Mahtomedi boys’ hockey has been to the state tournament in three of the past four years. In the past, they’ve been known to show up at the tournament with bleached-blonde hair.
Not this year, unfortunately, said senior Charlie Bartholomew. Coach Jeff Poeschl was a little more serious.
“We’re here to play hockey this week,” Poeschl said.
Who can blame a coach for wanting to keep the focus on the task at hand? Especially considering Mahtomedi is in its 10th state hockey tournament without a state title to show for it, and they were upset in last year’s state quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed.
“We’ve said from day one that we have something to prove,” Poeschl said, after their section final victory over Simley. “It’s cliché, but we have unfinished business.”
This year, it’s so far, so good as No. 2 seed Mahtomedi beat unseeded Mankato East/Loyola 4-2 in the first Class 1A quarterfinal game Wednesday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center to kick off the boys’ state hockey tournament. Bartholomew scored the game-winning goal with 1:51 left in regulation.
The Zephyrs fought back from a 2-1 deficit headed into the third period with a goal from junior forward Joe Paradise to tie it at 2-2 just 31 seconds into the third. That was the second goal of the game for Paradise, Herb Brooks’ grandson who also put his team up 1-0 at the 7:39 mark of the first period.
Paradise chose his celebration beforehand: He mocked taking a selfie as his teammates gathered around him.
The Zephyrs had the slim lead at the first intermission, though they outshot the Cougars 16-3. Perhaps that’s experience versus a team that’s making its second trip to state.
“The lights and the cameras got to us,” said Mankato East/Loyola coach Adam Fries.
The Cougars tied the game 1-1 just 1:56 into the second period on their first goal of the second frame. After a long lead pass through the neutral zone to Garret Rabenhorst, he sent the puck over to Adam Megard who fired the puck on net. It went past Zephyrs goalie Bailey Huber on a bit of a soft goal.
Just after a Mahtomedi power play and a decent scoring chance, the Cougars took control of the puck late in the period. Sam Schulz came in, making a move toward the goal and scored to put his team up 2-1 with 3:32 left in the period.
As time ticked down in the third period, and with Mahtomedi on a five-minute major power play, the Zephyrs avoided a potential overtime game with Bartholomew’s goal when he came out front and took a shot on net.
Bartholomew talked after the game about some of the high-pressure situations his team had faced in recent weeks. They were down 1-0 to Northfield in the section semifinal, for example. It helped set the table for their comeback victory on Wednesday.
“That’s good that we went through that,” Bartholomew said. “We were kind of prepared for that.”
Cougars freshman Layten Liffrig received the major penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct for checking from behind. The Zephyrs capitalized with the go-ahead goal. Fries said he thought his team had some momentum on the couple of shifts before that.
The work the Zephyrs have put into their power play paid off.
“Give these guys credit,” Poeschl said. “They executed.”
Mahtomedi junior Kory Pilarski iced the game with a wraparound goal with 52.2 ticks left for the 4-2 lead. It appeared as though Cougars goaltender Jack Cusey thought he had the puck covered on the initial shot from Brett Brochardt.
Cusey made 33 saves in the game, including coming up huge in the opening period.
“Jack has kept us in a lot of games this season,” Schulz said.
He almost got them to overtime. Last year, the Class 1A quarterfinals started off with three upsets, including Mahtomedi’s loss.
“Coming into this game, we had a lot of returners, so that kind of motivated us to not let this one slide by,” Paradise said.
The Zephyrs move on to the semifinal game at 11 a.m. on Friday, while the Cougars shift to the consolation bracket.