What: The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake boys hockey team is set to take on the Chisago Lakes Wildcats in the Section 5A Championship game.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2
Where: Elk River Arena, 1000 School St. NW, Elk River, MN
At stake: The teams will be playing for a berth in the Class A State Hockey tournament next weekend. Considered by many to be one of the premiere high school sporting experiences in the country, the hockey state tournament holds a nearly mythical appeal to Minnesota hockey players. The Moose are looking for their first trip to the tournament in program history. The Wildcats are looking for their third, with the most recent coming in 2014.
Getting to this point: The Moose begin section play as the top seed, and have looked the part thus far. MAML rolled past Moose Lake 10-0 in the quarterfinal round before knocking out the rival Princeton Tigers with a 6-1 home win in the semifinals. Chisago Lakes is the No. 3 seed and moved out of the quarterfinal round with an 8-1 win against Mora-Milaca. The Wildcats then went on the road in the second round and dispatched No. 2 seed North Branch, 4-3. The Wildcats took a 4-1 lead in the game, then held on.
Season series: MAML and Chisago Lakes split a pair of games this season, with both teams winning on the road. In the first matchup, MAML jumped out to a 3-1 lead but Chisago Lakes came roaring back to earn a 4-3 overtime win. The Moose outshot Chisago Lakes 29-20 in the contest, despite giving up five power play opportunities (1 for 5) and only earning two (0-2). Back in Chisago a few weeks later, the Moose flipped the script. MAML fell behind 2-0, but came all the way back to earn a 4-3 win in regulation. MAML scored four consecutive goals after falling behind 2-0, including a natural hat trick for Ben Ward, with all three goals coming in the third period. The Moose outshot the Wildcats 35-19 in the contest.
About the Wildcats: Chisago Lakes enters the section final with a record of 13-14. The Wildcats won 2 of their last three regular season games, bouncing back from a stretch where they lost 6 out of 7. During the regular season, the Wildcats allowed 90 goals to opponents, while scoring 79. Chisago Lakes best period was the third, where they outscored opponents 31-29. The Wildcats scored 14 power play goals this year, finding the back of the net on 15 percent of power plays. Opponents converted on 27.6 percent of power play opportunities.
Chisago Lakes had a balanced scoring attack during the regular season. Andrue Trelstad led the team with 35 points, including a team-high 20 goals. Following Trelstad, the Wildcats had 10 skaters with 9 or more points on the season, led by 19 each for Brandon Caudill and Cooper Hoheisel. Two goaltenders split time in net relatively evenly during the regular season. The Wildcats have leaned on Jesse Carlson in both postseason games. Carlson has allowed two goals per game in the postseason with a .905 save percentage, after a regular season in which he allowed 3.35 goals per game with an 8.79 save percentage.
About the Moose: MAML enters Thursday night’s tilt with a record of 20-6-1, the best mark in program history. The Moose finished tied for third in the Mississippi 8 this season with marquee wins against Buffalo and Rogers in the conference and against Orono out of conference. The Moose made it to the section final last year as the No. 3 seed, falling to Princeton 3-1 in the section finals.
The Moose outscored opponents by a wide margin this season, totaling 112 goals for to just 64 goals against. The second period was MAML’s strongest, as they outscored opponents 48-28. The Moose scored 15 power play goals, connecting on 25 percent of opportunities this season. They allowed the exact same percentage to opponents.
MAML has been paced all season by the top line, and the story has remained the same through two postseason games. During the regular season, junior centerman Ben Ward led the Moose with 57 points, leading MAML in both goals (23) and assists (34). His senior winger Nick Zwack finished second with 46 points and 20 goals, while sophomore winger Troy Dahlheimer was third on the team with 35 points. Second line winger Casey Chiodo was third on the team with 18 goals during the regular season, leading the team in power play goals. Zwack, Chiodo, and Dahlheimer have all recorded hat tricks already this postseason. Tyler Klatt has been MAML’s primary goaltender all season. The junior had a very solid season in net, allowing just 2.72 goals per game to go with a save percentage of .880. The Moose, who put a focus on the forecheck and limiting opponents opportunities, outshot opponents by an impressive 760-548 margin this season.
MAML has been without top-pair defenseman Honza Stibingr the past two games, but are hopeful they will have him back for Thursday night’s tilt.
Coach Eric Nelson:
“Our team’s got a lot of confidence. If we’re out working hard and doing the right things, I think we can accomplish a lot.”
(On Thursday night’s mindset) “Simple hockey. Keep it simple, get pucks deep and get on them. When we’re swarming like that, we’re tough to defend against. The mindset has gotta be simple hockey, and then get after it.”
(On Chisago Lakes) “He’s not afraid to roll four lines on any team. Our top lines have got to be in shape, and they’ve got to play smart.”
“If we play the way we’ve been playing over the past month here, we’re going to have a good opportunity to move on.”
Casey Chiodo (from a couple of weeks ago)
“Our whole lives have built up to this tournament, this section tournament. We have the passion. We have the skill. We just gotta do it now. And I know we can.”
(Following Saturday’s semifinal win)
“Play the game just how we did today. We just gotta keep the same mindset we had today and bring that into Thursday.”
(Getting back to the section championship game)
“It’s huge. We tried to take everything as slow as we could. Then again, it goes by pretty fast. To be back where we were last year, I don’t think we’re going to let this one slip. I think we’re going to pound this one home.”