In both 2016 and 2017, the Holy Family boys hockey team has put up 20-plus win seasons. It’s not an overly common feat, especially from one that is not a big name in Minnesota hockey.
While seasons like that should be praised, both have ended in disappointment for the Fire as they suffered defeats in the section playoffs to Casey Mittelstadt and Eden Prairie Eagles. Last year’s loss might have been the most difficult one for the program, as the Fire could not hold a third-period lead and lost 4-3 in the Section 2AA final.
— Star Tribune Sports (@StribSports) March 2, 2017
Closing out that game would have given the Fire their first-ever berth in the State Tournament.
“We’ve been close, but hopefully this will be our year,” said Fire head coach Noel Rahn.
“We’ve been close, but hopefully this will be our year.”
Coming into this season — and this is still true — the Fire found themselves ranked fifth in Class AA. But with some roster turnover from the previous season, there were bound to be some growing pains in the first few weeks of the season.
“I think a lot of people around the state thought we were going to struggle a bit but we had some kids come up from junior varsity and kids transfer to our school,” said Rahn. “It took six or seven games to mesh everyone together. Our expectations were to have a good year and try to blend the kids together and try to play really good hockey heading into Christmas time.”
Senior forwards Ben Almquist and Joe Hankinson echoed the sentiment.
“We started off pretty rough,” Almquist said.
“We were kind of scrambling at first to form chemistry,” Hankinson continued.
That rough start was highlighted by a loss to the Edina Hornets — ranked No. 1 to open the year — on opening night, 7-0.
Final in boys’ hockey, #1 Edina 7 #6 Holy Family 0. #Hornets
— Edina Hornets (@edinahornets) November 25, 2017
“Deer in the headlights,” Hankinson said when he described his team’s performance in the opener. “We played scared,” Almquist added.
But both believe the team is much better off now because of it.
“We have learned we can compete with those guys and we have just been building the confidence to do so,” said Hankinson.
Following that loss to Edina, the Fire went on a 3-1-1 stretch — including a win over 2016 Class AA state champion Wayzata. However, the end of that stretch was a 4-1 loss to the St. Thomas Academy Cadets.
But since that loss to the Cadets on Dec. 9, the Fire have come together and put together a winning streak that currently sits at 10 games. Most notably, there have been wins over northern powers Moorhead and Grand Rapids during that time.
That streak appeared to be coming to an end last Thursday against Lakeville South, but a tying goal by senior forward John Simon with 35 seconds left sent the game to overtime. Just under seven minutes into the overtime, senior defenseman Joe Simon potted the game-winner to push the streak up to 10 games.
— Holy Family Hockey (@HFhockey) January 12, 2018
“There’s some good chemistry,” Rahn said. “We have a good locker room. Guys really are working hard in practice. [Coaches] are really trying to preach to them to play within the system. They’re meshing well and they’re executing when they have to execute.”
Almquist echoed similar thoughts on the hard work the team has been putting in as of late. “Hard work beats skill most of the time,” he said. “If we just keep working hard and work hard than the other team most of the time we will come out on top.”
“Hard work beats skill most of the time. If we just keep working hard and work hard than the other team most of the time we will come out on top”
“Now that we are on this little win streak we get closer and closer — I know this sounds cheesy — as one family,” said Hankinson – who is second on the Fire with 10 goals.
That hard work will be needed in the final month of the regular season for Holy Family, as the Fire’s schedule will be a test to them before the section playoffs begin.
Mound Westonka (13-3-1), No. 6 Cretin-Derham Hall (12-2-1) and No. 7 St. Cloud Cathedral (11-4-0, Class A) all are still on the schedule for Holy Family over their final nine games of the regular season. While they know they will be tested, they will not be taking their foot off the gas. “We are trying to go strong, go hard right into the playoffs,” said Hankinson
“We have some tough games coming up so we might go through some adversity but really we are just trying to find a way to get better so that when February – our section games – comes around we are on a roll playing our best hockey,” said Rahn.
Rahn also said he will rely on Almquist — a Wisconsin recruit and the team’s leading scorer with 21 goals and 36 points — over the final month. “He’s been a big part of our program,” Rahn said. “He’s been with us since eighth grade. It’s been no secret, he’s been our go-to guy. We obviously have some good complimentary pieces for him as well.”
— Holy Family Hockey (@HFhockey) December 20, 2017
Once the playoffs roll around in February, there is a goal in the locker room: Make the State Tournament.
The Fire have knocked on the door in the past two years, but this year the team will look to knock the door down and earn the program’s first appearance in the big dance in St. Paul.
“I think our goal is just as good as anyone else’s goal. Make it to state,” said Almquist.
“I think our goal is just as good as anyone else’s goal. Make it to state.”
“We’re just trying to win the rest of our games [and make the state tournament],” said Hankinson.
“When our top line is going, we have the depth, the defense, and we can really be a solid team here in section play,” Rahn said.
“There’s a lot of confidence in the room and guys are believing we can be a really good team that can compete for the state tournament.”