Breck senior defenseman Austin Rudnick (No. 24) sends a shot on Blake senior goaltender Devon Johnson (No. 35) in the third period on Thursday, March 1. Rudnick would score on the shot. Photo by Adam Crane
Things weren’t working and were starting to get frustrating for Breck defenseman Austin Rudnick.
The senior captain had fired slap shot after slap shot to no avail and was in the midst of a personal scoring drought that had spanned from the Section 2A semifinals into the Mustangs’ championship game against Blake on Thursday, March 1.
Making matters worse, Breck was trailing its rival in the third period.
“Bounces weren't going our way,” Rudnick said. “Not at all. That one that bounced off the end board and swirled in; I couldn't believe it.”
Rudnick was referring to an unlikely goal that was technically scored by Blake’s Zach Doerring whose shot went wide, bounced off the boards at Parade Ice Garden and squeaked through the pads of Breck goaltender Jack Kenney as the fluky goal sent a shockwave through the Mustangs’ bench.
Breck forward Conor Andrle (No. 5) carries the puck past Blake defenseman Orion Olsen (No. 23) in the Section 2A championship game on Thursday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
“When they went up we were all a little shaken and scared,” Breck senior forward Conor Andrle said. “We were all a little bit rattled on the bench but the captains really did a good job of calming everyone down.”
Not only did the Breck upperclassmen calm the team down, one of them fortunately decided to make an important in-game adjustment.
“After the first period on the power play, two of (my) slap shots got blocked,” Rudnick said. “So I just kind of thought, well if these aren't getting through then I can have a little bit more control with the wrist shot and those are just as hard. Those are a little more accurate than the slappers so I just let the wristers go and good things happened.”
Throwing two hard wrist shots on goal, Rudnick scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in a four minute, 12 second timespan.
“How bout that,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “You're pouring pucks at the net, you can't buy one then all of a sudden -- bingo.”
Rudnick’s heroic goals lifted the Mustangs to an eventual 7-5 victory, the Section 2A championship title and a berth to the Class 1A state tournament.
Breck defenseman Austin Rudnick points to a fan in the stands after the Mustangs Section 2A championship victory on Thursday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
“Oh my god, it's unbelievable,” Andrle said. “What a big game, big time for (Rudnick) to finally bear down and put the puck in the net. He's got an unbelievable shot, he's an unbelievable player and I couldn't be happier for him.
“He showed what he had tonight.”
Holding true to strategy, Rudnick and the rest of the Mustangs peppered Blake goaltender Devon Johnson with over 50 shots on goal in the game.
“We figure we need to have seven shots per one goal,” Larson said. “We had 52 shots in the game so we were right on the mark and it's uncanny how that statistic works for us. That's an old NHL statistic from 1970s. I don't know what it is now but I've always stuck with that statistic.”
While the Breck coaching staff continues to use traditional practices with successful results, Larson understands and utilizes both the talent and leadership his players have in the locker room.
“Our seniors have taken ownership of this club all year long,” Larson said. ”And it's not just four or five guys, it's 10 or 12 guys. Everybody has pitched in, everybody has done their part, everybody has been selfless about it and I can't say enough about the character and leadership we've got in the senior class on this club.”
Now state tournament-bound, Breck there is little time to dwell on the section championship.
“Well you regroup,” Larson said about the Mustangs’ upcoming week. “We'll have a light practice tomorrow, we'll have a practice on Saturday. Saturday night (at the seeding meeting) we'll find out where we are and then we go from there. It's one game at a time, one period at a time and I like our chances. I like where we are right now. I like the way we're playing.”
Sure to lead the charge for Breck is Rudnick who despite being at the tournament before – winning the 1A title in 2010 -- knows this time will be a little different.
“It means the world,” Rudnick said. “It's the last time with these guys so we gotta go out with a bang. We've got to come together as a group of seniors and lead it.
“We've got to play as a team.”
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff
Breck celebrates with its fan section at Parade Ice Garden moments after winning the Section 2A championship on Thursday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
After being outscored by Breck, 17-5, during two regular season meetings, an average person may not have given Blake a chance in the Section 2A championship game on Thursday, March 1.
It certainly didn’t appear to be the makings of an epic game but the fans that packed into Parade Ice Garden were in for a treat, taking in the high-scoring rivalry matchup for a trip to the state tournament.
Blake senior goaltender Devon Johnson makes one of his 45 saves stopping a breakaway attempt by Breck forward Conor Andrle in the Section 2A championship game on Thursday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
Blake sophomore forward Spencer Naas scored his sixth hat trick of the season and senior goaltender Devon Johnson made 45 saves but the Bears’ comeback and upset bid would fall short in a 7-5 loss to top-seeded Breck.
Following the game, Blake coach Jon Sturgis spoke with the MN Hockey Hub on the game, Naas, the Bears’ seniors and the season.
