Mustangs PI squad rallies to capture state bronze medal, streak ends for CI squad

Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs marked the end of the floor hockey season with strong performances at the state tournament, hosted by Bloomington Jefferson High School March 15-16.

North Suburban junior center Tyler Engel, left, was one of the most prolific scorers in the state while helping the Cougars win their first state title at the CI division State Adapted Hockey Tournament at Bloomington Jefferson High School March 15-16. Engel had 80 points during the regular season. He had three goals in the final period of the championship game to help the Cougars top the Blazin’ Cats of Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville 7-6.  Photo by Bill Jones

North Suburban junior center Tyler Engel, left, was one of the most prolific scorers in the state while helping the Cougars win their first state title at the CI division State Adapted Hockey Tournament at Bloomington Jefferson High School March 15-16. Engel had 80 points during the regular season. He had three goals in the final period of the championship game to help the Cougars top the Blazin’ Cats of Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville 7-6. Photo by Bill Jones

The Mustangs PI team recovered from an emotional overtime loss in the semifinals to capture the third-place banner, while the CI team uncharacteristically went 0-2 after winning the last three straight state championships.

The Mustangs PI club (9-4) started with an intense 12-9 quarterfinal win against St. Paul Highland Park March 15. It followed with a 6-5 overtime loss before rallying around each other hours later Saturday to finish strong by winning the third-place game over Brainerd/Pillager 8-6.

Mustangs coach Sue Opatz said her team did a great job of putting the overtime loss behind them and preparing for the next game. “I thought our team did a great job of bouncing back after the emotional overtime game to Dakota,” she said.

What helped Anoka-Hennepin prepare was the fact that it had faced Brainerd twice, splitting the two games. “So we needed to show everyone that we were the better team,” Opatz said.

Despite being outshot by Highland Park 39-24 in the opener, Anoka-Hennepin sustained a furious comeback attempt by the Scots to move on to the semifinal round. Corey Gieske had a 10-point game for the Mustangs including five goals and five assists. He keyed a red-hot start by Anoka-Hennepin with a hat trick in the first period. Senior Erik Santa, seventh-grader Tyler Ezell, eighth-grader Joey Manion and senior Chris Walen each had two goals as the Mustangs built a 10-2 lead after two periods. Eighth grader Ben Schmitz posted 12 saves in the win.

North Suburban senior goalie Kody Blatt freezes the puck during an opening round game during the CI State Floor Hockey Tournament March 15 at Bloomington Jefferson High School. Photo by Bill Jones

North Suburban senior goalie Kody Blatt freezes the puck during an opening round game during the CI State Floor Hockey Tournament March 15 at Bloomington Jefferson High School. Photo by Bill Jones

Next up for the Mustangs was a semifinal game against South top-seed Dakota United, who came into the game with a 13-1 record and finished runner-up to Robbinsdale in the championship game. Saturday’s semifinal game featured Hawks Grayson Nicolay scoring the overtime winner, his sixth of the game on a mid-court shot that found its way into the back of the net.

Anoka-Hennepin’s Kai France shadowed Nicolay across the floor. “Kai did a great job trying to contain him,” Opatz said. “Our game plan was to do what we worked on all season – take shots from the neutral zone and send the wings to crash the net.”

Four different players scored for Anoka-Hennepin, including Ezell, Gieske and Manion. Santa added two goals and Schmitz posted 26 saves.

Anoka-Hennepin had to recover from the Saturday morning loss rather quickly to prepare for a very good Brainerd/Pillager squad in the third-place game.

“I’m so proud of how this team learned to work together and trusted their teammates were doing the best job that they could in each and every game,” Opatz said.

The Mustangs started quickly again and after Brainerd tied the game in the second period, four more Mustang goals over the final 15 minutes secured the bronze medal.

Santa, the Mustangs top long-range shooter, and Gieske, who is a versatile player at both ends of the floor, both had hat tricks to secure their places on the All-Tournament team, while Manion scored to give him a goal in each state tournament game.

Santa greatly increased his scoring from 17 goals in 2011-12 to 32 goals this season. “He is a consistent player and an extremely strong leader,” Opatz said.

The coach categorized Gieske as the anchor of the team as he collected 48 points this season including 21 goals. “We expect him to control our defensive zone and to move the puck to the neutral zone,” Opatz said.

Schmitz had 10 saves in the win as Opatz said he saved his best performance for state. “He played better than he had all year,” she said. “He was making saves in front of him and behind him. He was getting to or reaching to more pucks than I had ever seen him do before.”

CI goes 0-2 at state

Anoka-Hennepin’s three-year reign with the state CI floor hockey title came to an end at Bloomington Jefferson High School Saturday evening.

The dominance in recent years, a 51-game winning streak, was snapped four games into this season by Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 10-3 March 5.

The Mustangs completed their first floor hockey season without standouts Zach Theroux and Tyler Kurkowski guiding the team on the floor. Instead Kurkowski moved into the world of coaching this season alongside head coach Bill Newell.

“We graduated a lot of important players over the last few years, so we were rather inexperienced,” Newell said, pointing at a pretty successful 9-5 season.

Anoka-Hennepin completed the second of three adapted athletic seasons, losing both games at state by the same 8-2 score as the No. 3 seed in the North Section. The Mustangs were outshot by No. 2 South Section seed Dakota United 51-15 in the quarterfinals March 15 as Karl Fagre scored six times for the Hawks, which eventually raised the third-place trophy Saturday night.

Anoka-Hennepin goals came from junior forward Dillon Domeier and senior Brian Domiano. Senior Vanya Hendrickson picked up an assist and goalie Jeff Shogren posted 43 saves.

Winona Winhawks awaited Anoka-Hennepin in the consolation bracket semifinal March 16 and scored an 8-2 win to reach the consolation finals. Domeier scored his 22nd goal of the season for the Mustangs as did freshman Joe Von Mende plus an assist and gives hope for a prosperous future for the Mustangs.

Shogren was busy once again in goal, posting 51 saves, but it wasn’t enough to keep Winona from scoring.

“He was our rock who held our defense together with outstanding goalkeeping,” Newell said. “Jeff gave us a chance in every game this year with his solid goaltending.”

Eighth-grader Cole Denny led the team with 49 goals and will be expected to lead the Mustangs again next season as they graduate a class of 11 seniors this season.

According to Newell, the team lost one of its top players, Jacob Cota, to a broken ankle before the season began and a few players missed state because of the spring break vacation.

Jason Olson is at jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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