Goaltender Damian Rhodes led Richfield, with a 12-11-1 record, to the state tournament in 1985. Minneapolis Star Tribune photo
Author’s note: The necessary space constraints of our Tourney Time book meant making hard choices. Ultimately, we included a sidebar in the book about Columbia Heights and goalie Reggie Miracle engineering an improbable upset of Edina. But Miracle’s came in the state tournament, relegating Rhodes, whose claim to fame happened in the section playoffs, and his fascinating story to our website.
On a Thursday night in late Feb. 1986, many of the announced 9,633 hockey fans at the Met Center cheered Richfield’s monumental upset of top-ranked Edina.
Friday’s lunch hour brought more of the same for junior goaltender Damian Rhodes, chief architect of Richfield’s 4-3 victory.
“They were chanting my name, ‘Da-mi-an! Da-mi-an! Da-mi-an!’ ” Rhodes said. “It was pretty cool.”
Rhodes and his Spartans weren’t finished. Despite taking an 8-11-1 record into the postseason, Richfield and Rhodes dropped defending section champion Minnetonka 2-1.
The resulting state tournament appearance was as unlikely as Rhodes being the goalie to make it happen. In the regular season, Rhodes went 2-8 while senior goalie Jon Lee was 7-3.
Coach Mike Thomas gave the first Section 6 postseason game to Lee out of respect. And Lee earned a 7-1 victory in the opening round against Orono. From there, Thomas made each postseason practice an open audition. Rhodes won the right to face Hopkins in the quarterfinals and backstopped a 6-5 victory.
Thomas gave Rhodes the nod again, this time against an Edina team that defeated the Spartans in both regular-season meetings. Using what he called “reverse psychology,” Rhodes sported a green stick and his mother wore a green sweater, hoping to somehow turn the Hornets’ primary color against them.
More effective, however, was the way Rhodes turned away shots. Edina outshout the Spartans 39-19 but Rhodes ensured the Hornets’ doom. That type of game didn’t deter Rhodes, who made 17 saves in the second period.
“I was a goalie who liked to get work,” he said.
Lee insisted Rhodes get more work.
“Jon told me we'd be crazy not to start him again,” Thomas told the Star Tribune’s John Gilbert.
Rhodes recently said, “I had no idea Jon liked me that much.”
To face fifth-ranked Minnetonka, Rhodes brought a blue stick. His mother wore a blue sweater. Rhodes made 27 saves as the Spartans clinched their first state tournament appearance in a decade.
The magic seemed to follow Richfield to St. Paul. After one period against second-ranked Hill-Murray in the state quarterfinals, the Spartans led 2-1. But the Pioneers scored four consecutive goals to end Richfield’s surprise title pursuit.
The 1986 tournament featured a pair of future NHL goaltenders in Rhodes and Duluth Denfeld’s Robb Stauber. Such a trajectory was projected for Stauber, listed among the top 30 college prospects in the state by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Rhodes, a lesser-known commodity, learned his Edina performance was worth more than just an upset victory.
Bruce Horsch, the great Michigan Tech goalie turned Huskies’ assistant coach, told Rhodes during the recruiting process, “I saw the Edina game and knew then that I wanted you.”
As a junior at Michigan Tech in 1988-89, Rhodes set a then-school record for saves in a season (1,301). He played 12 NHL seasons and saw action for Toronto, Ottawa and Atlanta.
While playing in Ottawa, Rhodes roomed with forward Tom Chorske on the road. Chorske first learned of Rhodes during the goalie’s spectacular 1986 playoff run.
Chorske, then a freshman at the University of Minnesota roommate with Edina graduate Marty Nanne, said the pair “were listening to [the upset victory over Edina] on the radio in our dorm room and it was just, ‘Damian Rhodes’ this and, ‘Damian Rhodes’ that. They couldn’t score on him.”