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Delano draws with Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at the Hilltopper Classic

By Jimmy Gilligan, SportsEngine, 12/27/16, 7:15AM CST


The Tigers advanced to the tournament semifinals on John Keranen's goal in the second overtime.

Delano's John Keranen had a third period and the game winning tip in double overtime. Photo By Matthew Moses, Sports Engine

Delano's John Keranen had a third period goal and the game winning tip in double overtime. Photo By Matthew Moses, SportsEngine

It took double overtime for Delano/Rockford to finally advance out of the quarterfinals at a holiday tournament.

The Tigers earned a spot in the Hilltopper Holiday Classic semifinals after John Keranen tipped in a shot from teammate Brian Halonen midway through the second overtime, helping Delano put away Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in a quarterfinal game at Duluth's Mars Lakeview Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

While the game officially goes in the books as a 6-6 overtime tie, Keranen's score sent the Tigers to a "win" that snaps a long streak of first-round losses in holiday tournaments.

“We’ve had a very long history of not winning the first game of the Christmas tournament, so as you saw, it basically took us into the fifth frame to get one past them,” Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen said.

Even for a veteran team that boasts 12 seniors, the game certainly added to the Tigers' experience. Delano, the top-ranked team in the Class 1A coaches' poll, trailed 3-2 heading into the third period.

“We made a number of mistakes, we made some disciplinary mistakes, and we continued to rally and work together,” the Tigers third-year coach said. “I think that’s huge as our season progresses, to overcome this kind of adversity, this shapes us into more of a championship-style team.”

As has often been the case this season, the top line of Ben Meyers (16 goals, 22 assists), Halonen (13, 18) and Keranen (12, 13) proved to be pivotal, scoring six of the seven goals between them.

Although the trio has yet to be christened with a catchy nickname, their statistics provide plenty of notoriety as all three players are among the top 10 scorers in the state.

“We have gold jerseys in practice, so we’re just known as the gold line,” Keranen said.

Keranen and his linemates have been playing together since mites, “and maybe even before that on the backyard rinks,” and their chemistry showed in Tuesday’s win.

The Gold Line set the tone for the game early on, scoring the first goal 15 seconds into the game with a tic-tac-toe play. After the Tigers (8-0, 1-0) were shutout in the second period, the Gold line provided the spark again in the third period when Meyers and Halonen scored consecutive goals in the first seven minutes.

Even when Delano’s top line didn’t have possession, they denied Cloquet (4-3) many offensive chances, forcing a handful of turnovers in the neutral zone which led to opportunities the other way.

If the Tigers are to make their first state tournament appearance in program history, they’ll continue to rely heavily on their top line to beat Breck in Class 1A, Section 2, the team which has denied them from reaching the state tournament the last four years.

It’s no surprise given the numbers that the Gold Line knows that to do with the puck on their sticks. But in order to improve their play without the puck, van Bergen has looked at perennial contender Hermantown -- the defending Class 1A champions and their likely opponent on Wednesday..

“We’ve spent a lot of time watching Hermantown and the amazing lines that they’ve had come through and really tried to learn and emulate what coach Plante does,” van Bergen said.

“We know that their creativity and skill is going to give (the Gold Line) opportunities, but as far as progressing them to where they want to go as a program, we need those guys doing everything.”

Just as the Hawks made the jump from six-straight years of second place finishes, the Tigers hope to end their run of failing to advance to the state tournament.

To do so, they’ll rely on the Gold Line -- arguably the best, and most aptly named -- line in Class 1A.

Delano's Ben Meyers with the shot that tied that game at 5-5 in the third period. Photo By Matthew Moses, SportsEngine

First Report

John Keranen tipped in a shot from teammate Brian Halonen midway through the second overtime as Delano/Rockford topped Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 7-6 in the opening game of the 16th Annual Hilltopper Holiday Classic. 

Cloquet controlled the first two periods, outshooting the Tigers (8-0, 1-0) and earning a majority of the scoring chances to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

Landon Langenbrunner scored twice in the second period to give the Lumberjacks (4-3) the lead. On the other side of the ice, Delano’s top skater, Maine-commit Ben Meyers, missed the final 10-minutes of the period after taking a misconduct penalty. 

The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the state coaches' poll, responded with two quick goals to take a 4-3 lead early on in the third period, before both teams traded goals that resulted in a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation. 

After a scoreless 5-on-5 overtime period, Keranen sealed the win for the Tigers in 3-on-3 overtime and secured Delano a spot against the winner of Bemidji and Hermantown.

Landon Langenbrunner of Cloquet takes a backhand shot against Delano goalie Jackson Hjelle. Photo by Matthew Moses, SportsEngine

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