It’s like a state holiday for so many people. It’s a tradition. Many from the state of hockey take off work or school to watch the Minnesota Boys’ State Hockey Tournament, even if they don’t have a dog in the fight.
The first game of the Class 1A quarterfinals did not disappoint either, providing an upset of No. 2 seed Delano (24-4-1) at the hands of Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake (22-6-1) with a 3-2 victory.
It’s like a state holiday for so many people. It’s a tradition.
It was the inaugural visit to Xcel Energy center for the state tourney for both teams.
“In all honesty, we probably weren’t supposed to come in here and win this game,” said Moose coach Eric Nelson. “They had that desire the entire year to kind of prove that we are for real and we can play.”
It must have been the good luck charm. Hockey can be a game of superstitions for some players or coaches. Nelson is no exception, even back to his playing days. During the postgame press conference, he partially unzipped his jacket to reveal a sweatshirt filled with cat faces.
Yes, a cat sweatshirt.
He’s worn the sweatshirt every game since mid-January, when his players came to him after they suffered a loss.
“They had an idea that we needed a little good luck charm,” Nelson said. “Ever since that point in time, they put a sweatshirt on me. So I haven’t dropped what we’ve been doing.”
“It’s absolutely ridiculous, I know, but we’ve had good fortunate with it,” Nelson said.
The sweater brought out a few laughs from the press conference, then Nelson quickly zipped it back up.
“It suits him well,” said junior goaltender Tyler Klatt.
Good-luck sweatshirt or not, the unseeded Moose didn’t back down to Delano. Senior forward Nick Zwack scored two goals and Klatt made 33 saves in goal on their way to the win. They’ll move on to the Class 1A semifinals Friday afternoon. The Tigers had two goals disallowed after video review.
From the start, the Moose didn’t seem too rattled or jittery in their first experience playing in the NHL arena. They refused to give the Tigers much room for scoring chances early on in what turned out to be a scoreless first period.
“I think there was a lot of excitement leading up to this,” said Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen. “I think our guys were pretty focused. They were pretty loose in the locker room.”
“That said, it seemed like we were fighting the puck a little bit.”
Then it was a 1-0 lead early in the second period for the Moose, on a juicy rebound goal from Zwack. The initial shot from Troy Dahlheimer was kick saved perfectly to Zwack’s stick in the slot for an easy and all-important first goal.
“Making sure that that was ours, it kind of took the pressure off,” Zwack said.
The Tigers thought they tied the game a couple minutes later. They grabbed a turnover at the blue line and entered the zone. Brian Halonen put the puck in the net at the goalmouth with a pass from Gabe Halonen. The neon-orange section of Tigers fans went crazy.
The goal was reviewed and disallowed because it was ruled the play was offside.
“In all honesty, we probably weren’t supposed to come in here and win this game,” said Moose coach Eric Nelson.
The Tigers didn’t let that get them down. They kept up the pressure in the offensive zone as they tried to get the equalizer. They succeeded later in the period when John Keranen was left all alone out front, waiting for a pass from the corner.
But the Moose took a 3-1 lead by the second intermission. Zwack scored his second of the game with a backhand shot on a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity. The play developed after Ben Ward intercepted Ben Meyers’ pass perfectly at the other end.
The Moose also scored on the power play with 1:52 left in the second. Dahlheimer got the goal on a rebound chance.
Just 41 seconds into the third, the Tigers scored to get within one. Still, the Moose didn’t let it get to them.
With 2:10 remaining, officials looked at video to see if the Tigers had tied the game. The puck bounced up in the air around the goal line as Klatt reach up for a deflection. It was ruled no goal.
“I saw the puck go up and then I was like, ‘oh shoot, I guess I should probably touch that so it didn’t go in,” Klatt said.
The Tigers pulled their goaltender with 1:31 left in the game as they tried to get the equalizer but to no avail. The celebration was on for the Delano team and its community.
“We want to win, and we want to keep playing here,” Klatt said. “You can’t forget this experience.”