ST. LOUIS PARK - At one point the section championship trophy was in two pieces. Later, a couple water bottles were dumped squarely on first-year Orono coach Sean Fish’s bald head.
And the party was just getting started.
Spartans players were still on the ice and in full gear long after the St. Louis Park Rec Center had otherwise emptied Friday night, skating laps and shooting selfies while arena staff scooped trash from the stands.
“These guys, they like to have fun,” a soaked Fish said, earning the understatement-of-the-evening award after the No. 1-seeded Spartans beat No. 3 seed Delano 4-1 in front of an estimated 2,000 fans for a berth in next week’s Class 1A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Orono is making its first trip to the state tourney since 2018, when the Spartans beat Alexandria 2-1 in the championship game.
“I think I was in the seventh grade … my brother was on the team,” Orono senior captain Bradley Walker said. “I’m going to be honest here and say I’ve probably re-watched the 2018 state tournament games probably once a day for the past three weeks. It fires me up.”
Senior forward Avery Anderson scored twice in the final 5:14, restoring Orono’s two-goal lead after Delano had pulled to within 2-1 on Aaron Lewis’ goal 6:38 into the third period. Anderson’s second goal, an empty-netter, came with 41 second remaining and sent Delano’s huge, orange-clad contingent of fans steaming to the exits.
Walker, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound former football standout who mixes physical play with a deft passing and scoring touch, assisted on both of Anderson’s goals.
“He’s being doing it all year,” Walker said about Anderson. “We call him Showtime because he’s always got something in his bag of tricks. He’ll pull something crazy out when you don’t expect it.”
Anderson’s goals were his 15th and 16th of the season, second on the team to Walker’s 19.
Anderson’s power-play goal with 5:14 remaining came after he swatted home a loose puck in the crease. Not exactly a flair-filled “Showtime” goal, but a thing of beauty for the No. 4-1A Spartans (23-5-0) nonetheless.
“At first I didn’t know what to think about it,” Anderson said about his nickname. “But I’ve grown into it and embraced it. Last year, if I had tried to use something from that quote-unquote bag of tricks I think it would have gotten me benched. But now it’s something they’ve allowed me to do, and I think it’s worked out pretty well.”
No. 9-1A Delano (15-13-0) had 26 shots to Orono’s 23, but the Tigers had difficulty finding openings behind Orono senior goaltender Brock Peyton. Rebound chances were just as rare.
“I thought we played with the right amount of desperation in the third, something we lacked a little bit in the second,” Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen said. “It’s been hard for us all season to score.”
Orono, meanwhile, had plenty of offense thanks in part to pairing of Showtime and the Moose (Walker). No doubt those two and the rest of the Spartans, not to mention their fans, will dial up the always festive state tourney atmosphere in St. Paul.
“It means the world to me to go be going back to the X,” Walker said.