging out with his teammates at goaltender Remington Keopple’s house last summer.

“We’re just like, ‘why don’t we become state champions our senior year?’” Strobel said.

Why don’t they? Well, they did.

Hill-Murray defeated Eden Prairie 4-1 in the Class 2A championship Saturday night. The Pioneers pulled off an upset, winning the title as a 5-seed over the 3-seeded Eagles. Strobel had a team-leading four goals in the tournament, including two in the title game.

“We’re 2020 state high school hockey champions,” Strobel said. “And we can live with that for the rest of our lives. That’s the best feeling in the world right now.”

Hill-Murray senior captain Charlie Strobel (L) and teammate Henry Eischen celebrate Strobel’s second-period goal giving the Pioneers a 3-0 lead over Eden Prairie en route to a 4-1 win over the Eagles in the Class 2A final on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

The Pioneers accomplished the feat with what opponents often referred to as their “relentless” play. That offense and defense started off strong from the drop of the puck Saturday.

Hill-Murray took a 1-0 lead in the middle of the first period, capitalizing on the first power-play opportunity of the game. Junior defenseman Matthew Fleischhacker took a shot from the blue line that found its way into the net.

Their underdog status helped their mindset, too.

“Gave us a little firepower at the beginning of the game,” Fleischhacker said.

The Pioneers extended the lead to 3-0 by the time the second period was over. First, they got an early goal from senior Owen Quast when he entered the Eden Prairie zone and blasted a shot top-shelf over the blocker at the 3:46 mark of the period.

With 1:54 to play in the period, Strobel took the puck into the zone and held his ground while being defended by Eden Prairie’s Mason Langenbrunner. Strobel went all the way down behind the net and finished off the play with a textbook wrap-around goal to push the margin to 3-0.

Eden Prairie assistant coach Paul Ranheim pointed to momentum turning just three minutes into the game, when Jackson Blake stood even with the goal line and sent the puck all the way through the crease, parallel with the goal line.

“I think the momentum for us changed when we had the great 3-on-2 and Blake didn’t score,” Ranheim said.

Eden Prairie’s John Mittelstadt (9) and Ben Steeves (6) celebrate Steeves’ third-period goal, cutting the Eagles’ deficit to 3-1 on the way to a 4-1 loss to Hill-Murray in Saturday night’s Class 2A championship game at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Eden Prairie got on the board with 11:11 remaining in regulation with Ben Steeves’ 37th goal of the season when he picked a corner just inside the top of the goal on the blocker side. The Eagles had life, cutting into the deficit for a 3-1 game.

But Strobel took a diving shot on a 2-on-1 play and his second of the game seemed to really seal the deal for the Pioneers, regaining the three-goal lead with 6:01 left in regulation.

Despite Eden Prairie pulling its goaltender not long after that, the Eagles couldn’t seem to get much going offensively in the closing minutes.  

“They were getting in shooting lanes,” said Eagles senior John Mittelstadt. “It wasn’t easy getting the puck to the net, obviously.”

The Pioneers were also without one of their top defensemen, Joe Palodichuk, in the game. The team found out in the middle of the afternoon that the junior would be out after going to the doctor and being diagnosed with mono.

It created some personnel changes on the fly before the game. With Palodichuk usually running the power play, the Pioneers stuck Jared Jensen in that spot, while they also rotated five defensemen throughout the game.

“What was bizarre is we got one power play, I believe, and we scored on it,” said Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner.

It’s the fourth state title for the Pioneers and second in the two-class format that started in 1994, with the other title coming in 2008. Hill-Murray also won the title in 1991, when Strobel’s father, Mike, was an assistant captain on the team. His uncle, Mark Strobel, was the tournament’s leading scorer that year, with four goals and three assists.

For Charlie, it’s a great feeling knowing that family history.

“Then I came in here and tried to do my best to do the same thing,” Charlie said. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, because I knew if I did, the outcome probably wouldn’t happen.”

Since winning its second state title in 2011, Eden Prairie has finished as a runner-up three times (2016, 2019, 2020).

“They played like they wanted it more,” Ranheim said, of Hill-Murray. “They came out, their legs were moving, and we got behind. And chased and chased and couldn’t find our momentum.”

