Junior forward Wilson Dahlheimer is Monticello's leading returning scorer after posting 18 goals and 22 assists last season. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media
Our look at Class 1A continues as we count down the top 20 small-school teams for the 2020-21 season.
2019-20 Record: 21-9-1
Playoffs: Lost to Delano 2-1 in overtime in state Class 1A state tournament consolation championship
Seniors lost: 9
Goals for: 136
Goals lost: 82 | Goals returning: 54
Goals against: 74
Goalie minutes lost: 0 | Goalie minutes returning: 1592:10
Power-play percentage: 33.3
Penalty-kill percentage: 84.1
For decades Monticello was stuck in a Groundhog Day’s loop of one-and-done section playoff appearances.
The cycle was broken in 2017 when the Moose, having moved down from Class 2A to 1A, captured hearts and high-fives from fans around the state with a magical, sometimes comical run to the cusp of a state championship. Led by bearded and reluctantly flamboyant coach Eric Nelson — he wore a hideous cat-collage sweatshirt bestowed on him by his players for “good luck” during each game — Monticello reached the state title that year, losing in double overtime to Hermantown.
So lovable, those Moose. Monticello has been to two more state tournaments since that inaugural appearance. They still have that outrageously cool logo — a snarling Moose with antlers in attack mode — emblazoned on their jerseys. They still have the fashion disaster/motivation master Nelson as a coach. They still play a rope-a-dope style that packs defenders in front of their goal, calls for bodacious amounts of dump-ins and requires stellar goaltending and opportunistic scoring.
Most importantly, Monticello still has standout players. Lots of them. The graduation of nine seniors, including star forwards Jeffrey Henrickson (23 goals, 28 assists) and Brian Cornelius (22 goals, 24 assists) and top defensemen Chase Bocken (23 points) and Jacob Sorensen (20 points) would be tough to recover from for most Class 1A programs.
At Monticello, in steps the likes of junior Wilson Dahlheimer (18 goals, 22 assists) and seniors Gunnar Sibley (10 goals, 18 assists) and Gavin Brooks (11 goals, 10 assists) into heightened roles at forward and seniors Ben Miller (14 points) and Jesse DeChene (12 points) at defense.
Goaltending should again be outstanding with the return of senior Nash Wilson, who registered 21 victories and posted a 2.30 goals-against average and while playing in all 31 of the Moose’s games. Wilson set the program’s single-season record for wins with 21.
Monticello has won 23, 19, 17 and 21 games in each of the past four seasons. The Moose, favorites to win Section 5A against this season, have shed their Cinderella label. But they aren’t the Yankees of small-school Minnesota hockey yet. That title belongs to Hermantown, which pounded Monticello 7-1 in a state quarterfinal last season en route to its ninth title-game appearance in in the last 11 years.
It's worth remembering that Hermantown, with its spirited fans and rambunctious Hawks mascot, was once the darling team statewide fans cheered to beat private schools such as Breck and St. Thomas Academy.
Is Monticello the state's next Hermantown-like Goliath? There's no telling, but the Moose are inching in that direction. For now, though, they are as lovable as ever.