New Prague fends off Albert Lea rally, is headed to 'The X' as Section 1A champion
New Prague let a two-goal lead slip away, but it rallied and scored the final three goals in beating Albert Lea in the Section 1A boys hockey championship game on Wednesday at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Charlie Turnberg was in fifth grade the last time New Prague played in a boys hockey state tournament.
All of New Prague’s seniors were.
Turnberg and his teammates hope the current fifth-graders in New Prague don’t have to wait so long between state tournament appearances.
For Turnberg and the current group of Trojans — who spent the past four seasons battling in one of the state’s toughest sections, Section 2AA — every second of the wait was well worth it.
Now a senior who scored two goals in Wednesday’s Section 1A championship game for the Trojans, Turnberg will help lead the team into the place every young hockey player in Minnesota dreams of playing one day — the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“You know what you’re going to get out of Charlie every time,” New Prague coach Brad Drazan said. “He plays hard, has a good stick and he’s an emotional leader. He’s worked himself into that. He’s worked hard, done the right things and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
With a 5-2 victory against Albert Lea in the Section 1A boys hockey championship game on Wednesday night at the Rochester Recreation Center, the Trojans earned the program’s third trip to Minnesota’s most sought-after high school sports event — The Tourney, the state high school boys hockey tournament.
New Prague will play a state quarterfinal game at The X next Wednesday against an opponent to be determined and at a time to be determined after all eight of the section championship games around the state have been completed.
“It just means the world,” Drazan said. “I’ve been with this group since they were first-year Pee Wees. They were young kids — squirts or mites — when our team first went to state and they got to see that. They got to see the fun and excitement that goes with it, so this means the world.”
The Trojans, seeded fourth in the section, improved to 11-15-2 with Wednesday’s victory. Their previous two appearances came in back-to-back seasons, in 2014 and 2015, when they were also the champions of Section 1A.
New Prague’s best finish at state came in 2014, when it placed third.
Wednesday’s victory also marked the first time this season the Trojans — who placed seventh in the nine-team Metro West Conference — have put together a three-game winning streak.
“We felt if we could get the puck deep and keep the puck below the dots, we’d have a good chance,” Drazan said. “This group, there’s no selfishness, everybody’s fighting for each other here.
“We had to work our way here. We had a tough go in (Class) AA and to now be back down here and to fight the way we have, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Wednesday’s win was a bit of a salve mentally for a school and a community that has come under fire in recent weeks after some racist incidents have occurred in the New Prague cheering sections at girls basketball and boys hockey games.
Drazan said his team has done a good job of staying focused on the task in front of them.
“It’s been a challenging couple weeks,” Drazan said. “We’ve gotten better through it. We’ve learned some hard lessons, but it’s lessons we needed to learn.
“In our locker room we talk about controlling three things in life: Our attitude, our effort and our actions. That’s what we’ve fallen back on. We fell back on our core values, and here we are.”
Albert Lea closes its season 19-9-0. The Tigers battled hard through late-season adversity. They lost starting goalie Dakota Jahnke to a season-ending injury just prior to the start of the section playoffs. Sophomore goalie Tanner Nelson more than held his own, backstopping the Tigers to the section title game despite having never played a minute of varsity hockey prior to the playoffs.
The Tigers also played Wednesday’s championship game without head coach Matt Erickson, who suffered a concussion after being knocked over during a practice this week.
Albert Lea was seeking its fourth-ever trip to state, and its first since 2007.
How They Scored
• New Prague 1, Albert Lea 0: New Prague created a quick 2-on-1 deep in Albert Lea’s zone. John Schmidt, the Trojans’ top-line center, feeds Max Hanzel, the team’s fourth-line right wing, and Hanzel beats Tigers’ goalie Tanner Nelson high to the glove side with 5:07 to go in the period.
• New Prague 2, Albert Lea 0: Schmidt shows his playmaking skills on the ensuing shift, finding linemate Will Andersen for his ninth goal of the season, just 1:18 after the first goal.
• New Prague 2, Albert Lea 1: With the teams playing 4-on-4, Albert Lea defenseman Joseph Yoon outhustles a Trojans player to a puck in New Prague’s end. Yoon spots Tim Chalmers darting down the slot and puts a pass on his tape. Chalmers fires it high past Trojans goalie Carter Puente 3:37 into the period.
• New Prague 2, Albert Lea 2: Chalmers feeds Yoon in the right circle and Yoon blasts a heavy shot past Puente just 8 seconds into a power play, for his 30th goal of the season, with 12:01 left in the period.
• New Prague 3, Albert Lea 2: Charlie Turnberg collects a loose puck in the slot, with some time to set up, and he snaps a shot past Nelson, high to the blocker side, at 8:35 of the period.
• New Prague 4, Albert Lea 2: The Trojans get good pressure in the Tigers’ zone and Luke Portner finds Peyton Becker alone at the top of the crease. Nelson stops Becker’s first attempt, but Becker hammers home the rebound with 4:18 to play.
• New Prague 5, Albert Lea 2: Turnberg outbattles an Albert Lea player for the puck on a forecheck and he stuffs it in an empty net with 2:06 to play.
PB’s 3 Stars
• No. 3: Joseph Yoon, A.L.: The junior defenseman was sensational throughout the playoffs. He set up the Tigers’ first goal Wednesday, and scored their second, his 30th of the season.
• No. 2: John Schmidt, N.P.: The senior center assisted on the Trojans’ first two goals and his line constantly possessed the puck in Albert Lea’s zone.
• No. 1: Charlie Turnberg, N.P.: The junior forward scored a pair of goals, including the game winner.
NEW PRAGUE 5, ALBERT LEA 2
New Prague 2-1-2 — 5
Albert Lea 0-2-0 — 2
First period — 1. NP, Max Hanzel 3 (John Schmidt 16) 11:53. 2. NP, Will Andersen 9 (Schmidt 17) 13:11. Second period — 3. AL, Tim Chalmers 19 (Joseph Yoon 27) 3:37 (4x4). 4. AL, Yoon 30 (Chalmers 20, Josh Behrends 4) 4:59 (pp). 5. NP, Charlie Turnberg 8 (unassisted) 8:35. Third period — 6. NP, Peyton Becker 4 (Luke Portner 13) 12:42. 7. NP, Turnberg 9 (unassisted) 14:54 (en).
Goalies — NP, Carter Puente (W; 15 saves); AL, Tanner Nelson (L, 32 saves). Shots on goal — NP 11-15-11—37; AL 4-6-7—17. Power-play opportunities — NP 0-for-4; AL 1-for-3. Penalties — NP 4-8 minutes; AL 5-10 minutes.