Day 1 of the 2015 Minnesota High School Boy's Hockey State Tournament is in the books. The smaller schools in Class A opened the festivities at Xcel Energy Center with the first three games going the way of the favorites.
The fourth showed why Breck and St. Cloud Apollo were evenly matched as the fourth and fifth seeds.
Both early games were tight throughout--much closer than the final score would indicate--with the favored team eventually pulling away late. Mahtomedi and East Grand Forks will meet each other in Friday's first semifinal at 11 AM.
In the evening session, Hermantown routed Spring Lake Park before St. Cloud Apollo sent Breck home in heartbreaking fashion to become the only underdog to win. Those two will meet each other in Friday's second semifinal at 1 PM.
Attendance for the opening day was 10,078 split over two sessions. The afternoon had 5,481 fans and evening attendance was 4,697.
Mahtomedi 6 - New Ulm 3
New Ulm came out with a strong effort, giving second seed Mahtomedi a much tougher test than the Section 3A representative usually does at the State Tournament, but Mahtomedi's Jack Becker, a player on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term Draft rankings was too much for the Eagles to handle. Mahtomedi advanced with a 6-3 win over New Ulm to move on to Friday's semifinal.
New Ulm came out of the first period with a 1-1 tie, answering a Mahtomedi goal with a power play strike from Ethan Kraus. But Becker struck early in the second period, when he picked up a mishandled puck and scored a breakaway goal just nine seconds into the second period. After a Zephyrs goal made it 3-1, New Ulm appeared to cut the lead to 3-2, but an inadvertent, premature whistle cost New Ulm a goal. That disallowed goal would loom large when, after Becker's second goal made it 4-1, New Ulm scored a pair of goals to to cut the lead to 4-3 in the third period.
That was as close as New Ulm could get, however. Jack Gunderson's second goal of the game at 9:32 of the third period added an insurance goal, and Becker completed his hat trick late to ice the game.
East Grand Forks 4 - New Prague 0
In the early session's second game, East Grands Forks got two goals from Mr. Hockey finalist Dixon Bowen and a 17-save shutout from goalie Josh Weber in a 4-0 win over New Prague.
The two teams played a scoreless first period, with East Grand Forks outshooting New Prague 13-4. Bowen would get the Green Wave on the board at 6:58 of the second period. Cooper Jerome extended the lead at 4:34 of the third period, and the Green Wave added two more late goals to seal the victory in a dominating defensive performance.
Hermantown 8 - Spring Lake Park 0
Making the first state tournament appearance in school history, Spring Lake Park had a rude awakening against the five-time Class A runners up. Hermantown got out to a 3-0 first period lead and the Section 7A champions never looked back en route to an 8-0 win over Spring Lake Park.
Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero each completed a hat trick for Hermantown in the final minutes. Wayne Aamondt and Ryan Sandelin also scored for the Hawks, which out-shot Spring Lake Park by a 50-10 margin.
St. Cloud Apollo 1- Breck 0
Defense and goaltending owned the final game of the night before Brandon Bissett turned off the lights with a 1-0 St. Cloud Apollo win 5:07 in overtime.
Scoreless in regulation, Breck carried the play possession-wise throughout most of the first two periods with St. Cloud Apollo blocking 16 shots.
Both teams had chances in the third period. Breck goalie Stephen Headrick made a fantastic save on Apollo's Jason Omann 5 minutes into the final period, going from his left to right to keep the game scoreless. St. Cloud Apollo, entering the tournament with a 91% PK success rate, killed a penalty with 4:33 remaining and withstood Breck's Mitchell Machlitt hitting the crossbar in the final two minutes.
Catching Breck on a line change, Gino Lucia found Brandon Bissett open on an odd-man rush at the top of the circle. Bissett, one of the players who earlier blocked shots, then skated a stride before sniping a shot past Headrik for the game's only goal.
St. Cloud Apollo goalie Nick Althaus made 25 saves in victory.
Friday Class A Semifinal Brackets:
(2) Mahtomedi vs (3).East Grand Forks - 11 AM
(1) Hermantown vs. (5) St. Cloud Apollo - 1 PM
Class AA takes over Xcel Energy Center on Thursday beginning with #2 Edina facing off with Bemidji at 11 AM.