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New Prague earns first state tourney berth

By Loren Nelson, Sport Ngin, 02/27/14, 1:15PM CST


Trojans ride brilliant play of goalie Conner Wagner past Mankato West for Section 1A title

New Prague's Austin Isaacson skates the puck ahead of Mankato West's Nick Campbell in the Section 1A championship game. Photo by Loren Nelson

Greatest day of Conner Wagner’s life.

He played his best game. He got his biggest reward.

And by reward we’re not talking about the boxes of pizza that were carried into the New Prague locker room on Thursday after the No. 1-seeded Trojans beat No. 2 seed Mankato West 3-2 at the Rochester Rec Center to secure the school’s first state tournament appearance.

 “This is huge,” New Prague coach Chris Lonke said. “These kids just made history.”

Wagner’s chapter in the thrill-filled triumph over the Scarlets will occupy most of the book on the Trojans’ achievement. The junior goaltender made 32 saves, at least half of them of the spectacular variety as No. 7-ranked Mankato West (25-3-0) peppered him with shots from all angles.

“This was so fun,” said Wagner, a backup last season who saw all of 6 minutes of playing time. “I had a blast. I had a smile on the whole time.”

No. 6-ranked New Prague (21-4-3) raced to a 3-0 lead after two periods – two of the goals coming courtesy of senior captain Austin Kilian - then had to hang on as Mankato West scored twice in the third and constantly pressured for the tieing goal.

 Wagner was credited with five saves in the third, and he made a whopping 16 stops in the second, when Wagner saw so much rubber in the final eight minutes the Scarlets might as well have emptied their puck bag over his head.

“I was just so focued,” Wagner said. “I didn’t let anything else bother me. Just watch the puck.

“The puck was a beach ball tonight.”

Lonke knew he had a great athlete in Wagner at the start of the season. But there’s no telling how a goaltender will hold up under fire. So in Wagner went, and in he has stayed.

He’s played in all but seven minutes of the Trojans’ game this season, posting a 2.28 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

“I said it in the preseason. … He was going to be our X factor,” Lonke said. “He’s been awesome this year. You never know until someone gets in there. He’s a great athlete that has gotten better every week.”

Lonke has seen Wagner play some great games this year. But never under the intense spotlight of a section championship game.

“There’s no doubt that’s the best he’s ever played,” Lonke said. “I don’t even have to watch the tape. He stepped on the biggest stage and played with confidence.”

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