ST. PAUL — Kaizer Nelson has a deep fondness for the Xcel Energy Center. And why wouldn’t he? Some of his best memories were made there, like the ones in 2018 when he sat in the nosebleed seats and watched Minnetonka win a state championship.
“I remember exactly where I was sitting, I remember how old I was, I remember how excited I was,” the senior goaltender said after helping the No. 1 Skippers win the program’s second state title with a 22-save performance in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over No. 3 Edina in the state Class 2A championship game.
This time Nelson had a front-and-center view of the frantic closing seconds that included numerous point-blank chances for the Hornets after pulling goalie Robbie Clarkowski in favor of an extra attacker. One of those chances was a shot by Matt Vander Vort that clanged off the right goalpost and fluttered all the way across the crease and out the left side with 31.7 second left.
If you’re Nelson, you gotta love those Xcel Energy center pipes.
“Honestly, I just thanked the gods for that one,” Nelson said. “Gave the post a little rub after, saying thanks.”
Saturday’s showdown wasn’t so much hockey as it was a board game. Pieces were moved ever-so-carefully. Plans were in place for every possible scenario. Measures and counter measures went a dozen layers deep.
Call it chess on skates.
Or poetry in dizzying motion when Minnetonka’s Ashton Schultz has the puck. The sophomore forward scored the game winner midway through the third period on a brilliant individual play. As Schultz dodged and darted into the Edina defensive zone, one of his fakes induced Hornets defender Eddie Revenig to drop to the ice. That opened a lane for Schultz to shoot, and he made no mistake, beating Edina goaltender Robbie Clarkowski with a high shot over Clarkowski’s right shoulder.
“I saw him go down, and then I saw the open ice and I just took it,” Schultz said. “And then I had a clean shot right in slot. Buried it.”
The win was Minnetonka’s third over Lake Conference rival Edina this season. The No. 1-2A Skippers (29-2-0) manhandled the No. 3-2A Hornets (22-7-1) in a 4-0 victory in mid-January in Minnetonka. They prevailed in an eerily similar game to Saturday’s championship on Feb. 11 in Edina, winning 1-0 on a third-period goal by Luke Garry.
Minnetonka entered the tournament as the biggest stand-alone favorite since Duluth East in 2012.
“The problem with a team like Minnetonka is you make one single mistake and they’ve got enough kids who can finish it and get it done,” Edina coach Curt Giles said. “A lot of teams have one or two, they’ve got a half dozen.”
Giles, who has guided Edina to 13 state tournaments and four state titles, said a favorable bounce or two in the big game doesn’t hurt.
“We watched the replay and one of our shots went from one post across the goal line to the other post,” he said about Vander Vort’s near miss. “It’s not your day sometimes.”
And, sometimes, it’s the greatest day in a teen-aged hockey player’s life.
“I’d say it’s pretty bleeping awesome,” Nelson said when asked how it feels to replicate that 2018 moment as a player. “I’ll let you fill in the blanks there.”
ST. PAUL — Sophomore Ashton Schultz’s goal with 8:25 remaining lifted No. 1 seed Minnetonka past No. 3 seed Edina 2-1 on Saturday in the state Class 2A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center.
Schultz swung into the Edina zone and used a series of dekes to get Edina defenseman to Eddie Revinig to drop to the ice. That opened some ice for Schultz to cruise in and beat Edina goaltender Robbie Clarkowski with a short-side shot.
No. 1-2A Minnetonka (29-2-0) was forced to kill a penalty in the final four minutes and survived a series of close-range Edina chances, including Matt Vander Vort’s shot off the right goalpost to preserve the victory and win the program’s second state title. The Skippers beat Duluth East 5-2 for the 2018 championship.
The game was a rematch of the 2010 state title game, won 4-2 by Edina.
Bobby Cowan scored for No. 3-2A Edina (22-7-1) 27 seconds into the third period, and the Hornets controlled play for most of the rest of the third period. Minnetonka had just 15 shots, including a combined eight in the final two periods.
Hagen Burrows scored a first-period goal for Minnetonka, shooting from behind the goal line and banking the puck off Clarkowski.
Minnetonka goaltender Kaizer Nelson finished with 22 saves. Clarkowski, one of three finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award that goes to the state’s top senior goaltender, had 13.
The Skippers’ victory was the third this season over the Hornets, their Lake Conference rivals.