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East Metro Reigns Again https://minnesotahockeymag.com/east-metro-reigns-again/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/east-metro-reigns-again/#respond Sun, 08 Mar 2020 05:40:01 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34120 Champions rise in the east for the next year at least

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SAINT PAUL — Hill-Murray’s resounding 4-1 Class 2A championship game win over Eden Prairie on Saturday night paired with Mahtomedi’s thrilling Class 1A title tilt win over Hermantown earlier in the day is quite the feather in the the Metro East Conference’s cap, the league that houses both of them, and the East Metro in general.

When asked about it after the game, Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner responded, “I guess I didn’t think of it that way but does that happen very often?”

The answer to Lechner’s question is no. In fact, it marks the first time since 2008 that one conference can claim both state champions going back to when the Classic Suburban Conference, featuring Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy, managed the same feat. It was also the last time two East Metro teams have claimed state titles in the same season. 

Coincidentally, that was the last time the Pioneers skated off as Class 2A champions. The 2008 Classic Suburban winners were joined by conference runner-up St. Thomas Academy, which won the Class 1A title that year. The Cadets made it a trio of Metro East teams qualifying for the 2020 state tournament, this time as a Class 2A competitor, and advanced to the semifinals before falling to the Pioneers 3-2 on Charlie Strobel’s overtime goal. 

The 2008 Pioneers also beat St. Thomas Academy in overtime at Xcel Energy Center but that came in late January as part of the 2nd-annual Hockey Day Minnesota festivities based in Baudette. Three days later, a 5-4 overtime win over Mahtomedi clinched the conference title for Hill-Murray.

The Pioneers went on to defeat Roseau 4-2 in the Class 2A semifinals, ending the Rams’ 42-game winning streak dating back to the previous season. The Pioneers won the state title with a 3-0 win over another West Metro power Edina.

Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl addresses his team on the bench during his team’s Class 1A quarterfinal win over Delano on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo: Tim Kolehmainen / Breakdown Sports USA)

Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner’s second state championship came in his 14th tournament appearance (11th in the last 15 years) which includes five trips to the Class 2A final. For Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl, on the other hand, Saturday’s win gave the Zephyrs their first Class 1A state title overall and first in nine trips to the state tournament under Poeschl after three third place finishes (1994, 2015 and 2019).

“They did a great job and it was fun for Poeschy,” Lechner said. “We sent them a little congrats before our game so, yeah, that’s pretty neat.”

The ties between Lechner, Hill-Murray and Poeschl run deep dating back to the 1979-80 season when Poeschl was a senior 3-year starter for the Pioneers during Lechner’s first season as a Hill-Murray assistant coach under Terry Skrypek. One of Poeschl’s teammates, Bill Schafhauser, is Hill-Murray’s girls’ varsity coach and the brother of current Lechner assistant, Pat Schafhauser.

Now they coach at schools slightly more than six miles apart and have done so since the 1997-98 season.

“There’s certainly an awful lot of pride for the East Metro,” Poeschl said. “For as much as we hear about the West Metro and the teams, not to take anything away from them, but we often are in the shadow of the Edinas and the Wayzatas and the Benildes and Eden Prairies and, you know, the list goes on.

“But [I’m] awfully proud of the East Metro and the way that we’ve represented our conference.”

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Class 2A Final Gallery: Eden Prairie vs. Hill-Murray https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-final-gallery-eden-prairie-vs-hill-murray/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-final-gallery-eden-prairie-vs-hill-murray/#respond Sun, 08 Mar 2020 05:11:36 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34118 Pioneers Class 2A title trail leads to 4-1 win over Eagles

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Mahtomedi earns its championship https://minnesotahockeymag.com/mahtomedi-earns-its-championship/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/mahtomedi-earns-its-championship/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 23:10:30 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34089 Colin Hagstrom's OT winner lifts Mahtomedi to 3-2 win over Hermantown and first state title

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SAINT PAUL – Mahtomedi senior Colin Hagstrom only played in 18 games this season, scoring 10 goals coming into Saturday’s Class 1A championship game.

His 11th goal will likely go down as perhaps the biggest of his career.

He buried a shot 2 minutes, 44 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory over Hermantown to give the Zephyrs their first boys’ hockey state title.

“I just got the pass from Metzie, and I cut to the middle,” Hagstrom said. “I shot it, and it went in.

“It still doesn’t feel real.”

Mahtomedi grabbed an early 2-0 lead with a power-play goal from junior JD Metz in the first period and another 1 minute, 47 seconds into the second period from junior Ethan Peterson, with a Metz feed from behind the net.

But from early on in the second period, the ice tilted toward Hermantown’s favor. While Mahtomedi played defense and only registered one more shot on goal the entire period, Hermantown pressured to get on the board. Senior Drew Sams made it 2-1 at the 11:41 mark of the second on a shot that got through traffic and appeared to go in off Metz in front.

“We came to play in the second half of the game,” said Mr. Hockey finalist, Hermantown senior Blake Biondi.

The play was similar in the third period, as Hermantown outshot Mahtomedi 23-3. They peppered Mahtomedi sophomore goaltender Ben Dardis with shots without getting rewarded for their efforts.

Hermantown’s Aaron Pionk watches his shot sail over the glove of Mahtomedi goaltender Ben Dardis with 21.2 seconds left to send the game to overtime. MHM (Photo / Rick Olson)

It looked like the game would end there. But with 21.2 seconds left in regulation, junior Aaron Pionk tied the game. It was confirmed to be a good goal after video review, as players were crashing the net and a Hermantown player ended up in the crease.

The explanation Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl received from officials on the goal was that the player in the crease did not significantly interfere with the goaltender.

“I lost my mind,” Pionk said, when the goal was confirmed. “I think I knew it was in right away.”

Giving up the tying goal so close to the title in regulation might be enough to frustrate or deflate a team like Mahtomedi. Metz said they “were definitely a little stunned,” but Poeschl said his players weren’t down in the brief break before overtime.

“I’ve coached for 27 years, and there have been a lot of highs and lows,” Poeschl said. “You can read a team. And there was never that feeling of, ‘Oh man. Now we don’t have a chance.’ There was never that sense on the bench.”

Mahtomedi went back out and put two shots on goal in less than three minutes of overtime – the same number of shots it had in the second period – it just so happened that one of them found the back of the net.

Dardis finished the game with 40 saves and a state championship. Andrews didn’t know what more his team could have done against him.

“It was a clinic on how to play goalie,” said Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews. “Hats off to the Dardis kid.

“To tie that thing up when I didn’t know if we’d ever get another goal on that kid. He played out of his mind.”

Poeschl said his team executed its game plan, knowing it wasn’t “going to be able to go toe-to-toe with Hermantown” and win a track meet type of game.

“Even though the puck was in our end an awful lot tonight, we knew that that was the kind of game that we were going to have to play,” Poeschl said.

Mahtomedi goaltender Ben Dardis made 40 saves in hi team’s 3-2 Class 1A state championship game win over Hermantown on Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Hagstrom and teammate Nikolai Dulak, who had two assists in the game and five for the tournament, were the only two seniors this year who’ve played on the varsity squad all four years of high school. Their teams went to four state hockey tournaments, always coming up empty except for this final time.

This year’s title didn’t come without a setback for Hagstrom, however. He missed six-to-seven weeks in the middle of the season with a broken fibula, returning Jan. 28. He scored 11 goals and 19 points in 18 games this season, with the championship game-winner no doubt ranking at the top.

At first, the doctors didn’t know if he’d be back on the ice this season.

“I had to support my team,” Hagstrom said. “I told myself there was no way that I wouldn’t come back.”

Hagstrom also received the Herb Brooks Award following the game, one presented to him on the ice by his former Mahtomedi teammates, Tom and Joe Paradise, who graduated last year.

“The Herb Brooks Award is a snapshot of Colin,” Poeschl said. “He persevered. He was at every single practice. Every team meeting. He was on the bench filling water bottles. When he had a boot on, he’s shooting pucks.”

Hagstrom scored eight of his 11 goals this season since his return, including a goal in each state tournament game, adding a pair of assists as well.

He was part of the effort that helped Mahtomedi make the most of its opportunities in its final two games of the year. In the semifinal in which it knocked off top-seeded Warroad, Mahtomedi scored five goals on 12 shots. Saturday, the Zephyrs had their two goals on only six shots.

Hermantown, with three state titles, holds the Class 1A tournament record for most runner-up finishes with eight. On the other hand, Mahtomedi came into the tournament having some poor history on its side. The Zephyrs hold the Class 1A tournament record for most losses in the tournament with 17. They also hadn’t made a championship game until this year, and now they’re 1-0.

With the Zephyrs winning, it also marks the first time since 2004-07 that there have been four different Class 1A champions in a row. From 2017-20, it’s been Hermantown, Orono, St. Cloud Cathedral and now Mahtomedi.

Poeschl has led plenty of teams to the tournament in his 23 years coaching at Mahtomedi, but a title was worth the wait.

“I’m just happy for these guys that they can make history in Mahtomedi hockey,” Poeschl said.

MHM Photo / Rick Olson

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Class 1A Final Gallery: Hermantown vs. Mahtomedi https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-1a-final-gallery-hermantown-vs-mahtomedi/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-1a-final-gallery-hermantown-vs-mahtomedi/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 22:33:39 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34085 Zephyrs claim first state championship with 3-2 OT win over Hawks

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Class 2A SF Gallery: Pioneers vs. Cadets https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-sf-gallery-pioneers-vs-cadets/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-sf-gallery-pioneers-vs-cadets/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 05:48:48 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34020 Strobel's OT winner vaults Hill-Murray over STA and into title tilt with Eden Prairie

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Pioneers Parade To 2A final https://minnesotahockeymag.com/pioneers-parade-to-2a-final/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/pioneers-parade-to-2a-final/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 05:45:47 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34043 Eden Prairie tops Blake 4-1 to earn another shot at the title

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SAINT PAUL – Every game in both classes of the boys state hockey tournament had been overtime-free. Running time? Check. A one-goal game? Just one of those. But overtime?

Not until late Friday night in the second Class 2A semifinal.

In the final 30 seconds of the first overtime period, it was Hill-Murray senior captain Charlie Strobel who got just enough of his stick on the puck in front of the net to send it toward the goal line and it eventually trickled over the line.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Strobel said. “I felt us, as a team, gave it our all. We’re a pretty tight group. And I just tried my best to get it in the back of the net.”

The goal, coming with 21.4 seconds on the clock, sent the Pioneers to the state title game with a 3-2 victory over unseeded St. Thomas Academy.

Hill-Murray outshot the Cadets 8-0 in overtime. Coach Bill Lechner called Strobel the “heartbeat” of the team.

“It makes you feel good as a coach that they were prepared for overtime and still had a jump in their step,” Lechner said. “I could truly tell that they weren’t going to let this one go.”

Hill-Murray’s Dylan Godbout takes one of his three shots that didn’t go in during Friday night’s 3-2 overtime win over St. Thomas Academy at Xcel Energy Center. Godbout did score twice, however, to help the Pioneers reach Saturday night’s Class 2A final against 2019 runner-up Eden Prairie. (Photo: Tim Kolehmainen / Breakdown Sports USA)

The fifth-seeded Pioneers grabbed the lead thanks to a pair of early, power-play goals from sophomore Dylan Godbout. His first came just 1 minute, 28 seconds into the game. He made it 2-0 nearly five minutes later. Hill-Murray came out with the fast start, outshooting the Cadets 11-5 in the first period.

Sophomore Nick Pierre, who had two goals and an assist in the quarterfinals against Moorhead, assisted on both goals.

That took a hit just 59 seconds into the third period, when Riley O’Brien got in tight and fired a high shot over the blocker of senior Hill-Murray goaltender Remington Keopple to make it 2-1.

A power play later in the period helped St. Thomas Academy tie the game at 2 apiece with 6:16 left in regulation. Senior defenseman Charlie Killian’s point shot found its way through and bounced into the net.

“I was honestly not surprised our kids responded,” said St. Thomas Academy coach Trent Eigner, who mentioned his players were “emotionally fatigued” following Thursday’s upset of top-seeded Andover.

The Cadets have just two losses on their schedule since Jan. 30 Both of them have been by 3-2 scores to Hill-Murray. They’ll play for third place for the second consecutive year.

The Pioneers are in search of a fourth state title in program history, and second since the two-class tournament started in 1994, the last title coming in 2008. They were last in the title game in 2012 and 2013, finishing as the runner up. They also hold the tournament record for most times as the state runner-up with eight.

Eden Prairie back to title game

Probably the most entertaining thing to watch in the first Class 2A semifinal game between 3-seed Eden Prairie and 2-seed Blake was the goaltending. It made picking a “save of the game” difficult for those that wanted to do so.

“Man, when Axel (Rosenlund) was called on, he was great in net,” said Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith.

With 33 shots on goal apiece, senior Rosenlund made a couple more saves – 32 – than his counterpart at the other end in order to secure a 4-1 Eden Prairie victory for a second straight state-title game appearance on Saturday night.

Rosenlund and Blake’s Aksel Reid, a junior who made 30 saves, helped keep the game scoreless through nearly two periods Friday.

It was hard to count just how many acrobatic and spectacular saves Reid made during the game, especially during a flurry in the second period. The puck was sitting in the crease at times, with Eagles players whacking at it and Reid jumped around the blue paint, said Eden Prairie senior forward Ben Steeves.

“We knew we were going to score eventually though, because that’s how we are,” Steeves said. “We’re persistent, and we battle for pucks.”

Steeves broke the scoreless tie with 40.9 seconds left in the second period. It was a play that wasn’t a dirty goal from crashing the net, or a deflection off someone’s back in front. No, Steeves simply sniped a shot high on the blocker side for the 1-0 lead.

Blake had a scoring chance of its own about 30 seconds before that, with a shot that rang loudly off the goal post.

Eden Prairie captain John Mittelstadt is mobbed by teammates Ben Steeves (6) and Kam Langefels (24) after his third period goal gave the Eagles a 3-1 lead late in their 4-1 Class 2A semifinal win over Blake on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

In the third, teams traded early power plays and chances, but it remained a one-goal game until sophomore Jackson Blake gave the Eagles a cushion with 6:27 to play in regulation. He took the puck from the top of the offensive zone and walked right into the slot for the 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t even know it went in until five seconds after,” Blake said. “I saw the boys chasing after me.”

But the Bears made a game of it late as well, when senior defenseman Will Svenddal’s shot from the blue line on the power play was tipped by junior Thomas Nelson on the way in to make it 2-1 with a little more than three minutes to play.

The dagger came with 1 minute, 55 seconds left when senior John Mittelstadt fired an absolute blast of a slapshot into the net to regain the two-goal lead. An empty-netter with less than 10 seconds left capped the victory.

Bears coach Rob McClanahan said he was “not at all disappointed” with how his team played. He also commended both goaltenders and said Reid “played the game of his life.”

“It was a spectacular game,” McClanahan said. “A game like that, it’s too bad someone has to come out on the short end.”

The Eagles are in search of redemption after last year’s overtime loss to Edina in the state championship game. Now they’re back again, hoping to secure the program’s third title and first since 2011. The Eagles have come up empty (that is, without a state title) in five trips since.

Eden Prairie and Hill-Murray have not faced each other this season.

Rosenlund was in net for the Eagles last year at the state tournament. He and Smith noted that experience is a positive boost this year. He’s been nice and calm in the net, Smith said.

“We were so close last year,” Rosenlund said. “Everyone was just waiting for this opportunity since the start of the season. I’m just trying to hold the fort down and give our guys a chance.”

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Class 2A SF Gallery: Eagles vs Bears https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-sf-gallery-eagles-vs-bears/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/class-2a-sf-gallery-eagles-vs-bears/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 04:05:31 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34019 Eden Prairie makes second straight trip to final with 4-1 win over Blake

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Zephyrs zing top-seed Warriors https://minnesotahockeymag.com/zephyrs-zing-top-seed-warriors/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/zephyrs-zing-top-seed-warriors/#respond Sat, 07 Mar 2020 03:36:45 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33995 Hermantown halt St. Cloud Cathedral's title defense

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The Zephyrs have just never made it quite this far.

For the first time in its history, Mahtomedi will play for a boys’ state hockey championship.

“We’ve been here more than a few times and have not been able to break through that threshold,” said Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl. “And so, it feels great.”

The 4-seed Zephyrs got there by bouncing top-seeded Warroad by a 5-1 score in Friday’s second Class 1A semifinal. Saturday will mark Mahtomedi’s first appearance in the title game in 12 state tournament trips.

Mahtomedi’s Adam Johnson was all smiles after his two goals helped lift the Zephyrs into the Class 1A state title game with a 5-1 win over top-seeded Warroad on Friday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo: Tim Kolehmainen / Breakdown Sports USA)

Yes, the Zephyrs are no strangers to the state semifinal game, which has provided a couple of heartbreaking results the past couple of years. They lost in overtime in each of the past two seasons in that game, last year getting upset as the No. 1 seed to Greenway and the year before to eventual champion Orono.

The state history for Mahtomedi includes third-place finishes in 1994, 2015 and 2019.

The difference this year was “naming the elephant in the room at the beginning of the season,” Poeschl said, at their first team meeting.

Friday, they came out prepared and shut down one of the best teams in the state, holding Warroad to a single goal.

“They did a great job of making it hard on us,” said Warroad coach Jay Hardwick. “We spent a lot of time in their zone. They had guys draped all over us. They were blocking shots.”

Hardwick added that Mahtomedi made the most of its opportunities. That’s for sure. The Zephyrs scored five goals on 12 shots; Warroad finished the game outshooting its opponent 30-18.

Senior Billy Buttermore gave the Zephyrs a 1-0 lead in the first period before senior Colin Hagstrom scored on the power play in the final minute of the period. Junior Adam Johnson bookended the scoring for Mahtomedi in their three-goal second period, putting them ahead 3-0 at the 2:37 mark and then the 5-1 lead with 28.8 seconds to play in the period.

The goals looked identical, with snipes in the top, right corner. Johnson said it was fun to joke about those goals and that particular move on the bench, because “our JV coach actually doesn’t like it very much,” Johnson said.

Going for a state title Saturday should help.

“It feels great,” Johnson said. “And after losing to Greenway last year, it’s just been a drive, like a different type of mentality going into it.”

Hermantown ousts champs

There was one player St. Cloud Cathedral coach Derrick Brown couldn’t stop raving about in the postgame press conference after his team was upset in the first Class 1A semifinal. And it wasn’t one of his own players.

“It’s (Joey) Pierce,” Brown said, of the Hermantown defenseman. “Numerous times he killed us in the neutral zone. He stepped up, made plays.

“It’s Joey Pierce that does everything for them. I thought he was the difference. We could not generate offense when he was out there.”

Pierce, a junior defenseman, had a goal and two assists in the 6-2 Hermantown win to send the Hawks back to the Class 1A championship game. As the 3-seed, Hermantown upset 2-seed and defending champion Cathedral.

Hermantown defenseman Joey Pierce fires a shot past a diving C.J. Zins of St. Cloud Cathedral during their Class 1A state semifinal contest won by the Hawks 6-2 on Friday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo: Tim Kolehmainen / Breakdown Sports USA)

Hermantown took a 3-0 lead in the second period on what turned out to be the game-winning goal from senior Cayden Sunde. His sharp-angle shot from near the goal line found its way to the back of the net for his sixth of the season. Sunde had jumped up to the second line after another player went down with an injury.

Sunde was “kind of the ‘last guy,’ if you will” when the team was chosen back in November, said Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews. The coach talked to Sunde back in the fall, telling him he wasn’t sure how much he was going to play.

“Wow. Did that decision work out, eh Sunde?” Andrews said.

Cathedral got a goal from senior Nate Warner a few minutes later and trailed 3-1 headed into the final period, but the Crusaders were not deterred.

“I don’t think we had a doubt in our mind coming into the whole third period, being down two,” Warner said. “We’ve been down a lot more than that the whole year.

“Everyone had it in the back of their mind that we were going to come back and take this one.”

Whenever Cathedral seemed to grab a little momentum, Hermantown made the hill a little bit more of a steeper climb. Blake Biondi’s goal to make it 2-0 with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the first period came shortly after Cathedral generated some offensive-zone pressure.

It was a similar situation when Hermantown made it 4-2 on Pierce’s goal. On the play, Pierce took the puck up ice from his own zone, passed the puck to a teammate for the shot on goal, then picked up the loose puck and scored into a wide-open net with the goalie down having made a spectacular save on the initial shot.

“Joey’s unbelievable,” Andrews said. “He showed today why he’s the best defenseman in the state. Joey was the X factor.”

He’s a guy you want on your team, Biondi said.

“He’s got everything,” Biondi said. “He’s a heart-and-soul type of guy, and that’s why I think we’ve been winning games right now.”

The Hawks had six goal scorers in the game, including Cole Antcliff, Biondi, Sunde, Pierce, Ethan Lund and Zach Kilen with a short-handed empty-netter.

The game included a physical scrum at the buzzer to end the first period which resulted in full penalty boxes at the start of the second period. Ten penalties were assessed, including a pair of 10-minute misconducts to a player each from Hermantown and Cathedral.

Hermantown heads back to the title game. It won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017. They’ll face a pretty familiar foe in Mahtomedi. Hermantown won the other meeting between the two this season, 9-2 at home on Dec. 21, a game in which it outshot Mahtomedi 40-15. Pierce had a four-point game.

Poeschl said he’d like to believe that game result was an anomaly.

“They pounded us,” Poeschl said. “We’re a different team.

“But it’s also a kick in the pants. Make sure that our guys are going to be ready to go tomorrow night.”

Mahtomedi lost 4-0 to Hermantown in the 2018 third-place game as well.

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