Warroad takes Minnesota Section 8A crown via 4-1 win over Thief River Falls
"We knew a long time ago that this was a special group and I couldn't wait for them to get here. Now it's kind of come to fruition," Warroad head coach Jay Hardwick said.
EAST GRAND FORKS – Even when the opponent gives them their very best, Warroad’s Section 8A championship performance showed the Warriors can still rise above it.
March 4, 2022
With the puck, Jayson Shaugabay took a physical Thief River Falls backcheck and weaved his way through it. He dished over to Matt Hard who in turn found Todd Powassin for an open shot which led to a wide-open rebound goal for Shaugabay and gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead in the third period.
“We were cycling, working them pretty well. We were just really buzzing, we were playing really well that shift,” Shaugabay said, after the trophy ceremony for his squad’s 4-1 Minnesota Section 8A title win over the Prowlers on Thursday night at the Civic Center. “When there's a team that's physical and always gives you 100% every shift, and you're wheeling them and you're playing good, it really gets you going and fires you up.”
One month ago, the last time these two teams met, the Prowlers pushed Warroad to the edge. Locked up in a 3-3 tie, Shaugabay managed to score on the team’s 50th shot on net with five seconds left in overtime and start the Warriors' current eight-game winning streak.
“It’s been like that all year. We’ve been given every team’s best because they are going to give Warroad their best every time,” head coach Jay Hardwick said. “You need your best players to be the best players this time of year
Warroad’s speed can be tough to match opening up a hockey game, which is what opened the door for Damion Gardner 1:04 into the first. His quick wrister hit the top corner after some fluid cycling and skating from his teammates, giving his team a 1-0 lead early.
Throughout the game, Thief River Falls did its best to keep Warroad to the outside and limit the opportunities to let them cut into the slot. What resulted was strong goaltending performances on both sides and puck that were just out of reach on follow-up chances.
“When we do break down or something goes wrong, he's calm. He makes the save and makes it look easy,” Hardwick said.
The Warriors did punch one in from the back door when Gardner redirected a Shaugabay pass from across the crease during their last rush up ice on the power play. Keeping with the pace, the Prowlers scored less than 30 seconds later on a breakaway when Jace Erickson sent Brendan Bottem up to slide one five-hole through Hampton Slukynsky and keep it a one-score game.
Slukynsky, who saw his team outscore the opponent 19-2 in the regional tournament, is quite familiar with playing with the lead–something they hope to continue into the state tournament. He finished the night with 20 saves.
“It feels great. They got a lot better throughout the year and they gave us everything we could handle tonight and we played. We’ve got a lot of confidence going forward now,” he said.
The third period was a test for the endurance of Thief River Falls. They were able to keep up and keep things close in the first 36 minutes, but in the final frame, Warroad had their best period. They outshot the Prowlers 16-4 and strung together chances, which culminated in goals from Shaugabay and a shorthanded marker from Carson Pilgrim in which he beat two defenders to a loose puck to set up a breakaway.
Now off and running, Hardwick and his club are remembering where this particular group of players started and are certain they can reach the top.
“I know I've been doing this a long time and all these kids on this team, I've seen them grow up in Warroad. I've seen them play hockey since they were five, six years old. We knew a long time ago that this was a special group and I couldn't wait for them to get here. Now it's kind of come to fruition. They've been good all the way up and it's awesome. We're in it, we're in a great spot right now and I don't want to stop,” he said.
The group, ranked second in Class A, is potentially looking at a No. 2 seed entering the state tournament with Hermantown in the running to obtain the first seed. Seeding for the tournament will be official Saturday.
The Hawks defeated Warroad 2-1, in overtime, in their regular-season matchup back in January. Both Shaugabay and Gardner were held without a point.
“I think everybody's ready. I think we've all had good years individually, and I think we’ve been very good as a team,” said Shaugabay.
Gardner, whose two-goal night and 76th point pushed him into sixth in state scoring, followed suit.
“I’m totally confident going into the tournament. We have a really deep team that stuck right with Hermantown. We can stay with them and maybe even win,” he said.
The 4-1 win and section championship also sets up an opportunity to claim rarified air in Minnesota state tournament history. With the Warroad girl’s program winning the 2021 Class A title, the boy’s program can add a Class A title in the same year.
Edina accomplished that feat in 2019, but previously had not happened since 2005 with the Academy of Holy Angels, Richfield.
Thief River Falls 1
First period – 1-0 WHS: Damion Gardner (Jayson Shaugabay, Carson Reed)
Second period – 2-0 WHS: Gardner (Shaugabay, Matt Hard) PP, 2-1 TRF: Brendan Bottem (Jace Erickson)
Third period – 3-1 WHS: Shaugabay (Todd Powassin, Hard), 4-1 WHS: Carson Pilgrim SH
Goalie saves – TRF: Brett Holmer 37 saves, WHS: Hampton Slukynsky 20 saves