In the end, the Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake Moose were stopped just short of realizing their state championship dreams.
All it took was the No. 1 seed, the most dominant Class A program of the 2000s, two overtimes and 56 shots on goal.
Hermantown’s Dylan Samberg, one of two Mr. Hockey finalists on the Hawks, blasted a puck past Moose goaltender Tyler Klatt and into the back of the net with just 20 seconds left in the second overtime session to give Hermantown a 4-3 victory and a second-consecutive Class A State Championship.
It also denied what would’ve been one of the most unlikely state champions in the history of the tournament.
MAML started the tournament as the 14th-ranked team in the class (their highest ranking of the year) and capped it by going toe-to-toe with the powerhouse Hawks for just shy of 76 minutes in front of a packed lower bowl at the Xcel Energy Center Saturday.
“It’s been something else,” said Nick Zwack, after his final game in a Moose uniform. “For us to come in as considered the seventh seed and then to win two games and come in and play as good as we did today – it’s still surreal to us.”
For some time, it looked like MAML’s magical run may just have a storybook ending.
The Moose weathered a major Hermantown storm in the first period, thanks to the brilliance of Klatt. The Hawks bottled MAML up all period, taking 15 shots on goal to just one for the Moose.
“The first period it was a shooting gallery for them, they were all over us,” said Coach Eric Nelson after the game. “Tyler Klatt stood on his head.”
In the second, the Moose found their game. MAML scored on two rushes in the first two minutes of that period, sending the defending champs reeling, if just for a moment.
The first goal came when Casey Chiodo blocked a Hawks shot and rushed the puck up ice into the MAML zone where he unleashed a blast that beat Hermantown’s goalie.
“It popped right out in front of me. I just skated as fast as I could. I was more just trying to get a shot on net and it snuck through his five hole,” said Chiodo. “I was like, ‘we can do this.’”
MAML was really believing 61 seconds later.
That was when star center Ben Ward was sprung loose at the blue line for a 1-0 with the Hawks goalie. Cade McEwen was one of the state’s best netminders all season, selected as one of two finalists for the best goalie award, but he didn’t have a chance in this showdown. Ward danced around him with his forehand, getting the goaltender to commit out front and depositing the puck behind him for a 2-0 Moose lead.
“The goalie was coming at me, I just faked the shot and went around him,” said Ward. “The puck was already on my forehand, I wasn’t going to switch so I just stuck with it.”
Hermantown would come back a minute and a half later with their first goal of the game to cut the deficit in half. That would finish the scoring for the second period. After being outshot 15-1 in the first, MAML put nine shots on net in the second to 12 for Hermantown.
The Moose started the biggest period of their lives in the best manner they could’ve hoped for, getting on the board in a hurry. This time it was Zwack, connecting on a picture-perfect saucer pass from Ward to put the biscuit in the basket with just 26 seconds gone by.
But Hermantown, as the whole arena and likely whole state knew they would, made their push. The Hawks kept coming and coming at the Moose, who finally relinquished the lead following two-third period goals. The first came just past the period’s mid-point, and the tying goal came just more than two minutes later.
Zwack said after that Hermantown’s ability to move the puck makes them very difficult to contain.
“The quick passing from their defenseman to their forwards on the half wall, then just getting those quick shots from the point. We knew we were going to have to try to stop and block as many of those as we could,” said Zwack. “It’s just hard to get bodies in front of all of them.”
Eventually it was one of those shots that would prove to be the difference.
The Hawks controlled play for much of the overtime sessions against a Moose team that had to be running on fumes after relying on two lines for much of the week. Hermantown thought they won it once, scoring during a goal-line scrum in the second overtime. Hawks players started their championship celebration before a review determined goaltender interference and wiped the goal off the board. But just a handful of minutes later, Samberg whistled a shot through traffic and into the back of the net to set off the real celebration, and bring MAML’s run for the ages to a close.
By the time an hour had passed from the overtime winner, MAML’s core group was already able to put it all in a bit of perspective.
“It’s crazy,” said Moose senior Charlie Voller. “To come in here, the No. 1 team the state and put up a fight like that, go to two overtimes and lose by a goal – it’s crazy.”
“Even though we didn’t beat Goliath,” said Casey Chiodo. “It’s still been a hell of a ride.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]