Goaltender Nick Malvin has been solid in his first season replacing longtime starter Danny Harper (Photo by Tim Kolehmainen).
Mr. Hockey Nick Bjugstad is gone. This is Jonny Brodzinski’s team now.
Sure, Blaine has other go-to guys. Briggs Fussy scored some clutch goals in the section playoffs. Nick Malvin might as well carry a trowel and mortar bucket rather than a goalie stick the way he’s stonewalled opposing teams all season. Sophomore defenseman Michael Brodzinski has much of the same game-changing ability as his older brother.
But the Bengals go as Jonny goes, and the Bengals are going to the state Class 2A tournament for the sixth consecutive season.
Unseeded Blaine (20-4-4) plays No. 2 seed Edina (18-7-2) at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 10, in the state tournament quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“It was supposed to be Maple Grove’s year,” Jonny Brodzinski said after the Bengals upended the top-seeded Crimson in overtime in the Section 5AA final. “We stripped it from them. Nice.”
Brodzinski, a senior forward and Mr. Hockey finalist receiving heavy Division I interest, has scored 28 goals and added 29 assists for 57 points in 28 games. He put up those numbers despite receiving extra attention most every opponent, much like Bjugstad, now starring for the University of Minnesota, did last season.
As a right wing on a line centered by Bjugstad last season, there weren’t a lot of layers to Brodzinski’s role.
“My job was to get Bjugstad the puck,” he said.
This year Brodzinski knows much more will be expected of him at the state tournament. No one expects more out of Brodzinski than Brodzinski.
“I have to compete more,” he said. “I have to put up a bunch of points because I know I’m the go-to guy. I need to start playing more physical, and I need to be more of a key guy out there.”
During Blaine’s section title game victory, a Maple Grove player was ruled to have closed his hand on the puck in the Crimson crease. The Bengals were awarded a penalty shot. Blaine coach Dave Aus had his pick of players to send on the ice.
Brodzinski, naturally, was the selection.
Brodzinski tried to fire the puck between Ryan Coyne’s leg pads, but the Crimson goalie calmly turned the puck away.
What could have been an emtional drain for the Bengals was, in fact, no big deal.
“He doesn’t really get down when he misses those kinds of things,” Michael Brodzinski said about his brother. “He just gets the next goal and turns the game around.”
After riding Bjugstad’s scoring through two tough section semifinal and final games last season, the Bengals appeared to be running on empty at the state tournament, when they were upset by Apple Valley 2-0 in the quarterfinals, then lost to Roseau 7-5 in the consolation round.
Aus said he expects most observers will predict a similar fate for Blaine this time around.
“We’re not going to be seeded,” Aus said after winning the section title. “We’re not going to get any respect. I wouldn’t count us out against anybody.”
The Bengals have a hot goalie in Nick Malvin, two game-changers in the Brodzinski brothers, Michael and Jonny, and a solid supporting cast. That was enough to get through the section playoffs, and with a few breaks Blaine might push all the way to the championship.
“For me, personally, this is the biggest win I’ve ever had at Blaine, bar none,” Dave Aus said after the Bengals knocked off No. 4 ranked Maple Grove in the Section 5AA title game. Aus might have had his best season as a coach, considering this was supposed to be a “down” year for Blaine. He’s guided the Bengals to six straight section championships, quite an accomplishment with the turnover in high school rosters.
Blaine coach Dave Aus admitted he did not expect this Bengals team to challenge for a state tournament appearance this season.
But when the team advanced to last week's Section 5 championship game, Aus made the expectation clear. The hallway to the Blaine locker room at the State Fair Coliseum was lined with pictures of the Bengals five previous teams – all of which celebrated section victories.
A 4-3 overtime upset of Maple Grove earned Blaine a sixth consecutive trip to the Class 2A state tournament. The Bengals (20-4-4) open play 11 a.m. Thursday against No. 2 seed and defending state champion Edina at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"For me, this is the biggest win I've ever had at Blaine – bar none," Aus said Friday. "Everybody said Maple Grove is the best team and they were going to walk through the section. I have a ton of respect for them, don't get me wrong. They outplayed us for good stretches."
Heavy losses to graduation forced Blaine to mold a new identity through adversity this season. The section final against No. 1 seed Maple Grove was no different. The Crimson tied and beat Blaine in Northwest Suburban Conference. And it roared back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead at 10:11 of the third period on Friday.
"When they went up 3-2, I got a little nervous," Blaine goaltender Nick Malvin said. "I didn't know what to expect. But we responded great. Michael came out and took control."
Michael is sophomore defenseman Michael Brodzinski. He scored twice in Friday's game, with his first goal coming 29 seconds after Maple Grove took its lead. Aus chalked up the resiliency to experience.
"That's what a champion does," Aus said. "I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I'd rather have the experience of being there."
Brodzinski's second goal, scored 35 seconds into overtime, added a sixth picture to Blaine's collection. Hill-Murray (1983-88) was the last big school program to make at least six consecutive trips to state. Fergus Falls went to seven consecutive Class 1A tournaments from 1997 to 2003. Eveleth is the standard-bearer, going to state 12 consecutive times from 1945-56.
None of those runs was built on one great class or a few superstar players. Those programs found ways to be competitive even when a particular roster failed to excite outsiders. Blaine is no different.
"I've said this before, and I don't want to shortchange our seniors, but we're going to have the best teams we've ever had here coming up," Aus said. "So for us to continue that string without a break is big."
That doesn't mean Blaine lacks talent. Senior forward Jonny Brodzinski, Michael's older brother, is one of 10 Mr. Hockey candidates. And Malvin made huge strides as a junior this season, his first as a starter. Danny Harper was in the net for Blaine's three state teams from 2008-10.
Malvin kept his team ahead 2-1 through two periods against Maple Grove despite the Crimson's 30-17 advantage in shots on goal.
"Nick has matured and he learned from Danny what it takes in a big game," Aus said. "With [Nick], anything can happen [at state]. We're not going to get any respect, but if you watched our goalie [Friday], you know he's the best in the state."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574
Head Coaches: Dave and Peter Aus
Conference: Northwest Suburban
Colors: Navy Blue, Columbia Blue
Assistant Coaches: Scott Richart, Jim Scheid, Steve Witkowski, Nick Kulenkamp
Home Ice: Fogerty Arena, Blaine
State Titles: 1 (2000, Class AA)