ST. PAUL — We are a few years removed from Herb Brooks’ grandsons playing for Mahtomedi in the state tournament, but on Friday afternoon the Zephyrs made a great moment out of their great opportunity anyway.
Facing top-ranked Warroad in the Class A semifinals, Mahtomedi pounced on defensive lapses by the Warriors, scoring five times on their first dozen shots and winning 5-1, to advance to the program’s first state title game.
“We’ve been here more than a few times and have not been able to break through that threshold, so this feels great,” said Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl.
The Zephyrs (22-8) will face Hermantown for the championship on Saturday at noon in the rematch of a regular season game the Hawks won 9-2 on Dec. 21. Mahtomedi took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after one period and got a pair of goals from Adam Johnson in the second, handing the Warriors (27-3) their first loss to a Class A team.
Mahtomedi is making its 12th state tournament appearance and its fourth in a row, but had never before advanced past the semifinals. Zephyrs goalie Ben Dardis had 29 saves in the win.
The Zephyrs struck first on a 2-on-1 play when Cole Klingbeil chased down a loose puck in the corner and fed Billy Buttermore who ended up all alone in front of the net. His rising high shot beat Warroad goalie Zach Foster, and Mahtomedi doubled its lead on a power play in the final minute of the first.
“It was a really great play. I was yelling for it, and I was just fortunate that (Klingbeil) found me,” Buttermore said. “I think he knew where I was. We’ve got a lot of great chemistry. So he just threw it to the front of the net.”
It was 3-0 Mahtomedi before Warroad answered, on a power play, when Grant Slukynsky got his fourth of the tournament off a pass from Jayson Shaugabay. Dardis stopped Anthony Foster on a shorthanded breakaway a short time later as the momentum swung Warroad’s way. But the Warriors could not close the gap, and two more Zephyrs goals late in the second put the game out of reach.
The Warriors, who thrived on puck-moving and goal scoring all season, could not find space to make plays versus a Zephyrs team that Warroad coach Jay Hardwick described as a “defensive buzzsaw.”
“They did a very good job of taking away our time and space, limiting our chances, and then they made the most of their opportunities,” Hardwick said. “Give them credit. A couple of those goals were very nice shots, and then they did a great job making it hard on us. We spent a lot of time in their zone, but they had guys draped all over us.”
Foster finished with 13 saves for the Warriors in the loss.
Warroad, which was making its first state tournament appearance in a decade and was seeking a fifth title, will face St. Cloud Cathedral for third place. They met early in the regular season in Warroad, with the Warriors winning 5-2.