Orono High School boys hockey coach Will Scholz felt bad and sounded worse. His voice had been on a downward glidepath from the start of the state tournament on Wednesday, and it was little more than a rasp by Saturday afternoon.
“Sorry guys, this is just awful,” he said to reporters assembled for the Spartans’ postgame news conference after the Class 1A state championship game at Xcel Energy Center. But he was smiling, and that message was loud and clear.
Orono defeated Alexandria 2-1 in a game between two teams seeking their first state titles, and the Spartans were delirious.
Orono senior Thomas Walker, who scored his team’s first goal, talked about imagining such things while skating on the pond in his backyard.
“This was a little better than that,” he said. “You dream about this forever.”
Orono played at state for the ninth time; their previous trip was in 2014. They won 16 games in each of the last two seasons before coming to state this week with a 20-7-1 mark and finishing with three more wins. This kind of accomplishment usually has implications that extend far beyond one team and one season. (Pictured are Landon Wittenberg, Thomas Walker and coach Will Scholz.)
“It’s amazing. I cannot wait to see how this impacts the program, because I know it’s going to have an impact,” said Walker. “I think this really shows the community that we’re a force to be reckoned with. When you put your mind to something and you work hard, you can compete with the big boys.”
Landon Wittenberg, who scored the winning goal (his first of the tournament) in the third period, summed it up nicely.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “There are all these little kids watching and they look up to you. And we were once those little kids. ... it just means a ton to us and the community.”
The two interview sessions after the 1A game started 10 minutes apart, and it’s no surprise that the mood is quite different – and the session shorter – when the losing team comes to the dais. Alexandria coach Ian Resch was accompanied by senior goaltender Jackson Boline and junior Jack Westlund, who scored the Cardinals’ goal Saturday. Players aren’t required to speak to the media, but it says something about Jackson and Jack that they were willing to do so.
The Cardinals brought a record of 17-10-1 to the tournament, with seven of those losses coming in a nine-game stretch between Dec. 12 and Jan 4. That fact makes their run to the state championship game especially remarkable. And when you consider that they were seeded third in Section 6, it’s even more of a feat.
“We were underdogs just to come out of the section. And to be playing in the championship game today, I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Resch said. “It’s going to take a couple days but the guys will be able to reflect and realize what they accomplished. Right now they’re in the middle of it and it stings, it hurts. But they’ll be talking about this and they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”
Boline, who received the Herb Brooks Award after the game, said he never lost faith.
“I believed in our guys. When we were in that stretch, we were still getting to know each other, almost, because some of these guys had never played together. It’s a young team. We just had to come together and that’s what we did. I always believed that we could come here, and we did.”
Westlund was asked about what he did immediately as the game ended; he skated to Boline and embraced him.
“The way he played was the reason we were in that game,” Jack said. “And he had nothing to be ashamed of, he played unbelievable all year. Especially in the playoffs. Without him we wouldn’t have been in this game.”
Boline said, “All these guys on this team are my family. I love them all. It’s just a tough way to go out.”Minnetonka defeats Duluth East for 2A title
The Minnetonka Skippers made history by capturing their first boys state hockey championship with a 5-2 victory over Duluth East. Minnetonka’s previous best finish at state was runner-up in 2010. Duluth East won state championships in 1960, 1995 and 1998. The Greyhounds have finished second six times.
Minnetonka’s Joe Molenaar, who received the Herb Brooks Award during the postgame awards ceremony, scored one goal and had two assists. Grant Doctor had three assists, giving him nine points in the tournament.Tournament Tidbits
--Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, who played in the 1991 state tournament for Richfield, missed the Wild's game in Edmonton on Saturday night. He had a good reason: He was at Xcel Energy Center to watch his son Mason, who plays for Minnetonka.
--Also on hand at the tournament on Saturday was Maddie Rooney, former goalie on the girls and boys teams at Andover High School who won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA.
--Attendance for the Class 1A championship session was 8,544 and a crowd of 18,914 attended the evening 2A session. Total attendance for the tournament was 107,674.Boys State Hockey Tournament
Fifth-place game: Thief River Falls 5, Mankato East 1
Third-place game: Hermantown 4, Mahtomedi 0
Championship game: Orono 2, Alexandria 1Class 2A
Fifth-place game: St. Thomas Academy 6, St. Michael-Albertville 2
Third-place game: Edina 11, Centennial 0
Championship game: Minnetonka 5, Duluth East 2Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams
Blake Biondi, Darian Gotz, Hermantown; Kory Pilarski, Mahtomedi; Nick Corneliusen, Thief River Falls; Daniel Eckerline, Jack Kubitz, Jack Suchy, Thomas Walker, Orono; Caleb Strong, Jack Powell, Jack Westlund, Jackson Boline, Alexandria. Class 2A:
Ben Brinkman, Sammy Walker, Edina; Rob Christy, St. Thomas Academy; Garrett Worth, Ian Mageau, Luke LaMaster, Parker Klieve, Duluth East; Bobby Brink, Charlie Glockner, Grant Docter, Joe Molenaar, Josh Luedtke, Minnetonka.Herb Brooks Award winners
Jackson Boline, Alexandria.Class 2A:
Joe Molenaar, Minnetonka.Girls State Basketball Tournament
Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCWClass 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
6 p.m.: Byron vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m.: Norwood-Young America vs. Minnehaha Academy
Wednesday at Williams Arena
6 p.m.: Mesabi East vs. Maranatha Christian
8 p.m.: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. RoseauClass 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
10 a.m.: Robbinsdale Cooper vs. Alexandria
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Mankato West
4 p.m.: Holy Angels vs. Grand RapidsClass 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
10 a.m.: Prior Lake vs. Eastview
Noon: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville North
2 p.m.: Forest Lake vs. Hopkins
4 p.m.: Roseville vs. Cretin-Derham HallFollow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn