South boys are state boys hockey runners-up

Lakeville South’s players are getting some time to process what happened Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.

They were on the verge of a historic season when a rebound caromed onto the stick of Eden Prairie forward Jackson Blake, who put it away for the winning goal in the Eagles’ 2-1 victory in the state Class AA boys hockey final.

When the Cougars gather next week to review what happened in 2021 they’ll look back on a season that in many ways still is historic. They are the first team from their school, which opened in 2005, to reach the championship game of a state hockey tournament. They were back-to-back South Suburban Conference champions. They qualified for the state tournament three years in a row, a first for a South boys team. Their record of 20-1-2 is by far the best in program history.

And they overcame the hurdle of winning a state quarterfinal game, which had been an issue for some South players going back to their days as Bantam players.

“I think the big thing with this group was, they all bonded,” coach Janne Kivihalme said. “They became a team. They’re all good, hard-working kids and they all brought something to the team. Each line and each defensive pair had a top-level player, we had kids willing to fill roles and we had two outstanding goalies.”

Kivihalme has been a high school head coach for 15 years, 12 at Burnsville and the last three at Lakeville South. Five of his teams have reached the state tournament. His most prominent former player is Brock Boeser, who he coached at Burnsville and who now plays forward for the Vancouver Canucks. He’s also coached players who appeared in the NCAA Frozen Four, played in the American Hockey League and went to European professional leagues.

But this South team might have been the best he coached.

“I think so,” Kivihalme said. “I’ve coached teams that had two lines that scored and a third line that was hard-working and physical. This team had four strong lines, and we were willing to use them all in the state tournament. They were very talented and probably the deepest team I’ve ever coached.”

The Cougars had a number of players who combined skill and character, perhaps none more so than senior forward Cade Ahrenholz, who was named Class AA winner of the Herb Brooks Award last weekend. The award goes to a state tournament player who represents the values of Brooks, head coach of the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

Ahrenholz, who had 40 points and centered South’s top line with Cam Boche and Tanner Ludtke on the wings, also was a defensive end for the Cougars’ undefeated football team last fall. The award includes a $1,000 scholarship from the Herb Brooks Foundation, which Ahrenholz will put to use at Colorado College, where he will play hockey.

The senior group includes Boche, who led the team with 58 points; goalie Cody Ticen, who alternated in goal with junior Ethan Dahlmeir before starting all three state tournament games; defensemen Jack Malinski, Jacob Gunderson and Brett Johnson; and forwards Jack Novak and Jed England. Novak and Malinski both had 30-point seasons for the Cougars.

Lakeville South’s talent pipeline isn’t running out, either. Ludtke, Ben Portner and Ashton Dahms all scored at least 14 goals this season and all can be back next year. Ludtke and Dahms are part of a group of seven sophomores on the South roster; that group includes 6-foot-4 power forward Zander Billins along with Aidan Willis, who had 20 assists this season. Juniors Mason Johnson and Wyatt Sender and sophomore Tyler Lafferty return as the Cougars build a defense in front of Dahlmeir, who will be a senior next season.

“It’s a talented group and they’re going to have some high expectations for themselves next year,” Kivihalme said.

Before holding the customary postseason team meetings, Kivihalme wants to give his players some time to relax and decompress after dealing with the pressure of being the last undefeated team in Class AA this year. Still, he needed to tell them something immediately after the championship game, when the Cougars were understandably disheartened. Several South seniors stayed on the ice for a long time following the trophy presentation, knowing a stage in their hockey careers had ended.

“First, we told them we were really proud of them,” Kivihalme said. “We also needed to make sure they knew their season wasn’t defined by one loss in double overtime. I think they were aware they had a community supporting them that was really excited about them and the success they had.”

Championship: Eden Prairie 2, Cougars 1

Blake’s rebound goal at 2 minutes, 6 seconds of the second overtime gave Eden Prairie its first Class AA boys hockey championship since 2011.

The goal ended the sixth championship game in state tournament history that went to a second overtime. The last time Eden Prairie won a championship 10 years ago the Eagles prevailed against Duluth East in the only three-overtime state boys hockey final.

Eden Prairie (21-1-2) controlled play early in Saturday’s championship game and took the lead on a first-period goal by Carter Batchelder. But Lakeville South got stronger as the game progressed, tying it at 13:04 of the second period on Boche’s goal with an assist by Ludtke.

Dahms, one of the Cougars’ strongest players in the championship game, was inches from scoring two goals. In the second period Eden Prairie goalie Zach Hayes stretched as far as he could to stop a Dahms shot with his right toe.

With about seven minutes remaining in the third, Dahms played the puck through an Eden Prairie defenseman’s skates, recovered it and beat Hayes with a wrist shot, only to see it bounce off the far post.

Saturday’s final was Eden Prairie’s third consecutive state Class AA championship game following losses to Edina and Hill-Murray the previous two years.

Semifinals: Cougars 5, Wayzata 3

After going almost 34 minutes without scoring, Lakeville South put in five goals in 17 minutes to defeat Wayzata in the Class AA semifinals Friday night.

Wayzata (14-6-2) advanced to the semifinals when Hill-Murray, the Trojans’ quarterfinal opponent, had to drop out of the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine. The Trojans looked to have a good chance of reaching the final as South was stymied by a gritty performance by Wayzata goalie Will Ingemann as well as some bad puck luck.

Wayzata scored 25 seconds into the game when a puck deflected off a South player into the Cougars’ goal. Wazyata forward Hayden Davidson got credit for it. The Trojans’ lead grew to 2-0 late in the second period when a South clearing attempt hit a skate, with the puck deflecting to forward Dylan Lewis, who converted a point-blank scoring chance.

Lakeville South scored a huge goal with nine seconds left in the second period when Dahms knocked in a rebound. In the third, Ahrenholz scored twice – one at even strength, one on the power play – to put the Cougars ahead for the first time.

Boche, who led South with 27 goals, scored his team’s final two against Wayzata, with the second finding an empty net.

Quarterfinals: Cougars 4, Moorhead 2

Lakeville South trailed Moorhead 1-0 entering the third period before scoring four times in the third and eventually winning 4-2 in the quarterfinal round March 31. Ludtke and Willis each scored twice for the Cougars.

The Cougars took control with three goals in 3:11. Willis’ goal at 5:09 of the third period tied the game and Ludtke’s first goal put South ahead. Willis scored again at 8:20 of the third. Ludtke got an empty-net goal with 59 seconds left, rendering Moorhead’s final goal with 27 seconds remaining inconsequential.

Ticen stopped 33 of 35 Moorhead shots.

Moorhead, the Section 8AA champion, finished 13-8-1.

Lakeville South’s players are getting some time to process what happened Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. They were on the verge of a historic season when a rebound caromed onto the stick of Eden Prairie forward Jackson Blake, who put it away for the winning goal in the Eagles’ 2-1 victory in the state Class AA boys hockey final. When the Cougars gather next week to review what happened in 2021 they’ll look back on a season that in many ways still is historic. They are the first team from their school, which opened in 2005, to reach the championship game of a state hockey tournament. They were back-to-back South Suburban Conference champions. They qualified for the state tournament three years in a row, a first for a South boys team. Their record of 20-1-2 is by far the best in program history. And they overcame the hurdle of winning a state quarterfinal game, which had been an issue for some South players going back to their days as Bantam players. “I think the big thing with this group was, they all bonded,” coach Janne Kivihalme said. “They became a team. They’re all good, hard-working kids and they all brought something to the team. Each line and each defensive pair had a top-level player, we had kids willing to fill roles and we had two outstanding goalies.” Kivihalme has been a high school head coach for 15 years, 12 at Burnsville and the last three at Lakeville South. Five of his teams have reached the state tournament. His most prominent former player is Brock Boeser, who he coached at Burnsville and who now plays forward for the Vancouver Canucks. He’s also coached players who appeared in the NCAA Frozen Four, played in the American Hockey League and went to European professional leagues. But this South team might have been the best he coached. “I think so,” Kivihalme said. “I’ve coached teams that had two lines that scored and a third line that was hard-working and physical. This team had four strong lines, and we were willing to use them all in the state tournament. They were very talented and probably the deepest team I’ve ever coached.” The Cougars had a number of players who combined skill and character, perhaps none more so than senior forward Cade Ahrenholz, who was named Class AA winner of the Herb Brooks Award last weekend. The award goes to a state tournament player who represents the values of Brooks, head coach of the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Ahrenholz, who had 40 points and centered South’s top line with Cam Boche and Tanner Ludtke on the wings, also was a defensive end for the Cougars’ undefeated football team last fall. The award includes a $1,000 scholarship from the Herb Brooks Foundation, which Ahrenholz will put to use at Colorado College, where he will play hockey. The senior group includes Boche, who led the team with 58 points; goalie Cody Ticen, who alternated in goal with junior Ethan Dahlmeir before starting all three state tournament games; defensemen Jack Malinski, Jacob Gunderson and Brett Johnson; and forwards Jack Novak and Jed England. Novak and Malinski both had 30-point seasons for the Cougars. Lakeville South’s talent pipeline isn’t running out, either. Ludtke, Ben Portner and Ashton Dahms all scored at least 14 goals this season and all can be back next year. Ludtke and Dahms are part of a group of seven sophomores on the South roster; that group includes 6-foot-4 power forward Zander Billins along with Aidan Willis, who had 20 assists this season. Juniors Mason Johnson and Wyatt Sender and sophomore Tyler Lafferty return as the Cougars build a defense in front of Dahlmeir, who will be a senior next season. “It’s a talented group and they’re going to have some high expectations for themselves next year,” Kivihalme said. Before holding the customary postseason team meetings, Kivihalme wants to give his players some time to relax and decompress after dealing with the pressure of being the last undefeated team in Class AA this year. Still, he needed to tell them something immediately after the championship game, when the Cougars were understandably disheartened. Several South seniors stayed on the ice for a long time following the trophy presentation, knowing a stage in their hockey careers had ended. “First, we told them we were really proud of them,” Kivihalme said. “We also needed to make sure they knew their season wasn’t defined by one loss in double overtime. I think they were aware they had a community supporting them that was really excited about them and the success they had.” 

Championship:Eden Prairie 2, Cougars 1 Jackson Blake’s rebound goal at 2 minutes, 6 seconds of the second overtime gave Eden Prairie its first Class AA boys hockey championship since 2011. The goal ended the sixth championship game in state tournament history that went to a second overtime. The last time Eden Prairie won a championship 10 years ago the Eagles prevailed against Duluth East in the only three-overtime state boys hockey final. Eden Prairie (21-1-2) controlled play early in Saturday’s championship game and took the lead on a first-period goal by Carter Batchelder. But Lakeville South got stronger as the game progressed, tying it at 13:04 of the second period on Boche’s goal with an assist by Ludtke. Dahms, one of the Cougars’ strongest players in the championship game, was inches from scoring two goals. In the second period Eden Prairie goalie Zach Hayes stretched as far as he could to stop a Dahms shot with his right toe. With about seven minutes remaining in the third, Dahms played the puck through an Eden Prairie defenseman’s skates, recovered it and beat Hayes with a wrist shot, only to see it bounce off the far post. Saturday’s final was Eden Prairie’s third consecutive state Class AA championship game following losses to Edina and Hill-Murray the previous two years. 

Semifinals:Cougars 5, Wayzata 3 After going almost 34 minutes without scoring, Lakeville South put in five goals in 17 minutes to defeat Wayzata in the Class AA semifinals Friday night.  Wayzata (14-6-2) advanced to the semifinals when Hill-Murray, the Trojans’ quarterfinal opponent, had to drop out of the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine. The Trojans looked to have a good chance of reaching the final as South was stymied by a gritty performance by Wayzata goalie Will Ingemann as well as some bad puck luck. Wayzata scored 25 seconds into the game when a puck deflected off a South player into the Cougars’ goal. Wazyata forward Hayden Davidson got credit for it. The Trojans’ lead grew to 2-0 late in the second period when a South clearing attempt hit a skate, with the puck deflecting to forward Dylan Lewis, who converted a point-blank scoring chance. Lakeville South scored a huge goal with nine seconds left in the second period when forward Ashton Dahms knocked in a rebound. In the third, Ahrenholz scored twice – one at even strength, one on the power play – to put the Cougars ahead for the first time. Boche, who led South with 27 goals, scored his team’s final two against Wayzata, with the second finding an empty net.

Quarterfinals:Cougars 4, Moorhead 2 Lakeville South trailed Moorhead 1-0 entering the third period before scoring four times in the third and eventually winning 4-2 in the quarterfinal round March 31. Ludtke and Willis each scored twice for the Cougars. The Cougars took control with three goals in 3:11. Willis’ goal at 5:09 of the third period tied the game and Ludtke’s first goal put South ahead. Willis scored again at 8:20 of the third. Ludtke got an empty-net goal with 59 seconds left, rendering Moorhead’s final goal with 27 seconds remaining inconsequential.  Ticen stopped 33 of 35 Moorhead shots. Moorhead, the Section 8AA champion, finished 13-8-1.

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