DELANO – There’s something about playing Armstrong/Copper that brings out the best in Delano junior Jesse Peterson. After sending the Delano boys hockey team to the state tournament a season ago with the game-winning goal in double overtime against this very team, it was Peterson who stole the show again. The junior centerman scored four goals and added an assist for good measure as the Tigers cruised to a 6-0 win over the Wings Thursday night.
“What an electric start for him,” Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen said. “I didn’t look at the score sheet yet, but I’ve got to figure he had about three goals in 10 minutes. He just kept going. He was really good for us tonight. It was fun for him to be a big moment with the playoffs and then excel like that. He’s had a lot of looks like that throughout the year that maybe haven’t gone for him and tonight he couldn’t miss.”
Peterson got the scoring started on a goal assisted by Gunnar Paulson and Cole Schmidt just under eight minutes into the game. Just three minutes later, Peterson added another goal. This time it was shorthanded off an incredible pass from Trevor Oja to give Delano a 2-0 lead.
“It felt good to put a few home,” Peterson said. “I think we just started off hot and it showed at the end of the game. It was an unreal pass from (Trevor). I think that gave us energy on the bench that carried over onto the ice.”
After taking a 2-0 lead into the second period, it was time for Peterson to return the favor. An assist to Oja gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead, and the Tigers were off and running.
“He’s extremely smart,” van Bergen said about Peterson. “He’s one of the smartest players that we’ve had. Our approach puts a ton of responsibility on him. He’s so smart and he’s got the ability to do both ends of the ice. He manages his energy well. He’s a great anticipator.”
With a 3-0 lead, Delano took advantage of a five-minute major penalty by Armstrong/Cooper to put the game away for good. The Tigers scored twice on the power play, getting Peterson his hat trick and Colin Pettit his first of the game to make it 5-0.
“They took that penalty and it certainly created an opportunity for us to put the pressure on,” van Bergen said. “That forced them into a shorter bench rotation and that makes it tough and we capitalized. When you have that opportunity to do that, you got to take advantage.”
Peterson would add his fourth goal of the game with just four seconds left in the second period, giving Delano a 6-0 lead heading into the final period.
“We knew they would come super aggressive,” van Bergen said. “We prioritized layers which means getting the puck just behind the pressure. It really wears teams out. They chase and then all of a sudden the puck is behind them. I thought we did an extremely good job at that.”
While Peterson was busy stealing the show offensively, Thomas Huotari had another strong performance for the Tigers between the pipes. He had just six saves in the shutout, but he’s been a big reason Delano is now 8-0-1 in their past nine games.
“He’s really playing well,” van Bergen said. “He’s an excellent team guy. These guys love Tommy so much and they pull so hard for them. He’s just continued to grow throughout the year. We think that’s valuable.”
The Tigers advance to the Section 2A semifinals where they will face fellow Wright County Conference rival Orono. The Tigers and Spartans split their two games during the regular season. After losing the first one 3-2, Delano bounced back with an 8-2 win later in the season. Coming off a blowout win, the Tigers will be looking for that carry over into their matchup with the Spartans.
“I think a win like this is a big momentum thing for us,” van Bergen said. “It’s really important to feel like you have electric sticks in playoffs. Then you feel like you can score. Eventually, at some point in the playoffs, you’re going to be trialing. If you want to keep chasing your goals, you’ll have to come back. When you believe in each other to make plays and score goals, it makes it so much easier to keep the confidence up.”
“It’s huge,” Peterson added. “I think if we play like that we will make a good run for state.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports