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Hill-Murray finishes second at Minnesota boys Class AA hockey tournament
Championship game is frenzied, 4-2 heartbreaker
The Hill-Murray Pioneers captured the second-place trophy in the Class AA boys hockey tournament Saturday, March 9, at the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul.
They gained their 26th berth into the March classic by winning the Section 4AA playoffs. In their storied history of tournament appearances, the Pioneers have won the state boys hockey championship three times.
Additionally, the Catholic high school has won two Independent state championships and has been Minnesota State High School League runners-up on seven occasions.
In the course of their 53rd season of boys hockey, the Pioneers have claimed 36 conference championships.
This was the seventh year of seeding high-school teams, and Hill-Murray was seeded No. 1. For the first time this year, there were five teams seeded, ensuring that the No. 4 and 5 teams faced each other. The top three teams played opponents selected through a random draw.
Hill-Murray 6- Eastview 3
In their opening game March 7, the Section 4AA Hill-Murray drew Section 3AA champion Eastview of Apple Valley as its opponent.
The Lightning proved to be a more than worthy opponent. They moved to the body and cut off the passing lanes as they gave the top-seeded Pioneers almost more than they could or would want.
After the game, Eastview head coach Drey Bradley stated, “I thought we played well. We wanted a good effort, and I thought we got that. The competition was as good as it can get. The Pioneers are definitely a top team.”
Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said, “They played us hard. It was a competitive game. They came at us hard, but I guess we expected they would.”
The Pioneer’s eighth-grade whiz Joey Anderson said, “Once we got focused, we played with good tenacity. We just stuck to our game plan, and it worked out.”
Hill-Murray goalie John Dugas said in answer to a question, “I felt comfortable through the whole game. We expected they would come at us, but I thought we held things together.”
The opening goal came early for Hill-Murray. Zach Mills controlled the puck behind the Eastview goal. He sent a feed to the right doorstep where Colten Greeder fired a shot that was saved. The rebound sailed to Curt LaChappelle, who banged it inside the left post at 2:22 of the opening session.
A pretty play gave Hill-Murray a 2-0 lead when Mitch Slattery sent a superb pass to a charging Zach LaValle, who steered it inside the left pipe at 10:54.
The Pioneers were buzzing early in the second session when Logan Sharp put the puck on the blade of a charging Mills. He feathered a feed across to Greeder, who banged it to the back mesh at 1:40 to make it 3-0.
The Pioneers continued their pressure and a scramble in front of the Lightning net produced a game-winning strike when Slattery banged at the puck. It squirted to LaValle who slapped it inside the far left corner for a 4-0 Hill-Murray lead.
The Pioneers took a penalty, and Eastview didn’t waste the opportunity to make it 4-1 at 5:27.
Three minutes later they put the Pioneers on notice that they were still in the game when they put another shot to the back of the Hill-Murray goal at 5:27.
Still in the second stanza of play, the Pioneers went on a power play and made it pay off.
Passes from Josh French and LaValle sent the puck to Slattery, who slammed it to the back twines at 10:28.
Play moved into the third period and the Lightning struck again at 7:20 to narrow the Pioneers’ margin to 5-3.
Just under four minutes later, an unassisted goal by Sam Becker produced the final score of 6-3 at 11:01.
Hill-Murray 2- Wayzata 1
In semifinal action, the Pioneers ran into a determined Wayzata High School team.
The Trojans were seeded fourth, but they were undaunted by the Pioneers’ No. 1 ranking.
Goalies on both ends of the rink - John Dugas of Hill-Murray and Aaron Dingmann of Wayzata - were outstanding and no doubt made the difference in the outcome of the fray.
Neither team scored in the first 17 minutes of end-to-end action with the Pioneers owning an 11-7 shots-on-goal advantage.
Wayzata went on a power play in the second period and made the best of the chance by scoring at 6:44.
The score turned out to be the only goal of the period as Dingmann turned aside another 11 shots in the second stanza.
With the Trojans owning a one-goal lead, play headed into the third period.
It took until the halfway mark of the third period before Hill-Murray was able to solve the mystery of putting the puck behind Dingmann.
Passes from Tyler Funk and Joey Anderson relayed the puck to David Zarembinski. His quick-wrister found the upper-left corner of the Wayzata net for the 1-1 equalizer.
The Pioneers were charging the Wayzata end when the game-winner came. Josh French combined with Anderson to move the puck out to the mid-slot and the blade of Ryan Black.
Black unloosed a laser that caromed high off the left post and down to the right leg of Dingmann. From there it skittered across the line to the back of the Wayzata goal at 12:30.
From then on the Pioneers withstood a frenzied flurry by the Trojans, who pulled their goalie in favor of a sixth attacker with 1:36 remaining to be played.
The Trojans then had a six-on-four skater advantage with 52 seconds remaining in the game after the Pioneers were called for a tripping penalty.
To Hill-Murray’s and Dugas’ credit, they withstood a barrage of shots - four from in close in the last 30 seconds - to gain the hard-fought-for 2-1 victory that sent them into the championship game against longtime-rival Edina.
Edina 4 - Hill-Murray 2
In the Class AA championship game March 9, the Pioneers went up against an old nemesis -- the Edina High School Hornets.
In a classic, title-game match-up, the Hornets stung the Pioneers 4-2 in a frenzied battle.
The Hornets buzzed around the Hill-Murray end and outplayed the Pioneers - shots-on-goal in the first period favored Edina 10-7- but it was Hill-Murray that drew first blood.
The Pioneers were in the Edina end when Sam Becker sent the puck behind the net to Zach LaValle. The senior captain sent a nifty feed to the doorstep where Josh French was on hand to backhand a shot inside the left pipe at 4:11.
The Hornets went on a man advantage and made the Pioneers pay with the 1-1 tally at 6:31.
Edina then went ahead on a shot from just inside the blue line that was saved. The rebound caromed to the right doorstep and was put back inside the open right side at 11:56.
The 2-1 score held until the second period when Edina again found pay dirt with a goal just 2:11.
Despite a firestorm of Hill-Murray shots, Edina gained a 4-1 lead with a goal that came at 14:29.
Finally - almost out of desperation - the Pioneers were able to claim a goal back.
LaValle sent a superb feed to a charging French. The Hill-Murray sharp shooter let fly a bullet from the inside of the right circle that found the back mesh inside the right post at 15:16.
The goal lifted the Pioneers’ spirits, but didn’t relieve their frustration as Edina held them at bay through the third period to the final horn to claim the state championship.
The loss relegated Hill-Murray to the runner-up trophy for the second consecutive year.
The Pioneers finished the season with the best record of any Class AA team in Minnesota at 27-3-1, but without a coveted championship trophy.