ST. LOUIS PARK – Slow starts have been a common theme for the Delano boys hockey team of late. That script changed in a big way in their Section 2A semifinal matchup with Waconia as the Tigers scored early and often in a 6-1 win over the Wildcats Tuesday night.
“I thought for a majority of the game we were really good,” Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen said. “Overall, it was really good. It was fun to score a little bit because we haven’t been scoring a bunch much.”
“It was pretty fun for the boys to get a big win,” senior Will Brown added. “It’s even more exciting knowing we’re going to be playing again Friday. We’re looking forward to that.”
After scoring just one goal in the first period in their past four games, Delano got things going early. Will Brown opened the scoring off an assist from Brayden Coppin and the floodgates opened after that for Delano. Cooper Nielsen and Teague Collings each added goals just seconds apart as the Tigers took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
“It was huge to get ahead early, especially against a team that looked hot coming in,” Brown said. “They upset a team that we lost to so it was pretty big to get ahead early and put them away.”
Despite a three-goal lead entering the second period, Delano knew they needed to stay aggressive as Waconia came out of the break firing.
“I thought our end of the first period was terrible,” van Bergen said. “The message was we were up by three and that we can’t stop competing. We can’t stop playing to our identity and they knew that. They knew they didn’t do that and that’s what is great about this group. They’re really honest and really humble. When we’re hard on them, they respond because they want to be better. That’s what’s fun about this group.”
The Wildcats had a few good looks early on as they came out with some extra energy but Brown quickly silenced them with his second goal of the game to make it 4-0 Delano.
“I thought we got back to our identity really quick,” van Bergen said. “That doesn’t mean we were super smooth, but we were more physical and simple with things and communicated and worked harder. Even though they had a little buzz going early, we had no sense of panic because we knew we were already playing better.”
Waconia would get on the board midway through the second period but it was Brown who once again had the answer with his third goal of the game to put the Tigers back up by four.
“I’m super tough on Will,” van Bergen said. “I’ve known him since the day he was born. He’s a guy that we need to score and he knows that. Getting him to the middle of the ice without the puck so we could get him the puck was really big tonight. He’s such a valuable piece of this team.”
Teague Collings and Aaron Lewis also played a big role in the win. Both are guys who have been playing well as of late for the Tigers and success is coming along with that.
“Teague and Aaron have really been good too,” van Bergen said. “Teague has been on an absolute tear. Aaron just played his game. He’s huge and just goes straight forward and when he does that where he plays on top of the puck, there’s only one guy I know who can compete with him.”
Despite a 13-12 record during the regular season, Delano finds themselves playing for a section title once again. It’s the fifth season in a row the Tigers will play for a trip to state and they don’t care what their record looks like because they know it’s helped them get to where they are at.
“We tried to put together the most challenging schedule we could,” van Bergen said. “Our schedule is filled with teams who are in the top 20 across the state. That’s who we want to be. We’re hoping we’re taking steps toward that. We knew going in it was going to be hard to have a good-looking record because of who was on our schedule and that was OK with us. Although it’s not easy at the moment, I think this group likes what it represents. We wanted to challenge them. We play those games so when it comes to crunch time, it’s not the first time you’re under pressure in a big game.”
“The schedule we play is tough,” Brown added. “We assembled that for good reason. We want to be challenged during the year and I hope it pays off here down the stretch.”
Over the years of success for Delano, they’ve had a history of changing previous outcomes in the postseason. Over the past three seasons, The Tigers are 3-1 against teams they lost to in the regular season and then played again in the postseason including a double-overtime thriller against Orono last season. Delano will be looking for that trend to continue as they’re set to face off with rival Orono in the section championship.
“I think what we’ve done, and we’re really intentional about it, is that we don’t push a certain identity until it’s time,” van Bergen said. “A lot of times that identity comes really late. We thought we had an idea of what our identity would be early and we were wrong. We had to make adjustments. In my experience, it’s easy to get a team to peak early but it’s really hard to get a team to peak at the right time. We don’t worry about our identity early on. I don’t think the style we’re playing right now is what we thought it would be earlier this season. They’re really starting to like that identity because they’re starting to feel success. That’s what I hope is the difference for us. We’re going to work hard the next two days in practice and we’ll take a run at them.”
The Tigers will be playing for the section title for a fifth-straight season. They are 3-1 in the previous four section championship games and looking for their first state tournament appearance since 2021 after finishing as runner-ups last year. They’ll face off against Orono in the Section 2A championship game Friday night at the St. Louis Park Rec Center at 7 p.m. The Spartans defeated Delano 5-1 earlier this season.
“It’s my fourth time in four years playing in a section final,” Brown said. “It’s really cool for our team. It’s super fun to play in these kinds of games and it’s got a big energy level. It’s going to be great going against our rival and should be a lot of fun.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports