It's been a while since the state tournament had a St. Cloud Apollo squad in the bracket. Twenty-nine years to be exact.
Recently, the Eagles haven't even been that close. This year's 18 victories were the most since the 2001-02 team went 19-7-0. The ensuing decade was a tough stretch since for the Eagles, including five seasons in which they lost at least 20 games.
But that's all behind them now after an upset of top-seeded Little Falls in the Section 6A final last Thursday, Feb. 28.
Apollo is going dancing.
"I played at Apollo in the 1990s and we made it to some section semis and some finals, but were never able to pull the trigger," said coach Pete Matanich. "It's unreal."
Unreal certainly has described the play of Apollo's top line of Jared Christen, Paul Kenney and Jason Omann, which powered the team through the playoffs. Each had a hat trick in the section tournament and have been among the state scoring leaders all season. They are the engine that drives the Eagles' train.
-- Tim Kolehmainen
FORWARDS: Apollo will likely go as far as the top line of Jared Christian, Paul Kenney and Jason Omann takes it. The trio combined for 88 goals and 207 points during the year. In three playoffs games, each one of them had a hat trick, Christen in the quarters against Wadena-Deer Creek, Kenney in the semis versus Fergus Falls and Omann against Little Falls in the finals. "That whole line kind of revolves around each other," said Matanich. "One of them will score for us on any given night. They're fun to watch."
DEFENSE: The Eagles have a good mix of veteran defensemen such as seniors Jordan Keller and Brandon Bloch along with youngsters such as freshman Tanner Breidenbach and sophomore Grady Ewing. Yet they've been overlooked with the offensive output of the Eagles.
GOALTENDING: Freshman Nick Althaus has played beyond his years, particularly over the past six weeks. He's won eight of his last nine starts with a pair of shutouts. "Throughout the course of the year, with pressure it seems like he plays better," said Matanich.
Matanich was an assistant coach at St. Cloud Tech for seven years before taking the head coaching job at St. Cloud Apollo in 2009. The 1997 Apollo graduate and 2004 graduate of St. Cloud State University has overseen the resurgence of the Eagles' program, including the first winning season since 2001-02 and the first state tournament berth since 1984.
Apollo has the unenviable task of drawing top-seeded and two-time defending state champion St. Thomas Academy in the quarterfinals. An upset? Unlikely, although it will be interesting to see Apollo's top line go up against the stout defense of the Cadets.
Conference: Central Lakes
2012-13 Record: 18-10-0
State trips: 1984, 2013
Coach: Pete Matanich
Assistants: Cale Finseth, Dan Lahr
Home arena: St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex, St. Cloud
Last season: Lost to Sartell-St. Stephen in Section 6A quarterfinals, 3-0