Jack Kenney gained experience in last year's state tournament for Breck. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
Breck headed into its locker room at the Xcel Energy Center after the second period with a two-goal lead over Thief River Falls.
Life was good for the Mustangs.
Maybe too good.
“We were up,” Breck senior defenseman Austin Rudnick said. “We kind of just thought, 'We’re up, we don’t have to try as hard,' and look what happened.
“We lost. They came back.”
Thief River Falls scored four straight goals in the third period and added an empty net goal to upset the Mustangs 7-5 last year in the quarterfinals of the state Class 1A tournament.
While Breck would go on to win the consolation tournament, the Mustangs' early exit from the winner's bracket remains a source of motivation.
“That’s what you call a learning experience,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “Everything that happens to you, you store. You stow it away and you use that because you’re going to be faced with those same circumstances again. That’s what learning is.
That’s what experience is. That’s what maturity is. And I think that we’ve got that on this club.”
It certainly seems the Mustangs will keep the memory fresh in their minds heading into this year's state tournament.
“We definitely have that in the back of our heads from last year,” Breck senior forward Conor Andrle said. “We really, really gotta bear down and play a full game (with) everybody battling hard. The thing is sometimes we get up in the first period and then we’re a little bit optimistic, a little bit lazy in the defensive zone. That leads to some defensive breakdowns for some goals.
“You can’t do that in the state tournament, that’s for sure.”
Experience may be the theme for Breck this season as the Mustangs have 11 seniors -- all with state tournament experience.
Powering the Mustangs' offense is Andrle -- who has amassed 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) this season – along with Mr. Hockey candidate Grant Opperman, who has 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists).
Brothers Wesley and Keegan Iverson have shown their scoring ability and natural chemistry playing together on a line this season, combining for 108 points -- Wesley, a senior forward, has scored 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) and freshman Keegan has 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists).
Guarding the Breck blue line are senior defensemen Austin Rudnick and Benjamin Tegtmeyer, who have also contributed offensively. Rudnick has 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) and Tegtmeyer has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists).
Senior goaltender Jack Kenney has played 1,170 minutes, 41 seconds and owns an 18-3-1 record. Kenney has a .900 save percentage, allowing an average of 2.53 goals per game and recording four shutouts.
However, having been replaced by sophomore goaltender Henry Johnson after surrendering five goals in the section championship game against Blake, some may be wondering about the Mustangs’ stability in goal.
Larson and his players are not among the worried. They still have confidence in Kenney.
“He had a tough night, but he’s played great for us all year,” Larson said. “He’s our guy. Everybody’s allowed to have an average night. Maybe two of the goals were bad, but that happens. That’s why you play. That’s why you shoot the puck at the net.”
Several of Breck's seniors were members of the teams that won back-to-back Class 1A titles in 2009 and 2010. They can think of no better way to graduate than on top.
“We’re just going to try to enjoy it as much as possible,” Andrle said. “It’s always fun to win. We really gotta battle and play like it’s our last game ever because it very well could be.
“It’s our last shot.
With an overall record of 24-3-1 -- with that tie coming against national powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep on Thursday, Feb. 16 -- third-seeded Breck will play Duluth Marshall at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 7.
“We’ve got everything in,” Larson said. “We’ve got everything in, it’s just a matter of executing.
“We haven’t left anything out.”
Other than Minnetonka’s stunningly lopsided 9-3 Hockey Day victory over Duluth East, the most impressive outcome in any game this season might have been Breck’s 3-3 tie with Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep in Faribault on Feb. 14. The Mustangs’ performance in that game indicates they can compete with, and beat, most any high school program.
Breck coach Les Larson was part of one of the finest groups of defensemen in state history during his playing days at Hill High School. Surprisingly, his Mustangs have been known most for their fleet of high-scoring forwards. Larson, in his fourth season, has led Breck to two state titles and more than 100 victories.
Head Coach: Les Larson
Conference: Tri Metro
Colors: Navy, Gold
Assistant Coaches: Pete Larson, Josh Tucker, Jack Cavanaugh (JV), Glen Lang (JV)
Home Ice: Breck School Anderson Ice Arena, Golden Valley
State Tournament Appearances: Class A: 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
State Titles: 4 (Class A: 2000, 2004, 2009, 2010)
Section 2A playoffs