They come from Monticello, Annandale, and Maple Lake. They go by the Moose. And they’re the newest darlings of the Minnesota Boys State High School hockey tournament, AKA ‘The Tourney.’
The MAML Moose, in their first appearance at the boys hockey state tournament, turned things into a surprise party.
MAML shocked the No. 2 Delano Tigers and their high-powered offensive attack with a disciplined, defensive-minded 3-2 victory early Wednesday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.
MAML scored three second period goals, two from Nick Zwack and one from Troy Dahlheimer, to one from Delano. The Tigers scored one early in the third, but would get no more as the Moose packed it in and junior goaltender Tyler Klatt at times stood on his head to keep everything out.
The Moose entered the game unseeded, after checking in at No. 14 in the most recent Let’s Play Hockey Class A rankings. Delano entered as the No. 2 seed, and ranked No. 3 in the final poll, behind Breck, who they shut out in their section final.
The Moose players said they believed all along that they belonged on this stage, in this game.
“We knew if we went and did our thing and [played] our style hockey, we could make this a good game,” said Moose senior Nick Zwack.
MAML looked like they belonged from the start. The first period went by scoreless, but not without chances.
The MAML top-line, which didn’t come in with the hype of Delano’s prolific top line, was outstanding once more.
From the opening seconds of the game, Zwack, Ben Ward and Troy Dahlheimer caused havoc in the offensive zone and had the Tigers goaltender under siege.
They weren’t able to break the seal in the first period, but they did in the second. Zwack did the deed.
The top line trio rushed the puck into the offensive zone with Ward sliding it to a driving Dahlheimer.
The sophomore deftly caught the puck and put a backhand shot on net that created a juicy rebound right out in front. Zwack was there to pounce, throwing the loose puck into a yawning net to put MAML up 1-0.
The next 10 minutes would be all Tigers. The Delano squad that features a number of ultra talented forwards buzzed the offensive zone, scoring one goal that was disallowed for offsides before finding the official tying goal with 9:21 gone by in the period.
A MAML turnover resulted in a 2-on-1 rush and John Keranen made a beauty of a move before sliding the puck past Klatt to tie the score.
The Tigers had several chances to take the lead in the next few minutes, but Klatt held his ground. For the game, the junior stopped 33 shots.
“It’s probably one of his best games of the year, obviously,” said Moose Coach Eric Nelson. “They brought the pressure and he was there to be that brick wall that we needed. He was absolutely there today.”
Ironically, or maybe not given the season the Moose have had, it was a penalty kill that got the Moose back on track.
The Tigers came into the game clicking at a lethal 50 percent clip on the power play. Wednesday they went 0-for-3. On their second opportunity of the game, in the second period, the Moose struck shorthanded, again.
Ward and Zwack, as it so often seems to be, pushed the puck into the offensive zone with Zwack sweeping a bouncing puck past the Tigers netminder to put MAML back in front 2-1.
The play started with Ward out-hustling everyone for a loose puck, tipping it to himself and then setting up his senior forward who skated the length of the ice to make himself available.
It was one of three assists on the day for the junior center, who has now factored into 17 of MAML’s 22 postseason goals. It was also MAML’s 11th shorthanded goal of the year, and second in as many games.
Nelson and Zwack both said the penalty kill unit has a ton of confidence right now, and that they weren’t intimidated by the Tigers high-flying attack.
“The stats are undeniable what they had throughout the year,” said Nelson. “It’s an undeniable stat as well that we had 10 shorthanded goals.”
As they’ve shown all season, Zwack and Ward aren’t interested in just clearing the puck when they’re out on the kill.
“When they get that opportunity they’re probably gonna try to take it,” said Nelson. “And more often than not they’ve been successful with it.”
Just like in the section final game against Chisago Lakes, it took MAML less than two minutes to double up their one goal lead. Once again, it was on the power play.
With the man advantage, Honza Stibingr put a shot on net that handcuffed the Delano goalie. The puck fell loose and Dahlheimer was right in the dirty area that is the crease to bang it home.
The Moose, now 22-0 when leading after two periods, didn’t get the start they hoped for to the final period.
Less than 40 seconds in, Delano took advantage of a MAML miscue to bring a two-on-one rush into the zone and push their second goal of the game past Klatt. The Tiger crowd exploded, and Delano seemed to have the unseeded Moose right where they wanted them.
“We said ‘man if we pop one in in the first three, they’re gonna deflate, and our fans are going to explode,’” said Delano Coach Gerrit van Bergen. “And those things happened, except that they didn’t deflate. They just kept sticking to their defensive game.”
“I thought we played a pretty darn good third period,” he added. “Their goalie was outstanding. And hats off to Monticello. They worked incredibly hard all 51 minutes.”
Klatt was required to come up big several more times down the stretch, including in the final three minutes.
With less than three minutes to go, a Tigers shot on net fluttered loose into the air at the goal line. Klatt gloved it down just in the nick of time. Officials would review the play, determining that Klatt stopped the puck short of crossing the goal line.
“I saw the puck go up and I was like oh shoot, I guess I should probably touch that so it doesn’t go in,” said Klatt, comically, after the game.
It was a pretty important stop. It helped assure MAML of a shocking win and yet another program first. A first state tournament win. A first win against a Top-3 ranked team in the state. Not to mention a Class A first as well.
With the 3-2 win against Delano, MAML became the first team in Class A history to knock off a 1 or 2 seed in the first round of the tournament.
The Moose had a whirlwind week following the section win, and celebrating the first state berth in program history. But Nelson said it was never a problem getting them locked back in for ‘The Tourney.’
“They were pretty focused themselves,” said Nelson. “They had the desire the entire year to kind of prove that we are for real and that we can play.”
By the same token, MAML didn’t do much to change the game plan on Wednesday. Three lines got ice time, with all three proving effective. Jaden Jarmuzek was particularly a pest on the second line, delivering several big hits to unsuspecting Delano players.
The Moose as a whole never showed signs of backing down or wilting under the lights of the big stage, or to the will of a talented and highly-ranked opponent.
“In all honesty, some of those rankings they absolutely mean nothing,” said Nelson, whose team was slow to climb the rankings all season, but now finds itself one game away from a state championship appearance.
“I guess we kind of proved it today. Anybody on any given day has a chance to win. We had a chance and we came out on the right end of things.”
MAML advances to the Class A State Championship Semifinal where they will take on Northfield this Friday at 11 a.m.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]