Start early. Finish strong. That's been the rallying cry for Minnetonka all season.
The Skippers, seeded No. 1 in the Class 2A tournament and ranked No. 1 in the state, backed their words with their actions on Thursday as they scored four first-period goals en route to a 6-2 quarterfinal triumph over unseeded Hill-Murray at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
All three members of Minnetonka's all-senior line of Joe Molenaar, Luke Loheit and Matt Koethe scored in the opening period as the Skippers built a 4-1 lead — an all-important start for a team playing in the state tournament for the first time in eight years.
"You are not gripping the stick as tight anymore," junior defenseman Grant Docter said about building the early lead. "The game comes to you a little easier."
Hill-Murray (13-12-4) tied the score 1-1 early in the first period, and scored again to pull to within 4-2 in the second. After each Pioneers goal, Minnetonka (25-2-2) responded with one of its own less than two minutes later.
"One of our statements is you got to work harder after a goal," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "And that was disappointing."
As for that strong finish, the Skippers killed a five-minute major penalty to Loheit in the third, then got a shorthanded goal from Bobby Brink, his second goal of the game. Minnetonka has scored 14 shorthanded goals while allowing only 12 to opposing power plays this season.
"In the box, I knew they were going to get the job done, just like every night," Loheit said.