Shortly after the horn finally sounded early March 9 at the Xcel Energy Center, Matt Colford skated to center ice to retrieve something few Minnesota high school hockey players ever get the chance to touch.
It wasn’t the Stanley Cup-like piece of hardware the Champlin native so coveted, but in the aftermath of what had transpired not even 24 hours prior, it was going to have to do.
To Colford’s credit, he made sure Breck got this chance.
The state hockey tournament can be a wonderful place, full with energy, excitement and – for most of the players that are lucky enough to experience it – a slice of heartache few high school athletes can comprehend.
So when Breck saw its state championship dreams vanish in a heart-wrenching, double-overtime defeat to Hermantown March 8, Colford alleged he had all but one choice.
“We wanted to go out with a W,” he said. “We needed to find it today. We needed to win this game.”
The approach is not always a shared one when it comes to the state hockey tournament, especially in Class A.
Participants are forced out of bed like it was a school day, and on the ice for a 9 a.m. puck drop on a Saturday morning, still likely sulking from what didn’t go their way the day before.
Colford did his part though, waking Breck out of a daze early in the second period to help send teammate – and childhood friend – Thomas Lindstrom on a breakaway that broke the Mustangs out of a scoreless tie with East Grand Forks in the Class A third place game.
By the end of the period, following Colford and the rest of the Mustang seniors lead, Breck would add two more to go up 3-0 in a game they would eventually win 3-2 to claim a state tournament trophy for a third straight winter.
Again, it was not the state championship trophy that St. Thomas Academy would lay claim to later that same afternoon, but it was still something Colford said he wasn’t taking for granted.
“To end my senior year with this, beating a good East Grand Forks team, it is a pretty good way to go out,” he said. “We wanted to leave here on a good note, and as seniors, we really wanted to win our last game. This feels pretty good. It’s something I’m sure we’ll remember for a long time.”
If so, Colford’s experiences in St. Paul the last three years will certainly fill up his own memory banks.
In each of those seasons, Breck wound up winning two games in their state tournament appearances. As a sophomore, he helped the Mustangs rebound from a quarterfinal loss against Thief River Falls to go on and with the tournament’s consolation championship.
Colford would finish that year 16 goals and 35 assists, giving him 51 points as a sophomore. The following season, he upped that point total to 59 (21 goals, 38 assists) as Breck captured third place in the 2011-12 tournament.
Then came this year, when with Breck loaded with inexperience, he took the reins of leadership and poured in a career high 81 points on 34 goals and 47 assists, including four goals and 10 assists in the postseason, as Breck finished the year with a 26-4-1 overall record.
“I can’t say enough about the job our seniors did this year, and Matt especially,” said Breck head coach Les Larson. “He was our captain, and he was outstanding both on the ice and off of it. We aren’t here if he doesn’t have the year he had.”
To many, the conclusion of it went unnoticed. Fans had yet to even fill the lower bowl of the Xcel Energy Center by the time the Class A third place game was over, when Colford was summoned to center ice to accept the trophy that will forever display Breck’s accomplishments in 2013-14.
But thousands more would be on had a when he would return to center ice a few hours later after being named to the Class A all-tournament team, completing an unforgettable few years in St. Paul.
“This place is so special,” Colford said. “Just to have the chance to play here once is a dream come true, but to do it all three years, I can’t really explain it. I’ve just been fortunate to have the opportunity.”
Contact Nick Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org