Last season Cam Boche was the sniper, Cade Ahrenholz the grinder and Tanner Ludtke the Swiss Army knife, a player with so many tools he torches defenses with comical ease — like an Eagle Scout building a campfire with nothing more than two rocks and a handful of pine needles.
Boche, Ahrenholz and Ludtke formed one of the Minnesota’s premier forward lines, scoring a combined 148 points and propelling Lakeville South to a double-overtime finish in the state Class 2A title game (an eventual 2-1 Eden Prairie victory).
Greatness can be fleeting, however, and with Boche and Ahrenholz among several departed seniors, Ludtke and Lakeville South were forced to a begin the season with a bench full of new puzzle pieces.
“We went through the summer just kind of living on last year a little bit too much,” said first-year Cougars coach Josh Storm, a 2000 graduate of Lakeville High School who followed South closely last season while coaching Section 1AA rival Owatonna. “I challenged them. I said, you know, Boche isn’t here anymore. Ahrenholz isn’t here anymore. So who is our Ahrenholz? Who is our Boche?”
Hello, Ashton Dahms. Welcome, Aidan Willis. While Willis and Dahms were vital cogs on last season’s team that suffered its only loss in the state title game (South went 20-1-2), it’s altogether different to be the singular focus of top opposing shutdown defenders and meticulous coaching schemes. Wearing a blaze orange bulls-eye isn’t always a lot of fun.
Just don’t tell that to Dahms and Willis. They’ve settled into their new roles seamlessly. Dahms, who possesses a wicked shot, leads No. 3-2A Lakeville South (5-0-0) with eight goals. Willis, a forechecking terror, has seven points.
And Ludtke? Hockey’s jack-of-all-trades has switched from wing to center, taking on much more defensive responsibility in the process. And still he leads the team with 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists). So much for a breaking-in period with his new linemates.
Dahms had a had trick, Willis a goal and an assist and Ludtke three assists in Tuesday’s 6-3 triumph over archrival Lakeville North in front of a huge, near-capacity crowd — including the Cougars’ pep band — at South’s Hasse arena.
Lakeville South trailed 3-2 entering the third, when the Cougars erupted for four goals — three of them from their top line.
“I feel pretty comfortable putting our top line out there against anybody in the state at any point in the game,” Storm said. “And if we need to get through a shift or we need to goal, they're going out there.”
Speaking of comfort, Lakeville South’s freshly minted top trio plays the ease and familiarity of well-worn BarcaLounger. Which is to say the all-junior unit makes scoring goals look easy — a difficult trick.
“Dahms has a really good release, a good shot,” said Ludtke, who has committed to play at Nebraska Omaha. “Willis has great vision he competes all over ice, backchecks hard.
“We're just three guys who all make plays and play a complete game, an honest game.”
Just Three Guys. Sounds like a good name for, say, a moving company. Or a demolition crew. The unit had a hand in a combined three third-period goals in Lakeville South’s victories over top 20-ranked Blaine and Rogers. Including the Lakeville North game, the Cougars have trailed or been tied in the third period in three of their five victories.
“Blaine scored right away on us third period, and all of a sudden you just feel it on the bench where with the guys it’s not, ‘Oh no, here we go,’ it’s ‘Here we go,' ” Storm said.
Ludtke and senior defenseman Mason Johnson are among South’s leaders determined to mine for the benefits from last season’s state title game loss.
“Obviously losing it was brutal, but you learn a lot from it,” Ludtke said. “Eden Prairie had been there (in the title game), what, three years in a row? You figure out how to win those games.”