Centennial's Ryner Gorowski, center, celebrates his second goal -- and eventual game winner -- with teammates against Champlin Park during Centennial's 4-2 in the Section 5AA title game. Star Tribune photo
Printouts of about 40 encouraging e-mails were taped to the walls outside Centennial’s locker room last Friday at the State Fair Coliseum.
The Cougars responded to the basic message of them all, defeating Champlin Park 4-2 in the Section 5 finals and earning the program’s first Class 2A boys’ hockey state tournament appearance in nine years.
“It’s just a fantastic group of guys that work hard together, support one another in good times and bad and really bought into what we put in front of them day one,” second-year Centennial coach Ritch Menne said.
Senior forward Hans Gorowsky wandered around in an emotional daze after Friday’s game, needing neither hugs nor pats on the back to produce tears.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, one I’ve never had before,” Gorowsky said. “It’s a childhood dream come true.”
Going back to state is a family affair. Younger brother Ryner Gorowsky scored two of the Cougars’ three power-play goals to beat Champlin Park. Together, they follow a trail blazed by older cousin Tom Gorowsky, star of the Cougars’ 2004 state championship team and a Mr. Hockey recipient.
Hans Gorowsky said the 2004 team, though revered within the program, set an almost insurmountable bar. Centennial teams reaching the section finals in 2005, ’08 and ’09 fell short. Having cleared that hurdle, Gorowsky wants to continue the run.
Centennial (22-4-2), seeded No. 5, begins state tournament play at 8 p.m. Thursday against No. 4 seed Wayzata (21-7).
“We’re not done yet,” Gorowsky said. “We’re playing good hockey right now and we’ve beaten or played well against some of the teams that made it to the tournament. We’ve got more work to do.”
Centennial went 2-1 against teams in the state tournament, losing its season opener to Edina and beating Moorhead and Duluth East in mid-December.
Those games, Gorowsky said, were a launching point for the rest of the season. The 4-0 Edina loss, he said “felt like a closer game.” Rebounding to beat Moorhead and Duluth East within a span of three days convinced players “that we had something special here.”
The Cougars got hot in January, posting a 8-0-2 surge and beating or tying three teams ranked No. 12 to 20. A 8-3 loss to Blaine gave the Cougars pause but they regrouped, closing out the season on a seven-game winning streak and allowing eight goals overall.
Senior goaltender Patrick Munson emerged as the team’s rock, going 17-4-2, stopping 93 percent of shots faced and allowing 2.39 goals per game. Caught up in the excitement, Munson removed his glove, blocker and helmet with about two seconds still on the clock against Champlin Park.
“Munson’s kind of flown under the radar all year,” Menne said. “I think this is great for him. People got to see how good he really is.”
Other players emerged, two earning colorful nicknames. Senior forward Kenny “Wrecking Ball” Sinna embodies determination. Never made an ‘A’ Bantam team. Played mostly junior varsity for two seasons. But this season he broke out with 14 goals and 18 assists.
Ryner Gorowsky, according to older brother Hans, is “kind of like the Honey Badger [former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu]. He’s always hacking; he’s got that extra gear. He’s got that extra whatever it is.”
Leading Centennial back to the state tournament is extra satisfying for Menne, a former Cougars coach.
“I left the JV the year before [the 2004 title],” he said. “Shame on me for doing that.”