By Dave Pedersen
Crow River News
Over the last eight years two teams have stood in the way of the Rockford-Delano boys hockey team advancing to the state Class A hockey tournament.
Either Blake or Breck had eliminated Rockford-Delano in the playoffs during the long stretch when the program was so close to getting to state for the first time.
After dominating New Prague 7-0 in the first round of the Section 2A tournament Friday, Rockford-Delano faced Blake on Tuesday of this week, played after this issue went to press.
The winner advances to face either Breck or Minneapolis Southwest in the section finals, 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2 at Parade Ice Garden in Minneapolis. Southwest edged Orono 4-2 and Breck defeated Waconia 7-0.
“We felt we played a complete game against New Prague,” said coach Gerrit van Bergen. “It was a penalty filled game, including a five on three power play for both teams, a successful shorthanded penalty shot for us and a shorthanded goal for us.”
The coach said through all of these oddities his team remained focused and continued to play better as the game went on, highlighted by Rockford-Delano only giving up two shots on goal in the third period.
Brian Halonen powered the offense with three goals. Ben Meyers scored two goals and had two assists. Kyle Ylitalo added a goal with three assists and Andrew Kruse had two assists. Goalie Jackson Hjelle made 16 saves in the shutout.
Rockford-Delano improved to 22-3-1 on the season, finishing the regular season ranked No. 3 in Class A. Breck was ranked No. 2 in the state, going 21-3-2. R-D opened the season by defeating both Blake and Breck.
“Should we face Breck in the finals I believe it will be a high tempo competition between two very good teams that each feature dynamic forwards and game controlling defensemen,” said van Bergen. “As big games often are, I speculate special teams will play a big role in the final outcome.”
For the season, Rockford-Delano outscored opponents 175-40 and had three contribute at 68 points or more. R-D had the top two point scorers in the state with Meyers at 99 points and Halonen 81. John Keranen added 68.
Breck has won 12 straight games, outscored opponents 129-46 on the season with four players providing 40 points or more. Two players topped the squad with 55 points each.
Having two of the top three ranked teams in the state in the same section, it is when we say, “Too bad someone has to lose.”