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Road To State Ends

Motivated to make the state tournament, Rogers falls short in section playoffs once again.

Rogers head coach David Brown talks with players in the third period against Spring Lake Park on Feb. 8, 2024, at the Rogers Activity Center. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wachter)

For the last two years, Rogers’ great regular seasons have ended on sour notes in the Class 2A, Section 5 playoffs.

In both 2022 and 2023, the Royals lost to Maple Grove in the section championship game. The Crimson outscored the Royals 11-5 combined in those games.

After the game in both years, players cried and broke sticks in frustration. Head coach Dave Brown screamed expletives of disappointment.

This year, Rogers, ranked ninth in Class 2A, hoped to be on the other side of the score in the section championship game. Unfortunately, this year, the road to state for Rogers, a No. 3 seed in the section, ended abruptly in the section semifinals, with a 5-1 loss against 2-seed Centennial.

The 2023-24 season was especially significant for the Royals, as the program celebrated its 20th anniversary. Rogers has come a long way since the program played its first game back in 2003.

Five seasons ago, Brown, a former assistant coach with the Wayzata boys team that won the 2016 Class 2A title, became the head coach at Rogers. He has since compiled a record of 80 wins, 39 losses and eight ties for a winning percentage of .630. Yet, he and his team have failed to reach the state tournament, the ultimate goal for any high school hockey team in Minnesota.

Brown said the 2023-24 Royals were more experienced and deep than last year’s team and would come prepared for the section championship game, should they get there for a third year in a row.

“This year’s group has a good understanding that they want to play their best game that night and everything leading up to it is to build for the playoffs,” Brown said. “It’s not just the section championship. It’s the section quarter. It’s the semi. This year’s team has a demeanor to them that they stick together throughout the ups and the downs.

“Our skating ability wears teams down over the course of 51 minutes. Outside of premier programs, I think this group can skate with just about anybody, top to bottom.”

Rogers defenseman Jayden Kurtz (17) tries to steal the puck from Spring Lake Park forward Teddy Wackman (22) in the third period Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at the Rogers Activity Center in Rogers. (Photo courtesy of Jason Wachter)

Rogers continued to have success this season despite losing three key players on last year’s team to graduation.

Forward Sam Ranallo led the Royals in goals with 24 and points with 60 in 2022-23. Ranallo currently plays for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League and has committed to play for the University of St. Thomas next season. He was nominated for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey award last season, as was defenseman Chase Cheslock.

Cheslock, who has the playmaking ability of NHLer Cale Makar and the size and grit of Tampa Bay Lightning player Victor Hedman, led all Rogers defensemen in points last season with 31. He scored only four goals, but made up for it with 27 assists, which was tied for second on the team. Cheslock was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft last summer, and like Ranallo, will play for the Tommies next season.

This season, Rogers had nine players on its roster with at least 20 points, including two defensemen. Seven averaged more than a point per game. Leading the offensive attack for the Royals junior defenseman Nolan Geerdes, who finished with a team-high 36 assists and 43 points. Junior forward Parker Deschene finished second in points with 42 (13 goals, 29 assists). Junior forward Keaton Weis led the team in goals with 19 (29 points), and senior forward and co-captain Brandon Swanson was second in goals with 17.

Six players scored at least 10 goals for Rogers this season. The Royals averaged 4.96 goals per game while maintaining a goals-against per game of 2.30.

“When we play as a team and not think about the points, we usually generate the most offense,” Swanson said. “There’s a ton of guys on the team that have stepped up. All the seniors stepped up this year [in] big roles with leading the team.”

Cade Chapman was Rogers’ starting goalie last season, but he graduated last spring. Chapman finished 2022-23 with a record of 16-7-3 with a goals-against average of 2.41, a save percentage of .897 with one shutout.

Rogers players celebrate a goal against Centennial on Jan. 20. (Photo courtesy of Erik Nelson)

Aiden Dietrich, a senior this year, was Rogers’ mainstay in net. In his first varsity hockey season, Dietrich had a record of 15-6-2 with a goals-against average of 2.24, a save percentage of .904 with three shutouts. Both his goals-against average and save percentage were better than Chapman’s last season.

“I’ve watched Cade for a couple years,” Dietrich said. “I’ve learned a lot by watching him. I’ve had a lot of fun this season. Our team is best defensively when we’re protecting in front of the net. We’ve done a good job of blocking shots. That’s been a big part of our defense.”

Rogers started section play with a 6-0 shutout of Coon Rapids, the sixth seed, before the season-ending loss to Centennial.

The Royals program will have to wait until next season to see if 2024-25 will be the time that Rogers finally breaks through to its first boys’ hockey state tournament.

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