Lakeville North’s Jack Poehling recalled sitting in the locker room earlier this season when coach Trent Eigner said, “Let’s do something great. Let’s go 31-0.”
A group led by six future Division I players accepted the challenge and reached a destination bigger than they could have imagined.
The top-ranked Panthers’ 4-1 victory against a spirited Duluth East team in Saturday’s Class 2A boys’ hockey state championship capped a 31-0 season. They are the 17th team in tournament history to go undefeated and the first unblemished large-class team since the 1992-93 Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars.
An announced Saturday evening session record crowd of 19,495 fans packed the Xcel Energy Center to bear witness.
The challenge of the chase never overwhelmed the Panthers, who sacrificed in large and small ways all season to become champions.
“We said, ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ ” Poehling said in response to Eigner’s prodding. “Now we did it and it’s just the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
The line of brothers Nick, Jack and Ryan Poehling, contributed three goals and five assists Saturday, propelling a talent-laden team right to the end. “Unfinished business” was the official Panthers’ motto after taking second place to Edina last season.
Unseeded Duluth East (16-11-4) scrapped its way to the title game, taking out No. 3 seed St. Thomas Academy and handing No. 2 Edina just its second loss all season. The Greyhounds’ leaders, Nick Altmann and Brian Bunten, were the hardest-working captains Mike Randolph ever coached.
Duluth East was methodical and patient, and Eigner asked Lakeville North’s stars to play a similar game. Again, the Panthers accepted his challenge.
The Panthers’ poise forced the Greyhounds, a team which preys on opponents’ mistakes, to make the first one.
Gathering a turnover inside the Greyhounds’ zone, Nick Poehling passed to younger brother Ryan. Though battling mononucleosis, Ryan Poehling beat goaltender Gunnar Howg for a 1-0 lead at 12:33 of the first period.
A Poehling-to-Poehling power-play goal built a 2-0 Lakeville North lead at 1:16 of the second period. Jack tipped Nick’s shot into the net.
In the third period, defenseman Angelo Altavilla snuck in unnoticed from the blue line, took a Nick Poehling pass and scored.
Duluth East came back from three-goal deficits in the quarterfinals against St. Thomas Academy but got only a third-period goal by Ryan Peterson.
“We never had any quit in us,” Altmann said. “We gave it our all.”
The Poehlings all committed to play at St. Cloud State. Jack McNeely (Nebraska-Omaha) and future Gophers’ teammates Jack Sadek and Ryan Edquist gave the Panthers a half-dozen premiere players.
“There are very skilled players on our team but the thing that made us most successful was, when we came to the rink, we checked our egos,” Jack Poehling said. “We became brothers and played for each other. Everyone had their role and that’s what made us the team we are.”