Playing the rugged, black-clad Warroad Warriors is enough to give anyone bad dreams.
East Grand Forks’ senior captain Tommy Hajicek admitted as much Thursday night. He claimed he’d dreamed about playing Warroad in the section final with one last chance to get to the state tournament. All week long, whenever Hajicek closed his eyes, the Warriors were waiting.
But that’s where the usual story diverges. Instead of reliving the playoff nightmares that have been part of the last 11 years of Green Wave hockey, Hajicek woke up smiling.
It was a good dream.
In the Section 8A finals Thursday night, Feb. 28 at the East Grand Forks Civic Center, Hajicek made it a reality. He scored the game-winner on a power play midway through the second period, propelling the top-seeded Green Wave (22-3-3) past No. 3 Warroad (19-7-2) – and into the Class 1A state tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
“It was incredible,” smiled Hajicek, standing near a crowded center ice with his championship medal draped around his neck.
Hajicek had just finished a round of photos with the section trophy and shed a few tears with elated Green Wave fans who milled about on the ice for nearly an hour after the game. No one wanted to go home for fear they’d wake up with the dream unfulfilled. It’s been a tough stretch of hockey for the East siders.
“I’ve dreamed about it every night since Saturday and it came true tonight,” said Hajicek, who relayed that he’d received dozens of texts and calls wishing him well. “The team looked to me to do something and I ended up putting it in the back of the net. It was a great spark for our team.”
Despite past playoff disappointments, including losing to Thief River Falls in last year’s section final, Hajicek said he was confident entering the game. Perhaps it was the comfort of a good dream.
The rest of the town? Well, their level of confidence was a bit more debatable. The Green Wave have had more than their share of dreams end poorly in the section tournament. Since last advancing to state in 2002, East Grand Forks has lost twice in the section final and another six times in the semifinals.
“It’s been 11 years since we’ve been there and that pressure is put upon these 20 kids,” said East Grand Forks coach Tyler Palmiscno. “But they can’t control the past. We just tried to stay focused on what were doing and go to work.”
Palmiscno was a part of the Green Wave’s last run of state tournament teams, but as a player. As a senior in 1998, he scored 23 goals and helped East Grand Forks get to state, the first of four appearances in five years in St. Paul for the program.
His opponent in that section final was Warroad, which featured current Warriors’ head coach Jay Hardwick. The two squared off again Thursday night, but this time behind the benches.
True to recent form between these programs, the game proved to be tight-checking and rugged. Hajicek’s power play blast was the only goal scored on Warroad goalie Justin King, who saw his playoff shutout streak end at 122 minutes, 44 seconds.
“I knew it was going to be a dog fight and that’s what it was,” said Hajicek.
Warroad had some success against the Green Wave defense this winter. The Warriors tallied three goals in a loss in mid-December, then pumped in four more in a tie in early February. Only one team had scored more than four against East Grand Forks all winter (Thief River Falls in a 6-2 victory on Jan. 22) and the Green Wave were allowing just 1.68 goals per game.
Instead, the East side defense tightened up and helped Tanner Lindstrom post his seventh shutout of the year – and the Green Wave’s 10th as a team. Warroad had just 13 shots on goal in Thursday night’s game.
“We didn’t do anything different, we just did it better,” said Palmiscno.
“Their defense stood us up at the blue line and their forwards back checked very hard,” said Hardwick. “They created a lot of back pressure, so even when we did get it out and get something going, you’re worried about the defensemen, but you have guys chasing you down.”
Sophomore Tye Ausmus described the defensive corps as a band of brothers, where the Green Wave battle like siblings during practice, but when the lights come on, they have each other’s backs.
“We all fight together and we’re all out here to win and to play for each other,” said Ausmus. “In practice we’re enemies, but out on the ice in games we’re best friends and brothers.”
‘These guys are just amazing,” said Lindstrom, who stopped all 13 shots for the shutout. “Zero goals? I’ll live with that.”
As elated as East Grand Forks was with the victory, Warroad was just as disappointed. Essentially, the Warriors allowed just one goal in three Section 8A playoff games – and yet they aren’t headed to St. Paul for the state tournament. That one goal proved to be the backbreaker.
“I thought all we needed to do was get a goal and we’d be right in the game,” said Hardwick. “I told the boys to keep going and unfortunately, we weren’t able to get one.”
The Green Wave celebrated their Section 8A title in a 2-0 victory over Warroad.
Warroad coach Jay Hardwick recaps his team's season and looks to the future.
East Grand Forks' Tommy Hajicek, Tye Ausmus, Kolton Aubol and Tanner Lindstrom talk about the Section 8A victory, as well as comments from coach Tyler Palmiscno.
East Grand Forks finally got the Warroad nightmare out of its head. The Green Wave (22-3-3) earned a spot in the Class 1A state tournament for the first time since 2002 with a 2-0 victory over the Warriors (19-7-2) in the Section 8A final at the East Grand Forks Civic Center.
Senior Tommy Hajicek tallied the game-winner at 4:44 of the second period, breaking a scoreless tie. With the Green Wave on the power play, Hajicek took a feed from Tanner Tweten on the point and blasted a rising slap shot that rocketed over the shoulder of Warroad goaltender Justin King.
It was the first goal King and the Warriors had allowed in 122 minutes, 44 seconds of playoff action. Warroad had shut out its first two Section 8A opponents.
Kolton Aubol added an empty-net goal with 52 seconds to cap the scoring.
Tanner Lindstrom posted the shutout in goal for the Green Wave, making 13 saves. King was busier with 30 saves for Warroad.
1. Tommy Hajicek, East Grand Forks
Hajicek was the only skater on either side to solve the riddle of the defenses and starting goaltenders. His rising slapshot from the point on the power play midway through the second period eluded King and proved to be the only goal needed. In addition to his offense, Hajicek and the Green Wave forwards were conscientous about backchecking.
2. Colton Poolman, East Grand Forks
As it has done all season long, the Green Wave defense was tough to solve for Warroad. East Grand Forks posted its 10th shutout of the season and a large part was the play of defensemen such as Poolman. A junior defenseman, Poolman was also named a team captain.
3. (tie) Tanner Lindstrom, East Grand Forks and Justin King, Warroad
The third star should be shared by the two goaltenders, who allowed a combined one goal in the game (the Green Wave's other goal was into an empty net) on 45 total shots. King saved 30 of 31 shots he saw, while Lindstrom posted another shutout with 13 stops.