Zach LaValle (21) is one of several key senior leaders who have led Hill-Murray to the Class 2A state championship game for the second straight season. Photo by Adam Crane.
Hill-Murray senior Zach LaVelle
Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner has taken a stab at plenty of inspirational speeches in his career. He’s tried all sorts of tactics to motivate his Pioneers.
He’s learned that sometimes the most powerful words are the ones that go unspoken.
“I think earlier in my career, you think you’ve always got to show something on a board … sometimes, you know what, you’ve got to just back off,” Lechner said.
On Friday, with Hill-Murray trailing Wayzata by a goal heading into the third period of their state Class 2A semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Lechner told his senior captains the locker room was theirs.
Do with it as you see fit.
“We said, ‘You guys got it,’ ” Lechner said. “And we sat outside in the hallway, and those guys led.”
The Pioneers scored twice in the third period on their way to a 2-1 triumph over the Trojans.
One of the goal scorers was senior defenseman Ryan Black. He was also one of those senior leaders handed the key to the team. Coincidence?
“We mostly said we’re not going to quit,” Black said. “We came out there and just wanted to keep going, keep plugging away. We told our guys to keep peppering them with shots, one is going to go in.”
Two went in. Just enough. And now it’s on to the title game against Edina.
That’s how it’s worked all season for the Pioneers, who won five one-goal games – all of them against highly regarded opponents.
One of those Cardiac specials came in the Section 5AA championship game, when Hill-Murray beat White Bear Lake 1-0. Sophomore defenseman Davis Zarembinski scored the lone goal.
He opened the scoring for the Pioneers against Wayzata, too. Not bad for a kid who had no regular season goals. He says he was fully pumped heading out for the third period.
“(Lechner) knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to have the captains get us ready,” Zarembinski said, “and that’s exactly what they did.”
Lechner’s absolute faith in players such as Black, goaltender John Dugas and Zach LaValle, a forward in his fifth season on the varsity, made it easy for him to step aside. Those seniors helped the Pioneers reach last year’s championship game, where they lost 5-1 to Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Hill-Murray, which won a championship in 2008, has appeared in seven of the last eight state tournaments.
The Pioneers play Edina in Saturday’s championship, a rematch of a Jan. 5 meeting in Edina. Hill-Murray won that one 2-1 in overtime. Another cardiac special.
“It’s the leadership,” Lechner said. “The guys have really good bench decorum, all the corny things they get sick of me saying.
“I think it’s a lot of years of failures, so you figure out what works.”