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Top of the World

By Loren Nelson, 12/23/20, 6:30PM CST


Ben Dardis guided No. 3 Mahtomedi to unprecedented heights last season

Mahtomedi junior goaltender Ben Dardis had seven shutouts last season, tied for the most in the state. 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.

3. Mahtomedi

2019-20 Record: 23-8-0
Playoffs: Beat Hermantown 3-2 in overtime in state Class 1A championship
Seniors lost: 8
Goals for: 124
Goals lost: 59 | Goals returning: 65
Goals against: 67
Goalie minutes lost: 0 | Goalie minutes returning: 1593:15
Power-play percentage: 26.0
Penalty-kill percentage: 84.4

A superb goaltender is akin to the most weathered and savvy of Sherpas. Both can lead achievement-hungry groups to new heights, to places tens of thousands dream about but only a select few ever set foot.

Before last season Mahtomedi had for years been knocking on the door of Minnesota’s Mount Everest: a state tourney championship. But the Zephyrs, through a string of nine straight state semifinal losses, never possessed that special something, that missing ingredient, that X factor, to reach the title game, much less win it. Then last spring a sophomore named Ben Dardis strapped on his goalie gear, stepped on the Xcel Energy Center ice and proclaimed to his Zephyrs teammates, “Follow me, boys.”

OK, that last part might be a bit overly dramatic and not altogether true. Nonetheless, Dardis was brilliant in the state Class 1A title game last season, stopping 40 shots in a 3-2 overtime victory over Hermantown for the Zephyrs’ first championship. The heavily favored Hawks, led by triggerman and Mr. Hockey award winner Blake Biondi, lost despite outshooting Mahtomedi 42-12. The Zephyrs went more than 20 minutes through parts of the second and third periods without registering a shot on goal. Twenty minutes!

During that stretch the TV broadcast was stuck on an endless, high-decibel loop of: “Dardis with the save! Dardis with another save!! Dardis with the save! Dardis with another save!!”

Overshadowed by one of the great goaltending performances in state tournament history were several other Mahtomedi players who found their mojo under the bright lights. Two of them graduated: clutch forwards Nikolai Dulak (27 goals) and Colin Hagstrom (20 points in season shortened by the recovery from a broken leg).

Among the returning proven pressure performers are senior forwards Adam Johnson (17 goals, 32 assists) and Ethan Peterson (10 goals, 30 assists) and senior forward/defenseman J.D. Metz (35 points including a goal and two assists in the state title game). 

The speedy, sharpshooting Johnson was one of the top players in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall, as he was seventh in scoring with 29 points in 22 games and was selected to play in the league’s season-ending International Invitational Tournament. Metz also played well in the Elite League despite missing the first several weeks because of injury. Dardis,  who has 11 shutout in his two-year varsity career and is No. 7 in Legacy Hockey’s rankings of the state’s juniors, also excelled in his first taste of Elite League action that typically leans heavily toward offense, sometimes at the expense of defense and to the demise of goaltender statistics.

Seniors Ryan Berglund (13 goals) and Dylan Duckson (11 goals) are likely to shoulder bigger scoring loads, and senior Tony Neubeck (3 goals, 9 assists) should anchor the defense. Junior Grant Dardis (another of the Dardis triplets, along with Ben and Jack, a JV player last season), also figures to be a top defenseman.

The Zephyrs should also be bolstered by at least a few players from its Bantam AA team that finished 14th in one set of end-of-season state rankings. Mahtomedi and Hermantown are among the few Class 1A high school teams that are fed by Bantam AA programs. 

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