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The state hockey tournament has come and gone, and it seemed to pass in a flash. For Northern Minnesota fans, the Greenway of Coleraine winners of Section 7A brought three days of heightened interest in a return to the old days of spectacular Iron Range hockey — even though the Raiders couldn’t quite get it done against a potent St. Cloud Cathedral outfit in the championship game.
Northerners needed Greenway to cheer on because the Duluth East Greyhounds proved coach Mike Randolph right, when he said he doesn’t believe people appreciate how difficult it is for a team to battle through three teams to win their section, and then face three outstanding teams at the state tournament in order to win the championship.
“Especially this year,” Randolph said. “Every team in the Double-A field was capable of winning the title.”
Edina was ranked No. 1 and got the No. 1 seed, while in the other bracket, Eden Prairie aroused much criticism for being seeded third, behind Edina and Blaine, when they had to come from the No. 3 seed in Section 2AA to make it to the state after Holy Family took out favored Minnetonka. Criticism or not, those two met in the championship game Saturday night, with Edina’s Peter Colby scoring his second goal of the night at 2:31 oil overtime for a 3-2 victory.
Anyone who thinks Eden Prairie didn’t belong in that elite company should have watched that game, because Eden Prairie gained a 1-0 lead by outshooting the speedy Hornets 13-5 in the first period, and it stayed that way as EP built up a 26-7 edge in shots and made the flashy Edina players look less than exceptional.
But when the Hornets struck for a Kevin Delaney goal at 5:21 of the third, they struck again immediately when Colby scored at 5:43, set up by Brett Chorske, the son of former Gopher and Southwest star Tom Chorske. The sudden 2-1 Edina lead lasted until Clayton Schultz scored for Eden Prairie at 9:43, and the teams battled to the end of regulation trading good scoring chances, until they got to overtime. Colby, trailing a 2-on-2 rush, blasted a one-timer for the game-winner, and Edina came up with the championship after one of its shakiest performances of the long season.
As balanced as the tournament was, East couldn’t duplicate the magical run that had carried the Greyhounds through 7AA. They played the late game on quarterfinal Thursday, after Blaine had beaten White Bear Lake, Eden Prairie had beaten Lakeville South, and Edina had beaten Moorhead. The Greyhounds had to face St. Thomas Academy, where brothers and co-coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli had already announced they were retiring when this season ended. The Cadets were tough, smart, and quick,
East was off its game, which was indicated early when Ryder Donovan raced in and set up Jacob Jeannette for a possible short-handed goal, but Jeannette’s shot sailed over the net. Shortly after that, Ryan O’Neill scored for the Cadets, and their quickness caused Randolph to pull in the usual free-wheeling Greyhound attackers for a neutral zone trap — one forechecker attacking while the other four skaters gathered in between the blue lines to repel any opposing playmaking.
The Greyhounds played well, and had several excellent scoring chances before Charlie Erickson finally broke through for a slick power-play goal, as he got the puck deep on the left and put a perfect shot into the far side at 12:45 of the second period.
But East’s offense couldn’t generate enough pressure, and O’Neill scored again at 9:46 of the third period. Trailing 2-1, Randolph tried everything, including pulling goalie Brody Rabold with three minutes left. The Greyhounds frustration hit a peak with one of the most unusual empty-net goals in the history of the game. The Hounds tried to connect on a long pass from their own end to the far blue line, right up the middle. The intended pass receiver reached for the puck but junior defenseman McClain Beaudette swung at it, too, and smacked a 120-foot one-timer that zipped straight into the empty net.
The Hounds had worked long and hard to get to the tournament, and Randolph wouldn’t let them pack it in. They came back the next morning at Mariucci Arena and beat a Moorhead team that had shut them out during the season in consolation play. Then they returned to Mariucci and whipped Lakeville South 5-0 to win the consolation championship. Jeannette had a goal and three assists, and seniors Lukan Hanson and Rabold shared the shutout.
Still, the colorful play of Greenway of Coleraine brought back a flood of memories for hockey fans who recall the pond-hockey creativity of past Iron Range teams, most notably the Greenway of Coleraine teams that won back to back state titles in the late 1960s when Mike Antonovich led the Raiders to prominence with a strong supporting cast.
This team had Donte Lawson, whose dad had coached the Raiders through the tough stretch where the program almost became extinct a decade ago. This group came along through the youth program, and rose up to threaten Hermantown last year before losing in two overtimes, then beating the No. 1 ranked Hawks in another classic for the 7A crown.
The tournament was new to these Raiders, who spotted Delano a 2-0 lead before Micah Gernander got them rolling, after a corner face-off draw by Lawson, but Delano made it 3-1 at the end of one period. Lawson opened the second period with a deflection goal at 1:26, then he threw an artistic spot pass while rushing up the left boards. It appeared he might be tossing it for the far corner, but no, it was perfectly timed to inspire Ben Troumbly to put on a final burst of speed, crossing in front for a deflection that tied the game 3-3.
Again, however, Delano gained the lead at 4-3 midway through the third period, and this time it was up to Mitchell Vekich to deflect a shot by Cameron Lantz into the Delano goal for a 4-4 deadlocked 8:47, and the Raiders followed up 53 seconds later when Nikolai Rajala laid a soft feed out from behind the net toward the slot, perfectly timed for Christian Miller to step into for a blistering slap shot that puts Greenway ahead 5-4. Lawson came back rtf hit an empty net with 1:35 left to clinch a 6-4 triumph.
That brought about what might have been the best game of the tournament, against top-seeded Mahtomedi in the semifinals. Very close first period, but scoreless, then Lawson collaborated with Ben Troumbly, taking a drop pass and maneuvering to the slot before drilling a low hard shot at 12:48 of the middle period.
Mahtomedi came back strong in typer third period, outshooting Greenway 20-9 and scoring twice to gain a 2-1 lead. That stood until a late power play gave Troumbly the puck and the opportunity, and he blasted a snapshot from the top of the right circle that tried the game 2-2.
It was a game that deserved an overtime, and it was Lawson and the junior spark-plug Troumbly to win it. Lawson, behind the Mahtomedi net, facing the boards, spotted Troumbly in the left corner, but he looked him off and then looked to the right, leaning that way, and in an instant, tossing a blind backhand pass to the left. His little decoy move may have frozen a defender, but it sent Trfoumbly out to the left circle where he shot, but the puck hit the congestion in front. Troumbly, in a flash, hurtled through the congestion, pulling the puck free from a maze of skates, and flipped a backhand into the open right side of the net,. At 0:23 of overtime, Greenway had won 3-2 and reached the Class A final.
Tough match with St. Cloud Cathedral in the final. Lawson scored his 37th goal of the season on an early power play, roofing is shot after the goalie went down at 2:20. St,. Cloud Cathedral got a close call that appeared to hit a pipe and the Raiders raced to the other end to make it 2-0 at 4:32. But after a lengthy discussion, and review, the officials realized the Cathedral shot had, indeed, gone in and out at 4:10 and should count as a goal. That nullified Greenway’s second goal too, of course, so it was 1-1 instead of 2-0. Both teams scored for a 2-2 first period, with Lantz connecting on Lawson’s slap from center-point.
St. Cloud Cathedral was relentless, though, and moved ahead 3-2 in the second period. The turning point of the game came when a checking front behind penalty gave the Raiders a 5-minute power play. They never got it together, failing to get a shot, and failing even to enter the offensive zone cleanly. The Crusaders killed it off and then scored for a 4-2 lead on a power play, and they held that margin until the end, when Nate Warner’s empty-net goal clinched the game 5-2. But it was a breakthrough season for the rejuvenated Greenway program, and the Raiders enthralled us all with their performance, finishing 17-14 after an 11-game winning streak that lasted right into the championship game. For St. Cloud Cathedral, it was their first hockey title ever.