2003 was a very good year for Anoka hockey

Ten years ago Anoka skated its first Class AA state boys’ hockey trophy around the ice at Xcel Energy Center.

The 2002-03 squad became the first Anoka boys’ hockey team to win a state title out of five state tournament appearances.

Members of the 2003 state championship boys' hockey team from Anoka gathered at Casa Rio in Anoka for a 10-year reunion March 9. Submitted photo
Members of the 2003 state championship boys’ hockey team from Anoka gathered at Casa Rio in Anoka for a 10-year reunion March 9. Submitted photo

Seventeen of the 21 members from that team gathered at Casa Rio in Anoka March 8 to relive a few memories from that magical March.

“A lot of the guys showed up and it was fun to see everybody. Some I hadn’t seen in years,” said Head Coach Todd Manthey, who still coaches the Tornadoes.

That season Anoka limited the opposition to one goal or less in five of the six section or state games. The exception came in the state quarterfinals against Duluth East which Anoka won 4-3.

One moment of the season that stood out in Manthey’s mind from that season came in the state opener in St. Paul.

“It was pretty neat to be in the same arena as the pros and walk by the big Wild door, but to play in front of 19,000 fans was great,” Manthey said.

In fact, playing in front of so many people took Anoka some time to acclimate to. “That first period we sat in awe looking at all the people who were looking at us,” Manthey said.

Fast forward to the third period with the game tied 3-3. Manthey recalled how Ben Hendrick scored the game winner from his knees with 17 seconds left in regulation for the memorable finish.

Manthey said what proved to be the power play winner in the championship game against Roseville came in the final six or seven minutes to break a 1-1 tie. Anoka added an empty-netter for the 3-1 final.

Reaching state wasn’t a surprise to Manthey or the team but winning it all took some friendly bounces. “We knew we were among the top five or 10 teams going in and we had three solid lines, five great defensemen and a really good goaltender,” he said. “But once you get to state the bounces have to go your way and we had a few go our way.”

It helped that Anoka had a big, physical squad that wasn’t afraid to throw a check or two.

“Once we qualified for state we talked at practice about being happy and excited to be there,” Manthey said. “We wanted to make some noise and compete with Holy Angels and Roseville and those top teams who have guys now in the NHL.”

Manthey sensed a change in his squad during the second hour of a two-hour scrimmage against Holy Angels during winter break that season.

“It was like a light [bulb] went on and we physically beat them up and because we were so physical they gave us space to move the puck around,” he said. “That was the turning point in the season. Our kids realized at that point that they could play with anyone.”

That Anoka team had two players go on to NCAA Division I programs and three more played Division II.

Matt Soderberg played at Quinnipiac University followed by four seasons in the minors. Todd Manthey’s son Tim Manthey went on to play at West Point and now lives in Elk River with his wife and two-year-old son.

Sean Fish was a member of the team and returned to his high school program as an assistant coach after five seasons of coaching in the North American Hockey League. He works with the special teams and forwards. “It’s good to have a young voice in there,” Manthey said.