Question: That was a great hockey game to watch and although the result was not a favorable on for your team, what were your thoughts on the game?
Answer: We were right there at the end and a couple bounces didn't go our way and that's the way those kinds of games go. I wouldn't change a thing with how our team played. I thought we played an excellent game. In a game like that, it's really tough to have a winner and a loser because I think both teams played very, very hard. Obviously Breck has a great team, but I think we showed up and surprised some people and we expected to win that game, we really did. I just feel for the kids right now -- they are obviously upset.
Q: Three big goals by sophomore Spencer Naas. What were your thoughts on him tonight?
A: He's been like that all year. He scores goals, works hard, he's a talent and certainly a spark for our team and he just played his heart out tonight. Great game and you will see more of him down the road; that is for sure.
Q: On the other side of the ice, your senior goaltender played a phenomenal game. Despite giving up those goals, how do you think he played?
A: Devon was spectacular. He really was. The first period, they got that goal at the end of the period, and that is just a testament to what kind of mindset Devon has. He came out and stood on his head for the rest of the game and yes they got seven goals, but he was on fire. He kept us in the game and gave us motivation. He allowed us to make it close and almost come away with a win.
Q: Though a relatively young team, talk to me about your seniors this season.
A: We are going to miss all of our seniors. Right down from our captain, Zach (Doerring), who had two goals tonight and was fantastic and has been a great leader, to Max Harrington, who scored 19 goals for us this year. Jack DeVries, Blake Szalapski, Devon Johnson and Orion Olsen. All six of those guys were key for us all year. They played very, very hard and I am proud to have coached them for a year.
Q: But again with a lot of returners, is there any thing positive your can look at for next year yet?
A: We are going to hang out as a team tonight and reflect on how good the season was and how these guys played. We will worry about next year down the road. I'm proud as heck of our whole entire team. I want us to walk out of here with our heads held high. For our seniors, it was unfortunate we couldn't win that one and take it all the way, but they played their hearts out. I thought we had a good game plan and played an excellent game.
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff
Blake senior forward Zach Doerring (left) collides with Breck ninth grade forward Keegan Iverson (right) during the Section 2A championship on Thursday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
In a wild and crazy finish, top-seed and No. 3-ranked Breck defeated third-seeded Blake in the Section 2A final 7-5 on Thursday, March 1 at Parade Ice Arena and advance to the Class A state tournament.
Breck scored four goals in the third period, two by senior Austin Rudnick, which were the game-tying and game-winning goals.
Blake's Spencer Naas recorded a hat trick, his third coming on a breakaway, which gave the Bears a brief 5-4 lead in the third.
Rudnick came back and scored two goals less than five minutes later to give the Mustangs the lead.
Grant Opperman sealed the deal with an insurance goal with 18 seconds left in the game.
In the first, Breck opened the game with two early goals by Derek Wiitala and Keegan Iverson.
Blake was able to cut into the lead on Naas' first goal.
With just 43 seconds left in the period, Conor Andrle put the Mustangs up 3-1 heading into the locker rooms.
Midway through the second, Naas scored his second goal of the game and Zach Doerring, who had two goals and two assists on the night, tied the game up at three.
Things got interesting in the third, with a total of six goals were scored.
Keegan Iverson scored his second on a rebound, which he deposited into a wide-open net just 1 minute, 33 seconds in.
Doerring scored his second when he dumped the puck in, but hit off the boards and was able to get past Breck goalie, Jack Kenney.
Naas later gave Blake the lead on his breakaway goal, but it was short-lived as Rudnick tallied his two goals for Breck and Opperman added to it with his lone goal with 18 seconds left in the clock.
Breck will advance to the Class A state tournament and does so by beating Blake for the third time this season.
The Mustangs will take their 24-3-1 record to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
WIth the loss, Blake finishes the season with an 18-10-0 record.
-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff
1. Austin Rudnick, Breck
When the Mustangs needed its two biggest goals of the season, their senior captain came through. His two goals in the third period erased a brief one-goal deficit and put Breck in the Class A state tournament. It was only a matter of time before Rudnick found the back of the net as he was firing at will all night.
2. Keegan Iverson, Breck
Showing maturity beyond his years, the freshman scored two goals and recorded an assist for the Mustangs. His lone assist was huge, which found the stick of teammate, Austin Rudnick, for the game-winner. Adjusting to a new position this season, he will take 17 goals and 26 assists into the Class A state tournament.
3. Spencer Naas, Blake
One of the main reasons why Breck was unable to pull away in the Section 2A finals was because Naas kept finding the net. Three times to be exact. His third goal gave the Bears a 5-4 lead in the final period and sent their student section into a craze with hats flying onto the ice to celebrate the hat trick. He will finish his sophomore campaign with 40 goals and 22 assists.
-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff