Two young Mustangs teams compete with the best at state tourney

The Mustangs roster, made up of six freshmen or younger team members, finished the season with a 9-4-1 record after topping South Suburban 9-6 in the consolation final Saturday afternoon at Bloomington Jefferson High School.

Freshmen teammates Kai France and Joey Manion scored eight of the Mustangs’ nine goals against the Flyers. France scored five goals and Manion added a hat trick. Kai’s older sister,Hana France, a sophomore, scored the other goal.

Kai France, the Mustangs’ lone all-tournament team honoree and leading scorer with 35 goals, scored both goals in the quarterfinal loss to Rochester and goalie Ben Schmitz, an eighth grader made 22 saves in front of a big crowd in the stands.

“We still have a really young team and in that first game against Rochester we didn’t play well,” Mustangs coach Sue Opat said. “We aren’t used to playing in that setting [with so many people watching].”

Opat said the team settled down before making a run through the consolation bracket. “We played really well against Minneapolis South and a really good first period against South Suburban then held on the rest of the game,” she said. The Mustangs handed Minneapolis South an 8-2 loss in the consolation semifinal Saturday morning.

Kai and Hana each scored twice to continue the sibling connection for the Mustangs that is sure to continue in the seasons to come.

Opat commented that Kai is the scorer of the group but Hana’s determination is unmatched and junior Mia France gives the Mustangs a three-sibling attack. “Hana is such a spark plug on the floor. She’ll go up against anybody for the puck. She just keeps going and going,” Opat said after Hana scored 12 goals, third best on the team after Manion’s 18 goals.

Blaine senior defenseman Andrew Peterson shared captain duties with Schmitz, the freshman goalie from Andover. “Andrew’s leadership is unbelievable,” Opat said about Peterson who played a defensive role in front of Schmitz who made 162 saves. “He’s really our voice on the floor, he helped motivate others and got people in the right positions on the floor.”

Eighth grade center Tyler Ezell also provided some stability from defensive stops to setting up or scoring goals. “He really ran the whole floor for us this year,” Opat said.

Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka captured its fourth straight state title after defeating south division top-seed Dakota United 8-3 in the championship game. The win gave the Robbins its fifth championship in six seasons.

CI Division highlights

Anoka-Hennepin (CI Division) reached the championship semifinals with a fairly inexperienced squad looking forward to returning to the dominant form from three seasons ago.

Mustangs coach Bill Newell said the unpredictable winter posed several challenges for the team, including logging enough practice time to get the more than half-dozen new floor hockey players experience.

“[The weather] was so wacky that we had to move things around here or there and didn’t do much practice and that hurts our team with how good they can become,” he said, reflecting on an impressive 11-3-1 record. “We had some practices at the beginning of the year and developed as much as we could, but like any activity, you need repetitiveness to get better and we just didn’t have those opportunities. They played as well as they possibly could.”

Newell pointed out the behind the scene help from parents, friends and family that helped the season run as smoothly as it did.

“We’re the beneficiaries at the end of all the help,” he said, reflecting on a running email list of parents and staff that helped orchestrate all the practices, games and team outings so the players could focus on the main reason to participate – fun.

“The parents and staff get the kids on the busses and make sure we have all the equipment,” he said. “It really helps us keep going and is appreciated very much.”

Of the three losses two came against the defending state champs from North Suburban along with a 6-6 tie in the first meeting of the season. The other loss came against eventual state champion New Prague/TCU/LSH/Belle Plaine/Jordan.

The Trojans topped Anoka-Hennepin 15-1 in the semifinal where Mustangs senior Addese Ferguson-Mason broke up the shutout bid in the third period.

“Addesse really made us go on defense,” Newell said, after the offensive play. “If we needed someone to depend on to get control of the puck, he was there.”

A stabilizing force in front of a new goalie always helps and Ferguson-Mason was that for Jackson Middle School eighth grader Connor Rosbach.

“It was their first taste of competitive action for many, including Connor and being their first year out, they improved a lot,” Newell said.

North Suburban scored a 12-4 win in the third place game for its second win over the Mustangs this season, who played without freshman 50-goal scorer Cole Denny due to a prior family commitment.

The Cougars led 5-4 heading into the third period but Anoka-Hennepin’s Dillon Domeier scored the first goal of the game.

North Suburban responded with five straight goals before the Mustangs came roaring back three goals, including one from Brandon Marks.

North Suburban’s Austin Titsworth had a hat trick and brother Tanner Titsworth had two more goals. Cody Jacobsen had a hat trick and Anthony Bengston also scored.

Rosbach made 21 saves in the loss.

Anoka-Hennepin, the No. 2 seed in the north, opened state with a 4-2 win against Dakota United, Friday evening.

“We played a solid game and they’ve been our arch rival from the south over the years,” Newell said.

Instead of out-running the opposition, the Mustangs switched its strategy to strong defense and goaltending and went into the first intermission tied 1-1 with a goal by junior Brandon Marks.

Marks and Domeier, an Andover senior, each scored in the second period with assists from Coon Rapids senior Jacob Cota. Cota, who scored 17 goals this season, made it 4-1 with his fourth point of the game and Rosbach stood tall between the pipes to make 20 saves and the win.

“Everybody chipped in,” Newell said about including even more players in the scoring across the roster.

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

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