"I let the horses run."
That was flamboyant Rochester John Marshall coach Gene Sack's standard, five-word response when asked to explain his strategy for deploying his uber-talented, deadly quick Rockets teams in the late 1970s.
Holy Angels coach Greg Trebil followed a similar approach when he took the Stars from high school hockey's scrap heap to the state's pinnacle in the early- and mid-2000s.
Billy Hengen and Joe Cullen, co-head coaches at Gentry Academy, have the undefeated Stars playing a similar racehorse style. And if Gentry Academy looks eerily familiar to John Marshall's 1977 one-class title team and even more so to those Holy Angels championship teams, there's a good explanation.
Hengen was a high-scoring forward who in 1998-99 helped the Stars reach their first state tournament (they won Class 2A championships in 2002 and 2005). He later served as a Holy Angels assistant coach and then associate head coach alongside the legendary Trebil, who died in 2019.
"We're kind of carrying on some of his offensive mind-set and some of his systems even," Hengen said. "When Trebil had a good group like we have, that speed team with talent, he just got everyone to buy into puck possession."
Northern Lakes coach Craig Larson said Gentry Academy is unlike any high school team he's ever seen. The Stars beat the Lightning 8-0 in Tuesday's Class 1A quarterfinals.
"They have a four-man attack which is really hard for any team to do," Larson said. "I don't know if anybody is going to beat this team."
The toughest part of Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato's quarterfinal loss was taking down the green No. 1 jersey hanging behind the bench. Another goodbye of sorts to an old friend.
The jersey hung all season in tribute to goalie Dustin Falling, who died in a car accident last June after his sophomore year.
He remained close to the team in other ways.
"When we would break the huddle after a win, guys would say, 'Dylan on three. One, two, three, Dylan,' " Dragons coach Brice Berggren said. "When we needed a big goal, guys got together and break it down the same way."
Falling lives on through his decision to be an organ donor. Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins wrote in August, "LifeSource, which handled his organ procurement, estimates that Dylan's donations saved or healed more than 75 people."
Berggren said "taking down his jersey Tuesday was a little emotional," but added that the team will continue to hang the jersey behind the bench next season, which would have been Falling's senior campaign.
Senior goalie also honored Falling, bringing the No. 1 jersey with him to grab a medal after winning the Section 3 championship.
"We've reflected a little already about all the ups and downs of the season," Berggren said. "But these young men know to not forget how lucky and fortunate they are. This season has been a big life lesson."
DAVID La VAQUE