by Jason Olson
On paper Andover wasn’t suppose to stand a chance against top-ranked and No. 1 seed Duluth East.
The Greyhounds came out strong in the first period and earned a 4-1 win to claim the Section 7AA championship in Duluth March 1.
The Greyhounds dominated throughout the first period, illustrated by a 12-0 run on shots to start the game and finished the opening period on a 17-4 shots run.
Andover’s standout goalie Chase Perry was once again busy as he turned away 37 of 41 shots.
The Greyhounds took a 1-0 lead when Ryan Lundgren tapped in a rebound in front of Andover goalie Chase Perry 4:59 into the game.
Duluth East made it 2-0 when Dom Toninato slipped the puck under Perry six minutes later.
Andover coach Mark Manney had a feeling Duluth East would try to jump out early, pressure the Huskies into mistakes and capitalize on those chances.
“We got steam rolled in the first period,” Manney said. “And we knew we might so we talked to [the players] and told them, ‘to keep a level head and let’s not get too full of ourselves.’ We were squeezing the stick pretty hard.”
Manney said the team looked forward to the rematch, but hadn’t faced that level of competition in months.
“We weren’t playing as quick or skilled teams like Duluth East. We played 25 games at a slower pace and it takes a while to adapt to their speed and skill,” he said.
By the second period Andover made a few adjustments, but it wasn’t enough.
“We just simplified the system,” Manney said.
Andover cut the lead to 2-1 at 4:39 of the middle period after Christian Mohs clanked the puck off a post when the Greyhounds turned the puck over.
Moments later Mohs grabbed another loose puck near center ice and capitalized on the chance. He made a nice move around a defenseman and put another move on Duluth East goalie Dylan Parker before lifting the puck over his glove on a backhander goal.
Momentum started to shift a bit toward Andover as Duluth East’s Phil Beaulieu took a five-minute boarding major penalty.
The Huskies generated a few chances on the man advantage, but couldn’t solve Parker. He made a great kick save on a slapshot from the top of the circle.
Duluth East had its own short-handed chances and forced Andover to ice the puck with three seconds left in the power play.
Toninato made it 3-1 at the 12:45 mark with help from Nate Repensky and Jake Randolph. Repensky started the play into the Andover zone, slowed enough to allow the play to develop before he threw a pass around the wall to Raldolph, who beat his defender to the puck and fed Toninato high in the zone. Toninato fired a low shot on Perry for his second goal of the game.
For the fourth and final goal, Randolph tipped in a centering pass from Trevor Olson which began at the Greyhounds goal with a 100-foot clearance pass.
Andover made the Section 7AA boys’ hockey finals for the first time in program history and returned to Duluth’s Amsoil Arena with eyes set on an upset after moving past Forest Lake 7-6 in overtime of the semifinal Feb. 28.
Manney admitted it wasn’t the best game Andover’s played this season.
“Forest Lake is a very scrappy and skilled team, but that was an ugly hockey game,” he said. “If we would’ve played like that [March 1] it would’ve been 12-0.”
The difference from the Huskies perspective from that game to the section final was how they chased the Rangers around an unfamiliar rink.
“No one was in this rink before and playing in a 7,000-seat place… we got caught up in the moment and got overwhelmed and sometimes its tough to stop once you get running around,” he said.
Duluth East won the first meeting of the season, 6-1 Dec. 6, in Andover which was the third game of the young season, so neither team took away much.
Looking back on the season, Manney said he was most proud of how the four seniors held the squad together from the mid-November through the end of February.
“They really made sure the younger guys were ready to go and replacing that leadership will be the really hard part,” he said.
Jokinen, Kyle Gausman, Jake Harmon and Davis Tollette are the four seniors who accounted for 52 points during the regular season.
Manney said shoring up the defense is top priority for the off season in addition to getting bigger, faster and stronger.
“We’re excited with the core group [coming back] and the bantams and junior varsity have a couple who could step in [and contribute],” he said. “A lot of teams will be better like Grand Rapids and Elk River so we can’t take one day off in the weight room if we want to be able to get back to this level.
“We have the right personnel, so we’re going to have to be more committed so we don’t give up six goals again.”
The team has several top scorers returning along with a top-tier goalie in junior Perry.
Perry was invited to participate in USA Hockey’s National Development Camp tryouts in Michigan in late March.
Andover’s top three scorers Calvin Rak, Brady Barthold and Tyler Tomberlin should return next season. Rak’s team-high 44 points (26 goals) also spelled a 21-plus rating and had three game-winners. He added four points in three section games including two goals and one assist against Forest Lake.