High School

Tourney Superlatives: The Best of the Boys State Hockey Tournament

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The Boys State Hockey Tournament came to a conclusion Saturday, ending one of the most delightfully unpredictable boys tournaments in some time. Both winners came out of the 4-seed vs. 5-seed quarterfinal matchup, while no 1s or 2s appeared in a championship. Pundits said going in that this year’s tournament was wide open, which can often amount to nothing but lip service. But not this time.

The tournament was a complete crapshoot, filled with thrillers and ripe with talent. Let’s sum it up as well as we can with some Tourney Superlatives.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

The Mahtomedi Zephyrs had made 12 previous tournament appearances sans a championship. Nay, a championship appearance. Their long-tenured coach Jeff Poeschl said before the season that reaching the title game was the elephant in the room; that simply qualifying for the State Semifinal was no longer good enough.

The Zephyrs were the tournament’s true Cinderella, winning the Class A championship in overtime over Hermantown, a program that knows the feeling of failing to get over the hump. Hermantown famously lost six straight championships from 2010-15 before winning back-to-back crowns in 2016-17. The third-seeded Hawks were clear favorites coming in, having beaten Mahtomedi 9-2 on Dec. 21, and possessing one of the state’s greatest scoring weapons in Mr. Hockey Blake Biondi.

Rewind to Wednesday. Mahtomedi was down 2-0 against fourth-seeded Delano in the quarterfinal, only to score five unanswered goals, four of them in the final five minutes, for a 5-2 win. Two days later, they comfortably handled top-seeded Warroad 5-1, never trailing in a stunning rout. Perhaps the Zephyrs conserved more energy than the Hawks of Hermantown, who got locked in a physical brawl in their semifinal against St. Cloud Cathedral. At any rate, Mahtomedi was fresh enough to take a 2-0 lead on the Hawks early in Saturday’s championship with two power play goals. The final two periods, then, were a fight to hang on.

Hermantown outshot Mahtomedi an astounding 42-10 in regulation, and they needed all 42 to get the game tied as Aaron Pionk cashed in during a goalmouth melee to tie the score with 21 seconds left. Of all the deflating goals to give up, this was as devastating as it gets for Mahtomedi, which had all of five shots through the final two periods and faced a sudden death overtime against an opponent with more momentum and more talent.

That made the game winner all the more improbable as J.D. Metz drove around the net and found Colin Hagstrom for the title-winner less than three minutes into overtime. What a way to win the program’s first championship.

BEST TOURNAMENT PERFORMANCE

It’s hard to find a better individual tournament than Charlie Strobel’s. The Hill-Murray winger scored four goals, notched two assists and went 68 percent on the faceoff dot.

Strobel isn’t committed to play anywhere at the moment, even though his uncle Mark is an assistant coach at Wisconsin and he has three teammates committed to the Badgers as well. As Lou Nanne pointed out on the TV broadcast, though, Strobel’s stock certainly went up with his scintillating performance on the big stage.

The senior scored in all three games, including an overtime game-winner in the semifinal against St. Thomas Academy and two gorgeous goals in the championship against favored Eden Prairie.

Strobel finished the season with 27 goals and 27 assists. His jersey number: 27.

TOP GOALTENDER

Earlier this season, Mahtomedi goaltender Ben Dardis faced 59 shots on goal against eventual AA champ Hill-Murray and saved 57 of them en route to a 3-2 win, showing he knew how to withstand an onslaught from a superior offense.

His acrobatics in Saturday’s championship rivaled that performance as he saved 40 pucks and faced essentially two straight periods of relentless pressure to end the game. The first goal he allowed hit his defenseman’s butt, and the second he allowed may have come as a result of goalie interference.

Dardis was confident playing the puck behind the net and daring in jumping forward out of the crease. At one point, Dardis was laying on the rim of the circle after he pounced on a rebound.

The sophomore saved 87 of 92 shots in the tournament. Yes, he’s only a sophomore.

BEST HOCKEY HAIR

Oh, wait. Somebody already did this.

BEST COACHING JOB

Nobody did more with less this season, and this tournament, than St. Thomas Academy under new coach Trent Eigner. After losing 112 goals to graduation a year ago and starting 5-7-2 this season, the Cadets won 13 of 14 and pulled three upsets in the Section 3AA playoffs to reach State. For an encore, they knocked off top-seeded Andover 3-2 in the first round in one of the biggest tournament upsets in recent memory.

Most expected them to run out of gas after squeaking past the Huskies. Then in the semifinal they fell behind 2-0 heading to the third period against Hill-Murray. Nobody would’ve blinked if the Cadets had packed it in after their already-unexpected run, but St. Thomas Academy mustered the energy to score twice and send the game to overtime.

Much like Hermantown in Saturday’s championship, St. Thomas Academy fired all its bullets in regulation. Hill-Murray’s Strobel hacked in the game-winner with 21 seconds left in overtime to send the Pioneers to the championship. But after watching Hill-Murray dominate Moorhead in the quarters and Eden Prairie in the title game, it’s a shock how well the Cadets contained them. Eigner deserves loads of credit.

PLAYER TO WATCH IN NEXT YEAR’S TOURNAMENT

There are so many juniors to choose from: Andover’s Garrett Schifsky, St. Thomas’s Jackson Hallum, Eden Prairie’s Luke Mittelstadt, to name a few.

But let’s go with one of Mittelstadt’s teammates, sophomore Jackson Blake. The son of former NHLer Jason Blake, Jackson surged onto the scene in January after gaining his eligibility following a transfer from Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He quickly became a top-liner for the Eagles and finished the season with seven goals and 12 assists and scored one of the tournament’s prettiest goals in Eden Prairie’s semifinal on Friday against Blake School.

Blake grew three inches this year, according to head coach Lee Smith. With a chance to fill out physically this offseason and start next year with Eden Prairie, Blake should be a monster in 2020-21. He is already verbally committed to North Dakota.

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