Motivation, for Anoka and Maple Grove, was not a problem coming into the Class 2A, Section 5 boys' hockey championship game.
As the No. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively, neither was supposed to be on the ice Thursday at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. So close to the state tournament, both teams battled throughout a 6-3 Anoka victory. The Tornadoes return to state for the first time since 2003, when they won the title.
"Both teams were really desperate," Anoka senior goalie Spencer Olson said. "We both wanted it just as bad so it wasn't a matter of heart. It was just us staying with it from start to finish and capitalizing on our opportunities."
Senior forward Tristan Mirovsky scored twice, including the game-winning goal at 1:44 of the third period as Anoka (18-9) won its 10th consecutive game.
Tied 3-3 after two periods, the teams went in different directions in the third. Mirovsky's second goal of the game gave Anoka a 4-3 lead. Reese Grailer built a 5-3 edge with a goal at 5:10.
But not until Isaac Johnson scored on an empty Maple Grove net with 12 seconds left did Anoka's bench relax and rejoice.
"The empty-netter," senior forward Michael Talbot said. "Then we knew."
Talbot and senior forward Blake Neumann were part of Anoka's back-to-back soccer state championship teams. The hockey team, despite a six-game losing streak in January, rallied to take on a champion's mindset.
"Our third line had three points tonight," Talbot said. "Everyone is buying in for each other. We're blocking shots, doing the little things."
The Tornadoes split the regular season series with Northwest Suburban Conference rival Maple Grove. The Crimson were on a six-game winning streak that included a semifinal upset of No. 1 seed Blaine.
DAVID LA VAQUE