Mahtomedi boys’ hockey coach Jeff Poeschl worried whether his players were too fired up for last Tuesday’s season opener at Rose-ville.
He could not have been more right.
“I hit the ice and it kind of shocked me,” senior forward Timothy Kuivinen said. “I got a little teary-eyed because it’s the start of my senior season.”
Kuivinen, one of 12 returning letterwinners from the Zephyrs’ third-place Class 1A state tournament team, knows an abundance of talented and experienced players make this team one of the most anticipated in program history.
“We know we have something special,” senior defenseman Alex Jensen said.
Even Poeschl concedes, “The pieces to the puzzle are in the room. We’ll be a good team. It remains to be seen if we will be a great team.”
The game with Roseville was an important first test. Penalties dogged Mahtomedi throughout the second period. The Raiders scored on a 5-on-3 advantage to draw even. Later in the period, Mahtomedi had to kill a five-minute major penalty. The team took a 1-1 tie into the locker room. Once inside, players spoke of setting a tone for the entire season.
“We said, ‘We can either keel over or we can be what we were last year — a team that wins,’ ” senior forward Jack Heinsch said.
Mahtomedi reached its first state tournament in five years with just two regular-season losses, against Class 2A state tournament qualifiers Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy. The third loss came in the Class 1A state tournament semifinals to eventual champion East Grand Forks.
Green Wave coach Tyler Palmiscno lauded his guys for playing a “man’s game,” pounding Mahtomedi players on every shift in hopes of breaking their will. Tempers boiled as a gassed Zephyrs team gave up the game’s final three goals in a 5-2 loss.
“Guys were yelling at each other on the bench,” Jensen said. “So we made it an emphasis this year to be positive with each other and to be good teammates.”
Inside the locker room at Roseville, players focused less on a frustrating second period and more on working together in the third period. Trust, an intangible Poeschl deemed paramount to success, showed.
Senior goaltender Will Swanson, Mahtomedi’s defensive rock last season, kept the score tied with a tremendous glove save late in the third period. Sparked by that play, Mahtomedi scored on the ensuing shift. Kuivinen’s goal, at 15:27, held up as the game-winner in a 2-1 victory.
“We know how to win,” Heinsch said. “That’s one thing we brought back from last season.”
Returning many experienced seniors does not ensure success. Finding a way to grind out a victory on an off-night by sticking together, however, creates the right template.
“You still have to put in the time and the effort,” Poeschl said. “You still have to come to work each day and work harder than your opponent.”