Thole: Stillwater’s state hockey debut worth the wait

Knocking off perennial stumbling blocks White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray along the way, the Stillwater boys’ hockey team made school history while qualifying for the state tournament earlier this month. (Gazette staff photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

Knocking off perennial stumbling blocks White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray along the way, the Stillwater boys’ hockey team made school history while qualifying for the state tournament earlier this month. (Gazette staff photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

Pardon me for not being able to move on from the Ponies making their first-ever boys’ hockey state tournament appearance after 59 seasons of trying.

I missed the action because I was in sunny California when all the excitement was taking place.

I took in four Ponies games this year and I saw a team with promise, but not a likely candidate to win a section championship. The good guys concluded their history-making season with a modest 16-12-2 record, but that’s not the whole story.

The story for this writer is the big thrill not in knowing that the Big Red went to state, but that White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray did not. A couple white-knuckle 2-1 victories made that a fact.

Below, varsity coaches Jay Cates, from left, Matt Doman and Pete Hamilton celebrate the section finals victory over Hill-Murray.

Below, varsity coaches Jay Cates, from left, Matt Doman and Pete Hamilton celebrate the section finals victory over Hill-Murray.

I watched the exciting tape of the Hill-Murray game that must have put the local fans through a virtual ringer in the final two minutes. Junior goalie Josh Benson was forced to make four saves in those closing minutes as the Ponies survived a barrage of Pioneer pucks.

When the smoke cleared, the scoreboard revealed the long-awaited section title belonged to Stillwater.

Congrats to first-year coach Matt Doman and veteran assistants Pete Hamilton, Jay Cates and Paul Benson for a job well done. We will probably expect more now with six juniors and a pair of sophomores returning from the top three lines.

John Heddle led Stillwater with 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) while Sam Sagissor was next with 22 points (12-10). Brandon Jungmann finished with 20 points (9-11) and Mitch Reinke, who has committed to play for Michigan Tech University, scored 19 points (5-14). Junior Devin Cates added 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points to help lead a balanced attack.

Other scorers for the Ponies included sophomore Jackson Cates (14 points), Wyatt Stotts (14), junior Zach Eder-Zdechlik (13), sophomore Simon Sagissor (13), junior Jack Manning (9), Aaron Kasinak (7), junior Tyler Benson (6), Jon Peterson (6), junior Garett Siegfried (4), junior Charlie Sagissor (1) and Jack Scanlon (1).

Goalie Josh Benson had a 2.75 goals against average with a .890 save percentage.

 

In the huddle

I think that Lakeville North’s 84-82 victory over Hopkins has to go into the books as one of the best games in a state tournament final. It matched two excellent teams in North (27-5) and perennial power Hopkins (30-3). Hopkins has eight state titles under its belt and came in with an 89-82 win over the Panthers earlier in the season. North guard JP Macura scored 43 points and was a whirling dervish all night long. Heck, the night before Macura scored the deciding points in a 55-52 barn burner over Cretin-Derham Hall…. The Stillwater boys’ alpine ski team of coach Mary Parcheta placed fourth at state last month. The good guys were led by Westin Anderson (1:13.82), Kyle Szczepanski (1:16.44), Sam Skaret (1:21.30), Cory Carlsen (1:30.75), Matt Ludack (1:34.86) and Zach Raven (1:35.64). Blake won the state title with 162 points, followed by Forest Lake (142), Orono (141) and Stillwater (121), followed by Edina, Chanhassen, East Ridge and Tonka, in order…. Psst, a little birdie tells me that Ponies assistant football coach Mark Elmer has stepped down as defensive coordinator after 14 years to coach

Stillwater graduate Rachel Frederickson, shown with her trainer Dolvett Quince, displayed the hard work that made her a state champion swimmer while losing 155 pounds to win “The Biggest Loser” competition. (NBC photo)

Stillwater graduate Rachel Frederickson, shown with her trainer Dolvett Quince, displayed the hard work that made her a state champion swimmer while losing 155 pounds to win “The Biggest Loser” competition. (NBC photo)

linebackers next fall…. Kudos to former Ponies three-time state swimming champion Rachel Frederickson ’07 for using her determination to win NBC’s Biggest Loser triathlon and eventually walking away with the $250,000 grand prize on Feb. 4. She now looks like the athlete she was back in her state gold medal days — and a movie star or model…. Paige Becker, the leading scorer for the Stillwater girls’ basketball team, will play next year at UW-River Falls…. I’ll bet that you didn’t know that 1965 Miss America Vonda Kay Van Dyke of Arizona was the first contestant to use ventriloquism in the talent competition. I know that you didn’t know…. Oops, last week I reported that Leah Nitardy would be joining her Ponies soccer teammates Lexie Andres, Natalie Johnson and Tracy Mather at the U of North Dakota. Nitardy will be playing for UW-Green Bay…. Another former Ponies individual pursuit state champion (2012) in cross-country skiing Nora Gilbertson is going great guns at St. Olaf. She recently attained All-American honors in four events at the Junior Nationals in Stowe, Vermont. All-State to All-American is a nice transition for the 19-year-old from Lake Elmo…. The 8-1 Section 4AA champion Stillwater boys’ swim team placed no less than 13 swimmers and divers — including MVP Brady Anderson — on the all-conference squad. Anderson was also an all-state performer who was joined by all-conference teammates Alex Percival, Max Larson, Tom Windett, Jon Busse, Anthony Shanley, Sam Larson, Marcus Green, Colin Eason, Jesse Busse, Brennan Rosell, Sam Payne and Ethan Auleciems…. Checking on the terrain, it’s hard to believe that Ponies track, baseball and golf teams, etc., are underway…. finis

 

Today’s rumination #656

Super heroes wear capes, but real heroes wear dog tags.

• • • •

George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Fridays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: georgethole@gmail.com

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