Chanhassen's Chase: Today's story is the fourth in an occasional Star Tribune series that has followed the Chanhassen Storm as they try to reach their first boys hockey state tournament. Tap here for the first story in the series. Tap here for the second story in the series. Tap here for the third story in the series.

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If Chanhassen's Tyler Smith had the say, he would have transitioned from the Storm's first Prep Bowl championship season straight into hockey. Teammates and coaches urged him to pump the brakes and allow his injured shoulder to heal.

Smith abided the advice. The senior forward felt delayed gratification was the right choice, especially after a broken collarbone made him a spectator in the 2023 postseason as hockey teammates made a run to the Class 2A, Section 2 championship game. Minnetonka won the game 2-1 in overtime.

Smith's first game back, against Minnetonka in December, resulted in another overtime loss.

"It was a big game, so I had some of my legs," Smith said. "But I was kind of dead by the second period."

An even bigger game beckons Thursday, the one the Storm spent this season pursuing, the one that could land them, for the first time, in Minnesota's grand, mystical boys hockey state tournament.

It's the Class 2A, Section 2 championship game, beginning at 7 p.m.

The site is neutral, Edina's Braemar Arena.

The opponent, once again, is Minnetonka.

This time the Skippers are an undefeated defending state tournament champion. And this time Chanhassen players and coaches are hoping to turn whatever psychological edge the Skippers (25-0-2) have against them.

"We're coming in with no pressure," Smith said. "We don't really have anything to lose, and they have everything to lose."

Parallels exist between this Minnetonka team and the 2019 version. Back then, the defending state champions agreed to be the stars of "Dream. State," a season-long, six-part, behind-the-scenes documentary that ended with an unexpected thud — a section semifinal overtime loss to Holy Family Catholic.

'A drive to get back'

Chanhassen coach Sean Bloomfield tempered his views about which team is under more pressure going to Thursday's game. There were 17 seniors dressed for the Section 2 semifinal game against Shakopee — and that is a lot of hearts on the line for the championship game.

"It's a big game for us, too," Bloomfield said. "The experience of being that close and not getting to state is a big reason a lot of guys came back. They had a drive to get back to that moment this year."

And here it is. Minnetonka's overtime triumph in this game last season set in motion its state tournament championship run — the Skippers' second time up the mountain in five seasons. Chanhassen, meanwhile, braced for a mass exodus of players that never materialized. A talented roster remained intact for another chance to make the first state tournament appearance in program history.

Chanhassen's schedule and results

Chanhassen's individual statistics

Chanhassen's team statistics

The season thus far has offered success and some teachable moments. Chanhassen (22-5) ripped off a 12-game winning streak before falling 2-0 at home to Benilde-St. Margaret's.

"We were upset as coaches, but the players identified it, too," Bloomfield said. "They knew their mental toughness needed to be stronger."

Right after a potential Storm goal was disallowed, two players collided at center ice and inadvertently created a 2-on-1 rush for Benilde-St. Margaret's to convert into a goal. After the game, coaches took solace in knowing players realized a bigger lesson.

"They understood they couldn't ride the highs and lows of the game," Bloomfield said. "I liked our chances in the playoffs more after that loss than I did before."

"It kind of humbled us," Smith said. "We got some good film on it and we changed our mindset coming into the section playoffs."

Gavin Uhlenkamp, recently named a Mr. Hockey Award finalist, gave Chanhassen a 1-0 lead in the section semifinal against Shakopee just 59 seconds into the game. But the Sabers answered in the second period. Caden Lee scored his team-leading 24th goal and restored a one-goal advantage in the third period until Shakopee drew even. A second Uhlenkamp goal put the Storm ahead to stay in 4-2 victory. He and Jack Christ have 22 goals each this season.

"If not for what we experienced in the Benilde game, who knows how our section semifinal against Shakopee turns out," Bloomfield said.

The moment arrives

Last year, Chanhassen took the No. 1 seed into the championship game against Minnetonka. This year, the Storm are No. 2 — how large of a gap exists between the section's two top teams will be decided Thursday.

"Most games this year we've been favored and it's the other team bringing the big push," Bloomfield said. "It's going to be interesting to feel the reverse of that where we're now the underdogs. And I think our guys are excited about that."

Uhlenkamp believes his guys are ready.

"We'll have a game plan, but we have to focus on being the best versions of ourselves and that will give us the best chance against them," Uhlenkamp said. "I believe they definitely have more to lose. but we're all seniors, too. It could be our last game if we don't bring it, so there a little pressure there."

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Editors note: Starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday and going through about 10 p.m. Friday, 16 boys hockey teams throughout Minnesota will win their section tournaments and earn spots in the Class 2A and 1A state tournaments. We call that stretch 51 Hours of Fury. Come back to for more 51 Hours of Fury posts from David La Vaque and for coverage of section finals as scores come in from around Minnesota and anticipation of the state tournament builds.