Kris McKinzie (8) is second on the Hilltoppers in scoring with 43 points. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
It’s been a long three years for Duluth Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty.
After a stretch that saw the Hilltoppers reach the state Class 1A tournament every year from 2005-2008, including runner-up finishes all three years, the fortunes of Duluth Marshall haven’t been as great since.
With early exits from the playoffs coming at the hands of Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl each of the last three seasons, it comes as no surprise that Flaherty was giddy following the Toppers’ 2-1 win over Hibbing in the Section 7A final on Saturday, March 3, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
“After a three-year sabbatical, its great to get back (to the State tournament). I wanted it for these kids,” Flaherty said. “This is a group of seniors that’s been with me for three and four years. Virginia has had our number the last few years, and we couldn’t even get out of the semis to this game (until this year).”
Those losses to the Blue Devils have instilled a deep drive in the returning players for Duluth Marshall, something that comes out most in talented forward Judd Peterson (44-35--79).
Peterson, who came to Duluth Marshall for more than just hockey, has turned his academics around while taking his game to the next level.
People have noticed.
Now a senior, Peterson is a finalist for Mr. Hockey and has secured a Division I scholarship with St. Cloud State.
But while Peterson may be the best example of motivation producing results, Flaherty sees that trait in all of his players.
“I really think this group is deserving; they’re nice kids,” Flaherty said of his team.
The No. 6-ranked Hilltoppers (21-7-0) enter the tournament as one of the four unseeded teams, and they’ll square off with perennial power and No. 3 seed and No. 3-ranked Breck (24-3-1) at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Duluth Marshall played each of the four seeded teams in the Class 1A field, losing tight games in every instance. Flaherty mentioned how his team hasn’t been clicking at its best lately either, something he wants to address before the start of the tournament.
As Flaherty puts it, the Toppers could pull an upset or two if they find their “A” game.
“We got to get it going. We know this team is capable of playing a lot better than we’ve played,” Flaherty said. “We took St. Thomas to overtime and won some big games this year. We’re capable of more, and we have to do that at State.”
To get to its best, Duluth Marshall will have to rely on players such as senior defenseman Jake Bushey (7-27--34) and several role players to carry the load.
Sophomore forward Cameron McClure (9-11--20) scored the game-winning goal in the Section 7A championship game. Kris McKinzie (22-21--43) and Anthony Miller (11-20--31) have put up good numbers during the year, and senior goalie Christian Coffman (10-5-0, 2.05, .925) is playing his best hockey right now.
The Hilltoppers need to get back to a simple style of play that benefitted them at times during the year if they want toupset any of the four seeded teams and win the championship.
Brendan Flaherty, in his 17th season guiding the Hilltoppers, reached the 300-win plateau this season and has a 305-165-13 record heading into the state tournament.
Section 7A playoffs