A tumultuous 2012-13 season put Maple Grove atop the list of boys’ hockey teams eager for a fresh start this winter.
New coach Tom Starkey led his team into the season opener against Wayzata, a state tournament qualifier ranked No.1 in Let’s Play Hockey Magazine’s preseason poll.
Down by a goal three different times in regulation, Maple Grove answered each time before falling 4-3 in overtime.
“I don’t think people expected us to put up the fight that we did,” Starkey said.
Maple Grove’s program is looking forward to keeping its battles on the ice this season.
Last season, an incident which occurred in mid-December at a private home triggered a school district investigation that included Maple Grove police. Violations of the Minnesota State High School League’s code of conduct led to the suspension of 13 players, including some for up to four games.
At the end of the season, Gary Stefano, the only head hockey coach in the school’s 17-year history, did not get his coaching contract renewed.
The 2013-14 season brought a new energy that players were happy to harness.
“Guys were very excited to get back at it,” Starkey said. “They’ve put in a ton of work, and I think they were excited about some of the changes made. And to start with your crosstown rival, the No. 1 team in the state, in their barn — what a great gauge.”
Opening night tested the Crimson’s resolve. Wayzata struck for a goal just 2:35 into the game. The Crimson’s Dane Abernathy tied it 1-1 later in the period but the Trojans scored again and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Abernathy tied the score 2-2 with the only goal in the second period. Wayzata grabbed its third lead of the game in the third period but Maple Grove fought back to tie once again. Josh Passolt’s goal sent the game to overtime.
Wayzata scored 3:21 into the extra period to win 4-3.
“I was proud of our guys for staying in the game and keeping themselves one bounce away from winning,” Starkey said.
Maple Grove goaltender Cal McKenney made 35 saves.
“He has the ability to be the best player on the ice,” Starkey said. “He’s known for being a gamer and I thought he looked confident and in a groove.
“That game was a good experience for us. We feel we should be in the top five in the state each year. I told our guys that is the standard, to be good enough to beat the best teams any night.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574