Breakaways. Water bottles in orbit. Five goals.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s forward Grant Besse made last season’s Class 2A hockey tournament title game a showcase for his considerable skills. But this week, a strong crop of goaltenders is poised to stop such scoring outbursts as the tournaments get underway Wednesday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
“There are a number of good goalies; It’s probably the deepest year I can remember,” said Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, who won his 500th career game earlier this season and reached his 14th state tournament.
Last year, eight of the state’s top 12 in points played in either class of the state tournament. One of those was Besse, who set a Class 2A championship game record by scoring all five of his team’s goals in a 5-1 victory over Hill-Murray.
Besse is among the high-scoring spectators this week as only three of the state’s top 12 scorers made the tournament. No player on any Class 2A team has scored more than 25 goals. The focus has shifted to the boys between the pipes.
“A lot of guys realized they needed to do something this year if their team was going to be successful,” said Hill-Murray’s John Dugas, who took the loss to Besse and the Red Knights in last year’s title game. “I think it’s just guys taking ownership, coming out ready to play and being game-changers.”
Dugas, who won 22 games this season for the top-ranked Pioneers, and St. Thomas Academy’s David Zevnik, are the finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award given to the state’s top senior goaltender. Zevnik stopped all 33 shots he faced in three section playoff games and did not allow a goal, positioning the Cadets for their third consecutive Class 1A title.
Injury forged a bond between Dugas and Wayzata goalie Aaron Dingmann, a first-team Star Tribune All-Metro selection. Both underwent offseason hip surgery and rehabilitated together.
“We pushed each other,” Dugas said. “We were kind of competing with each other to see who could get back first.”
Both missed most of the summer hockey schedule, using the time to strengthen their bodies and minds.
“When you take that much time off, you can almost picture yourself being successful,” said Dugas, who fulfilled his vision by posting a 22-2-1 record, stopping 94 percent of shots faced and allowing 1.36 goals per game.
When Dingmann returned to the net halfway through the fall Elite League, he did so with a new perspective.
“I came into the year with a different mentality than I’ve ever had,” Dingmann said. “It’s more of just trying to have fun and realizing how lucky I am to be playing. Sitting out a lot of my junior year taught me a lesson that I won’t be able to play hockey the rest of my life, so I’m trying to enjoy the moment.”
With Dingmann in the net, a talented but inexperienced Wayzata team found the stability needed for a state tournament run. Dingmann went 17-6, stopped 93 percent of shots faced and allowed 1.81 goals per game.
“Right when he came back he was on top of his game, and we’ve rode him all the way to state,” Trojans senior Jalen Wahl said.
The saddle was also placed on Eastview sophomore Zachary Driscoll. Taking over the starting job around Christmas, Driscoll won 15 games and stopped a whopping 95 percent of shots faced. Opponents managed only 1.65 goals per game.
Driscoll stepped up in the playoffs, stopping 85 of 86 shots in three playoff games.
“When you have a goalie playing well, it takes one question out of the equation,” Eastview coach Drey Bradley said. “It’s a great place to start.”
Duluth East’s Dylan Parker, Edina’s Willie Benjamin and Centennial’s Patrick Munson each won at least 16 games and posted save percentages in the low 90s.
“It’s a great goaltending year,” said Munson, who played hockey at Hill-Murray as a freshman and battled Dugas for the varsity backup job. “When you play against top goalies, you want to beat them.”