A season sliding toward mediocrity was rejuvenated by a simple decision.
With his team sitting at 5-6 early in January, Andover boys’ hockey coach Mark Manney told players, “Either you can pack it in and have one of those 8-17 seasons or you can decide to get playing.”
The Huskies chose the latter. More important, they put in the necessary effort. The payoff? Andover entered this week on an 8-0 run, one of the state’s longest winning streaks.
While a team effort triggered the turnaround, senior forward Tyler Tomberlin ranks as “the guy everyone looks down the bench to make something happen,” Manney said.
Tomberlin has responded, leading the team in both goals (24) and assists (32) through the first 20 games.
He spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about how the Huskies rekindled their swagger, along with doing the dirty work and reaping the rewards.
Q: What do you remember you and your teammates saying in terms of trying to turn the season around?
A: When we played Forest Lake we had an all-around not very good game. But we came into Blaine and had leads after the first and second periods. In the locker room we were thinking, ‘Wow, we can be as good as anyone.’ We have a pretty young team and we ended up losing to Blaine, but it was the first game we actually played together as a whole. It really brought us together.
Q: Which games of your winning streak stand out?
A: Our high school [opened in 2002] had never beaten Centennial. So we finally did that. That was a huge experience for us and helped trigger the roll we’re on. Another big win was against Cloquet, knowing they played well against Duluth East and Grand Rapids. We came in and beat them 7-0, and that opened a lot of peoples’ eyes. And, of course, beating Elk River was big.
Q: You shut out three of your past eight opponents. What’s been clicking so well defensively?
A: Our goalie [Ryan Olson] has been huge for us. He battled through some tough losses earlier in the year when our defensive zone coverage wasn’t very good. But the way we stepped up and the way he stepped up has been great.
Q: What are some of the little things you’re doing better?
A: We keep track of how many blocked shots we have each game. [Saturday] against Elk River we had 22 blocked shots and that was one of our season highs. Earlier this season, guys stepped out of the way of shots.
Q: Who are some of the unsung heroes on this team?
A: My linemate Zach Sitarz has played pretty well. He and I find each other throughout the zone. I just have to put the puck on his stick and he’ll score. He’s got a shot that you don’t see out of many people in high school. And Tyler Vold runs our power play. He always makes the first pass to get us out of our zone and get us going.
Q: Your coach said the team looks to you a lot to make things happen. How have you tried to answer the bell?
A: I try to lead not only on the ice but off the ice, too. I want everyone to be always working and always making smart decisions. I go hard on them when they are not backchecking because that is a big factor in what can cause a win or a loss. But they’ve all stepped up. I can trust anyone on the ice at any time to do their job and give us exactly what we need.
David La Vaque