Dragons clear the net

A couple of Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato defenders cleared the front of their net as Hutchinson’s Mitchell Piehl looked for a rebound shot against goalie Darby Halonen. The Tigers didn’t get many second opportunities, however, as LDC held on to win the Section 3A title in physical fashion.

Just as the Hutchinson boys hockey team seemed primed to defend its Section 3A title and return to state, the rug was pulled out from under the Tigers’ feet. Rival Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato was the team that did the pulling with a 4-3 win in the section championship Wednesday night at Burich Arena.

While the end of the season came sooner than the Tigers had hoped, it wasn’t entirely surprising. Although Hutch had not lost to the Dragons in their previous five meetings, including an 8-1 blowout in last year’s section final, the teams have always been close. This year that was especially true as their two games in the regular season ended in a 3-3 tie and a 5-4 Hutch win.

“This year we’ve played them for 10 periods and we’re tied (11-11),” Hutch head coach Matt Telecky said. “It’s about as close as it’s going to get. It was a good battle, but they won the last one.”

Litchfield jumped out to an early lead and never trailed. LDC’s Logan Benson, who finished the night with a hat trick, scored in the first three minutes to put the Dragons on the board, but the Tigers kept it close all night.

LDC scored two more goals in the second period, but Hutch’s KK Starrett also netted his fifth goal and seventh point of the section playoffs to make it a 3-1 game going into the second intermission. Feeling the pressure of their season on the line, the Tigers came out in the third period fired up.

T.J. Tydlacka scored fast in the final period, cutting LDC’s lead down to one, and then with seven minutes to play, Ty Glaser tied the game up at three.

It seemed like the momentum had shifted in Hutchinson’s favor, but the swing was merely a mirage. Shortly after Glaser’s goal, the Tigers found themselves down with a man in the penalty box, and the Dragons quickly capitalized as Benson scored the game-winner to complete his hat trick.

“We expected this one to be close from the get-go, and it delivered,” LDC senior goalie Darby Halonen said as he complemented players on both teams. “It was very close the entire time. Hutch played extremely well, and I think our boys played extremely well as well.”

The Tigers had one last golden opportunity to tie the game up as they went on the power play in the final two minutes, but the Dragons killed it and ended Hutch’s hopes of back-to-back section titles. It was the final blow in what coach Telecky felt was a tough-luck loss for the Tigers.

“I think we got some really good chances,” he said. “We got a lot of pucks to the net, but it was one of those nights where we were kind of struggling to get a bounce. … As far as hockey goes, you have those nights and you have to battle through them, but we couldn’t overcome some of those bounces.”

The Tigers finished the season with a final record of 12-7-2, and they’ll miss next year the contributions of their large 2021 senior class: Alex Staples, Ethan Carter, Glaser, Riley Anderson, Jordan Westphal, Cam Longie, Tydlacka, Tristan Hoppe, Jacob Huls, Joey Croatt and Austin Hagen.

Litchfield/DC 4, Hutchinson 3 (March 24)

Litchfield/DC … 1 2 1

Hutchinson ….. 0 1 2

First period: LDC— Logan Benson (Grant Grochow) 2:36

Second period: LDC—Gavyn Lund (Jaxon Gustafson) 5:23; H—KK Starrett (Joey Croatt) 6:34; LDC—Benson (Grant Haataja, Mason Schroeder) 16:06

Third period: H—T.J. Tydlacka 3:16; H—Ty Glaser (Cam Longie, Riley Anderson) 10:02; LDC—Benson 11:44, PP

PP: Hutch 0/3; LDC 1/2

Shots: Hutch 32 (5-17-10); LDC 18 (4-7-7)

Saves: H—Austin Hagen 14/18; LDC—Darby Halonen 29/32