Colin Hagstrom remembers the student reception at Mahtomedi High School after winning the Class 1A boys’ hockey state tournament. For teammate Billy Buttermore, it’s the emotional realization that he almost quit the sport before making school history that stands out.
To these seniors, taking part in the Zephyrs’ first boys’ hockey state title also meant using the experience to slingshot them from glory into their spring sports. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic sliced the elastic band in half.
On March 7, which now seems like an eternity ago, Mahtomedi and nearby Hill-Murray were crowned as what turned out to be the final high school state champions for the 2019-20 school year. Six days later, the girls’ basketball state tournament and boys’ basketball’s postseason were halted. Unlikely from the start, the spring sports season was officially shuttered April 23.
But Hagstrom, a lacrosse player committed to Notre Dame, and Buttermore, who missed the golf state tournament by two strokes last spring, remain grateful their hockey season ended with an exclamation point instead of an ellipsis.
“One week later and we wouldn’t have had that great experience,” Hagstrom said. “We were very fortunate to have our season end in a good way.”
Their appreciation comes from knowing how close injury and indifference came to ruining their final hockey season.
Hagstrom, the Zephyrs’ top goal scorer last season, slammed into the boards and broke his fibula in mid-December. Doctors warned he might not play hockey again this season. Instead, Hagstrom returned in late January after missing 13 games.
Buttermore nearly missed them all. He said a “sour atmosphere” in the junior varsity locker room last season sapped his hockey passion. He planned to spend the winter sharpening his golf game.
Skipping summer skating opportunities didn’t faze Buttermore. But then, aware that captain’s practices were going on, “a random thought about hockey popped in my head and I realized that I missed it a little,” he said. He attended the final captain’s practice. On the eve of Monday tryouts, a text message arrived from JV coach Jeff Mars saying “what a mistake it would be if I didn’t at least try out,” Buttermore said.
Hailed by Hagstrom for “always playing with a high compete level,” Buttermore scored twice in 24 regular-season games, then matched that total in the state tournament.
In 11 previous state tournament trips, the Zephyrs had lost in the quarterfinals six times. Trailing 2-0 in the second period against Delano, another inglorious exit loomed. Then Buttermore scored on a great pass from Max Pieper and the Zephyrs seized control for a 5-2 victory.
“No one really cared about playing time or points, and that was probably the main reason we were the first Mahtomedi team to win it all,” Buttermore said. “We weren’t as skilled as some past teams, but everyone was in it for each other. It was the best season of hockey I have ever been a part of, and I’m just so thankful.”
Rehabilitation couldn’t keep Hagstrom away. He never missed a practice or game. Back on the ice, he regained his scoring touch with 11 goals in 18 games. Of his six playoff goals, none was bigger than the overtime goal that defeated Hermantown in the championship game.
The 12th state tournament appearance for Mahtomedi finally culminated in a title. After his final hockey game, Hagstrom received the Herb Brooks Award, bestowed on players who best represent the legendary hockey coach’s values and character.
“They can’t take the hockey experience away,” Hagstrom said. “It was sure a great way to end your high school sports career.”
A more desirable ending would include Hagstrom, the state’s top lacrosse faceoff specialist, leading the Zephyrs to four consecutive state tournaments.
“I was looking forward to transferring the hockey success to lacrosse,” said Hagstrom, relegated to playing catch with teammates at safe distances in local parks. “It’s a bummer that we won’t be able to try and prove ourselves again.”
Buttermore knows the feeling.
“It’s really unfortunate to not get the chance as a senior,” said Buttermore, who next school year will study computer science at the University of Minnesota. “But at least the courses are open. Guys like Colin can’t even play their sports.”
Both bring a good perspective, knowing they avoided an even greater void.
“The hockey tournament is basically how we ended our senior year,” Buttermore said. “But at least we went out on top.”