By David Pedersen
Crow River News
After the 3-2 loss in the first game of the State Class A boys hockey tournament Rockford-Delano senior Brian Halonen summed up the sentiment of his team by saying, “Everybody was pretty frustrated because we know what we can do.”
Halonen was referring to the fact that the highest scoring team in the state and No. 2 tourney seed only mustered two goals against Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake. This was despite holding a 35-29 edge in shots on goal.
Rockford-Delano would show its fire power when winning the next two games to capture the state consolation trophy. Early the next morning after the heartbreaking defeat, R-D faced No. 3 seed Mahtomedi, rolling to an 8-1 victory.
The season ended with a 26-4-1 record after Rockford-Delano’s 6-3 victory over East Grand Forks Saturday in the consolation final.
“It is sad the season has to come to an end,” adds Halonen, who ranked second in the state in scoring during the regular season. “We have to move on because nothing is going to change to bring it back. We were happy we made it to state, but it was not how we wanted it to go.”
Halonen said in the first game loss Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake played good defense and was opportunistic.
“In every game we try to use our vision, skill and play making ability,” adds Halonen. “They didn’t give us time or space and that frustrated us.”
Rockford-Delano trailed M-A-P-L 3-1 after two periods, but Justin Daly scored at 41 seconds into the third period, assisted by Ben Meyers. However, despite several scrums in front of the opposing net, R-D could not score again.
John Keranen scored R-D’s first goal in the second period, assisted by Brian and his cousin Gabe Halonen. Goalie Jackson Hjelle made 26 saves.
Brian Halonen sparked the offense against Mahtomedi with three goals and two assists. Meyers had a goal with five assists and Keranen scored two goals with four assists. Kyle Ylitalo and Garrett Pinoniemi provided the other goals. Hjelle made 12 saves and Erik Peterson made seven. R-D held a 32-20 edge in shots on goal.
“We kind of loosened up when it wasn’t so stressful,” said Halonen about the second game. “We just could go out and play and it ended up going pretty good for us. We played with pride because we knew we didn’t want to let everyone down.”
In the consolation title game against East Grand Forks, Rockford-Delano built a 4-0 lead when both Brian Halonen and Keranen netted two goals. EGF stormed back to score three straight goals, closing to 4-3 with 3:17 to play. Less than a minute later Meyers scored R-D’s fifth goal and Ylitalo added an empty net goal.
Brian Halonen had two goals and two assists. Keranen scored two goals with one assist and Meyers scored a goal with three assists. Hjelle stopped all 31 shots he faced and Peterson made four saves.
Meyers, Halonen and Keranen started the season playing on a line together and quickly racked up the points. It was one reason why R-D led the state in scoring and why Meyers and Halonen ranked first and second in points. The line was split up for three more balanced lines.
After the first game loss, the line was re-united, allowing the three seniors to play together one more time. In those two games Meyers had 10 points and Halonen and Keranen both had nine.
“We work pretty well together,” adds Halonen about the line. “We have size, weight and experience. Ben and I didn’t feel any competition between each other. It was fun to be in that position [top two scorers in the state].”
Halonen will play for one season with the Junior hockey team in Des Moines, Iowa before playing at Michigan Tech.
Meyers and senior Andrew Kruse were named to the All-Tournament team.
Monticello-Annandale and Maple Lake lost to top seed Hermantown in overtime in the title game. Hermantown defended its state crown by winning all three games in overtime.