Breck celebrates its third straight Section 2A title as the Mustangs advanced to the state tournament with a 4-3 double overtime victory against Orono on Thursday, March 3. Photo by Adam Crane
After a thrilling 4-3 victory over Orono in double overtime of the Section 2A championship, Breck heads into its eighth Class 1A tournament appearance in search of its third consecutive title.
“How ‘bout that?,” Breck coach Les Larson said. “It’s an unbelievable dream to go there. Unless you’ve been there, you think you know what it’s like. It’s just the best thing in the world.
“The neatest thing about it is going to be able to see all these new kids who have not been there before, experience that. It’s the just the best thing for a hockey player.”
Breck graduated 12 letter winners from last year’s state championship team forcing some to think this was a rebuilding year for the younger Mustangs.
“We had to work very hard,” Larson said. “We knew we had talented kids but we also knew that they were very young. The maturity level, age-wise, from last year to this year is just like a different level of hockey mentally.”
Larson has dealt with lesser experienced players before with positive results.
“Last year wasn’t easy, either,” Larson said. “Everybody thinks you got all these guys returning from a state championship team. There are other challenges with a veteran club but these kids did everything that we asked them to. We kept getting better.
“We’re a lot better team now than we were at the start of the year. After these last two victories (in the Section 2A playoffs), they’re believers in the system and in the work ethic.”
Breck sophomore forward Thomas Lindstrom (left) batlles with Delano's Jered Berg for the puck during the Section 2A semifinal game on Tuesday, March 1. Photo by Adam Crane
The top five scorers for the Mustangs this year are all underclassmen – junior forwards Conor Andrle (19-43-62), Grant Opperman (25-34-59) and Wesley Iverson (28-20-48) as well as sophomores Thomas Lindstrom (22-28-50) and Matt Colford (14-32-46).
“It feels amazing,” Colford said about heading to the state tournament. “It’s the first time for a bunch of our guys on the team -- should be a great trip for all of us.”
Not all Mustangs will be participating in their first state tournament -- including senior forwards David Zosel (10-18-28) and Max Oppenheimer (8-14-22) -- but that doesn’t take away the glamour or determination for another title.
“It’s a dream come true,” Zosel said. “I’ve been there twice but this time it will be a little bit more special because this is my last shot at it.”
Not to be forgotten is the Breck defense that poses a threat at both ends of the ice.
Junior defensemen Austin Rudnick (12-19-31) and Ben Tegtmeyer (5-14-19) lead a feisty Mustang blue line that also features eighth grader Keegan Iverson (11-12-23) that has a nose for hard hits and the scorer’s column.
One potential question mark for Breck is the goaltending position as three different players have split time this year in-between the pipes.
Breck junior goaltender Jack Kenney. Photo by Adam Crane
The Mustangs seem to have placed their trust in junior netminder Jack Kenney who played all three games during the Section 2A playoffs. Kenney has a combined 9-4-0 record while allowing an average of 2.42 goals per game and boasting a .901 save percentage.
Despite their senior’s experience and impressive performance by underclassmen, Breck enters the 2011 state tournament as the No. 4 seed.
“We’re going to come in maybe as an underdog,” Larson said. “We’ve been there before, we know what it takes -- this is our third year in a row. We’re going to take one game at a time, we got almost a whole week to prepare so we’re very, very excited.
“There’s some teams in there that beat us this year that we’ll have a chance to play again so we’ll see if we improved and how much they improved. We’re very much so looking forward to it.”
Experienced senior leadership and impressive underclassmen will most likely advance Breck into the semifinals but the Mustangs will need a big game in goal from junior Jack Kenney to upset top-ranked St. Thomas Academy.
Breck must have known they were hiring someone special when Les Larson was given the head coaching position in 2008. In his three years at the helm Larson has led the Mustangs to a 76-13-1 record (as of March 3) as well as three state tournament appearances -- with Breck winning the Class 1A title the past two years. Talk about making a positive first impression.
Before Breck’s hockey season had begun, the naysayers already had started. The Mustangs lost 13 seniors from a year ago, including three forwards from a top line that was one of the best in the state, four talented defensemen and their goalie.
Surely, it was a down year for the two-time defending Class 1A state champs.
But coach Les Larson had just one message for his team: We reload. We don’t rebuild. And he signed each e-mail sent to players during the summer and pre-season the same way:
Tradition never dies.
The words struck a chord with the young players, and now, after powering through eight losses during the regular season, they’re playing their song — once again — at the state tournament. The Mustangs take on Thief River Falls at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.
“Coach said we could do it and he believed in us,” senior David Zosel said of the fourth-seeded Class 1A team. “I think that’s key, to have a coach who believes in you. He set the bar high and we tried to reach for it.”
The reaching wasn’t quite as smooth a process as the year before, when the Mustangs came in as the favorites and entered the tournament ranked No. 1 with a high-scoring, senior-laden team that had taken it all the way a season earlier. This year’s team took its lumps early in the season, losing 8-0 to Hill-Murray, which spurred a three-game losing streak.
“But we weathered that, and we just got better from that point on,” Larson said.
Added junior Wes Iverson: “In the beginning of the year, we’d get scored on and we’d put our heads down.”
In the section final, Breck came back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period against Orono to win in double overtime.
“I think we figured out that we can come back from any type of situation,” Iverson said of a team that’s so close, kids at school call them the “hockey mafia” in the halls. “I think we just figured out how to win.”
Some of that came through trial and error. And some through inspirational words.
“They’re young, and there’s disadvantages to that, but there’s also advantages: They believe you,” Larson said. “You tell them, ‘you do these five things and we’ll win the game.’ And yeah, they really believe that.”
The Mustangs have the unique blend of maintaining a significant group of holdover players from the past two championship teams while not being favored to win a third. And the position suits them quite well.
“I love being the underdog,” Iverson said. “I love making people’s jaws drop after we beat a big team. I just love the look on people’s faces. It’s fun.”
Head Coach: Les Larson
Conference: Tri Metro
Colors: Navy, Gold
Assistant Coaches: Pete Larson, Jack Cavanaugh (JV), Glen Lang (JV)
Home Ice: Breck School Anderson Ice Arena, Golden Valley
State Titles: 4 (2000, Class A; 2004, Class A; 2009, Class A; 2010 Class A)