The Warner Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds is anything but festive for Blaine (20-6-1) as the last two trips to the Section 5AA boys’ hockey venue have spelled an end to otherwise promising seasons.
Last season the Bengals reached the section final, only to be humiliated by Northwest Suburban Conference opponent Maple Grove 15-1. This year the top seeds were upset Feb. 27 in the semifinals by No. 4 seed Champlin Park 5-4.
Blaine had its chances for its 21st win of the season, but Champlin Park goalie Tyler Nelson stood tall between the pipes to make 43 saves.
The Rebels broke a 4-4 tie with 51 seconds left in regulation on its first power play chance of the game to send them into the section final for the first time since 1995.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Champlin Park coach Pat Janostin said outside a celebratory locker room. “We have so much respect for [Blaine] and their program with so much tradition. They just kept coming in waves and had such an incredible team – so incredibly fast and well balanced. So for us to compete with them and pull it off is just massive for our program.”
Down 3-1 in the second period, the Bengals had a five-minute major power play and didn’t score for the first 4:39, then junior defenseman Ian Scheid scored twice, nine seconds apart on two high-quality shots.
Scheid took a pass from his cousin, Brandon Notermann, at the point and sent a blistering shot through a screened goalie to pull the Bengals within one goal of the Rebels.
Nine seconds later he scored on a three-on-two rush when senior Jesse Norling fed Scheid on a backhand pass. Scheid switched the puck to his forehand and snapped a low wrister for the quick equalizer at 3-3, 9:36 into the period.
“We just wanted to keep working harder and not let the pressure off of them,” Scheid said.
The power play happened after Rebels Luke Dalman took a five-minute boarding major penalty and seemed to come a perfect time for Blaine, 85 seconds after the Rebels had taken a 3-1 lead.
“It’s good and bad because if we wouldn’t have scored the game might have been done a lot earlier because that can take a lot of life out of you,” coach Dave Aus said.
Janostin said his club did a fine job for the first 4:30 of the penalty kill: “Sometimes it was [even strength] and it was like they were on the power play because they would keep the puck low and just kept coming in waves and waves,” he said.
Junior Joey Lau put the Bengals ahead just 3:33 into the contest, but Champlin Park (10-13-4) wasn’t going to lay down in the loser-goes-home contest.
The Blaine goal was a prototypical scoring play for them this season. It began with a face off in its end of the rink which junior Dallas Gerads. Senior captain Jesse Norling sent a cross-rink pass off the wall and hit Lau in stride as he broke across the Rebels blue line. With one defenseman to beat, Lau shifted away from the defenseman and fired a quick shot for the early lead.
The Rebels scored late in each period to enter the intermission with positive vibes that came from scoring on the seventh-ranked team in the state.
Champlin Park had tied the game before Calvin Spencer scored the first of a hat trick with 1:11 left in the opening period to take a 2-1 lead. Spencer assisted on Bryce Plunkett’s goal just 3:25 into the second period for 3-1 advantage.
Aus thought they had the Rebels goalie on the ropes after tying the game at 3-3 late in the second period. “But we let them come right back and score,” he said.
Champlin Park’s Reese Woods scored 3:03 later to make it 4-3 after two periods.
Notermann equalized for the Bengals 5:30 into the final period when he collected the rebound from the initial save by the Rebels goalie which sent him out of the goal crease allowing Notermann to flip the puck just inside the far post.
Champlin Park had its first power play chance with 1:52 left in regulation and scored the decisive goal 59 seconds later.
Knowing the Rebels had converted just 8 percent of their power play chances, Aus wasn’t worried about killing off the tripping minor penalty to Zack Wylie.
He said, “It happened at a bad time but it was a trip.”
Janostin said the man-advantage was very important but he had to call a time out to regroup the defensive responsibilities as much as the offense. “You want to keep possession and get little tips or screens so the goalie doesn’t see it,” he said. “But I wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page because against Blaine you can be on the power play then all of a sudden you’re giving up a two-on-one for them and then you’re in trouble.”
Champlin Park was familiar with overtime play after beating Anoka twice over the last two games (4-3, Feb. 16 and 2-1, Feb. 23), but this game did not go into overtime with the Rebels scoring the winner with 51 seconds left in regulation.
“They could’ve gone either way,” Janostin said. “Like in life, if you keep battling you never know what is going to happen. Take a breather and come right back to work and gave ourselves a shot.”
Reflecting on the loss, Aus wasn’t disappointed at the effort level or mistakes made on the ice. “We had plenty of chances. It’s not like we played bad. They’re goalie made some saves,” he said, disappointed by early exit after reaching seven straight section finals.
Blaine graduates five seniors, including Jesse Norling who had 18 assists and 31 goals, but return a junior class of 11 including the top seven of eight scorers.
Tyler Cline led the way with 25 goals and 46 points followed by Lau and Dallas Gerads, who had 37 points each. Notermann added 18 assists and 35 points and junior goalie Bailey Ketola posted a 12-4-1 record with a 2.51 goals against average and a .888 saves percentage.
Janostin said the message to his team was to weather the ups and downs of the game and keep battling to have a chance. “In life there are going to be ups and downs and it’s not easy and guess what, a lot of times you’re not going to be successful as hard as you try you need some things to go your way,” he said. “And we thought if we kept battling and don’t give up and keep going then you never know.”