GOLDEN VALLEY – There was a time this season that things looked bleak for the Delano boys hockey team. In the middle of a four-game losing streak where they struggled to make winning plays, the Tigers leaned on each other.
Fast forward to Wednesday night and the Tigers were leaning on each other once again, but this with medals around their necks and pressing up against the boards as they clinched the Section 5A title with a 5-1 win over top-seeded Breck on their home ice.
“It’s something different,” senior captain Adam Brown said. “We’ve never experienced something like that before. Usually, we’re playing on a neutral site. To come in here and play Breck in their home rink, it’s a little scary but at the same time, you’re looking forward to it. We knew we could do it. It was fun.”
Despite playing well in the first period, Delano found themselves down a goal after one period. Instead of panic settling in during the first intermission, the Tigers made some minor tweaks that paid off big in the long run.
“We just kind of brought it back to the original plan and just reinforced to be patient,” Tigers coach Gerrit van Bergen said. “We just went over and made sure all five guys knew what we were trying to do. We felt like sort of rushed the puck and were not being patient in the offensive zone. We were sort of complacent or indecisive. We decided to switch it. We said let’s play extremely fast and extremely simple. In the offensive zone, let’s take a minute to make a play. Their goaltender is so good on square pucks. If he can see and knows where the shot is coming from, he’s not going to give up much. You’ve got to make him change directions.”
Delano did just that. Just under four minutes into the second period, Tyler Selstad refused to be denied as he punched one home to tie the game. After Selstad got Delano on the board, the Tigers were off and running at full speed.
“After the first, we knew we had some good chances and knew we could throw a few more in,” Brown said. “We just kept playing the way we were. We came out in the second period and popped one and they just kept coming.”
Just 50 seconds after Selstad tied the game, Gunnar Paulson continued his hot streak on a goal assisted by Trevor Oja and Craig Halonen to put Delano up 2-1.
“We thought we played awesome in the first period,” van Bergen said. “I thought the first period was one of best Class A periods I’ve had the chance to be a part of. We had some really good looks. We just couldn’t convert.”
Playing with the lead now after goals from Selstad and Paulson, Oja got in on the action himself. A goal right off the faceoff gave Delano a 3-1 lead and the Tigers never looked back.
“I think the guys are just super confident in each other,” van Bergen said. “It’s been a major theme for us. We need to do everything we can to make each other better. It’s been a pretty good theme for us. They guys really love that. They want to make each other better and they believe someone else is going to make them better. That’s been a big part of our progression.”
The Tigers would add on two more insurance goals in the third to seal the win. The final one coming from Brown on an empty net to send Delano back to the state tournament.
“It’s a blessing,” van Bergen said. “I’ve had the chance to be a part of this program basically my whole life. The years of not winning a playoff game or losing play-in games, these guys don’t always remember that, but that’s not lost on me for a second. As someone who’s had a chance to be a part of this program for a long time, these wins are just unbelievable. This year hasn’t been easy for anybody, but when you get a chance to watch your guys win a section title in Breck’s building it’s always good.”
“The boys were rolling and we were feeling really confident,” captain Jack Keranen said. “Breck is always the team that beat our brothers. It’s kind of fun to get revenge on them in their own barn.”
On the season, Delano is 3-0-1 against teams they lost to the first time. They’re also playing their best hockey at the right time as they are 10-0-1 in their past 11 games as they’ve turned things around from their rough stretch to open the season.
“They hate losing,” van Bergen said. “That’s what it comes down to. They hate losing. We as a coaching staff hate losing. We’ve really prioritized winning-style behaviors in practice. The guys have loved it. It fit well with what we all wanted to do. We’ve been working hard and creating situations in practice where we come from behind. Just teaching that went you get down, you’ve got to keep competing. Earlier in the year, when we got down, we didn’t know how to fight through it. Now, look at them.”
Wins over Armstrong/Cooper, Orono, and now Breck has Delano feeling good about themselves as they are set to return to the Class A State Tournament once again.
“At the start of the year, we went through a couple of rough patches,” Brown said. “We knew we just needed to come back from all that and now we focus on what we’re good at. We play our game the entire time. We can beat any team. We know that. When we play our game, we can do it.”
“We had a rough start and have just been getting better every game,” Keranen added. “That’s what we try to do. I think we’ve done a really good job at that. It was the same thing as the Orono game. They got the first one and then we just knew had to play our game. We just stuck to what we’ve been doing and the goals came.”
As Delano awaits to see if they get seeded for the state tournament, van Bergen knows how important it is for his team to realize how far they’ve come together this year.
“We’re not the same team,” van Bergen said. “We’re not the same group of players. We’re not even the same people that we were when we were back here in January. This is awesome to see these guys have this opportunity because of how much they’ve grown and how hard they worked.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports