February 28, 2013
Duluth Marshall beats Denfeld to win Section 7A boys hockey title
By Rick Weegman
Caden Flaherty is no relation to Duluth Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty, but Brendan hugged his goaltender, Caden, like his own son after a superb performance Wednesday night at Amsoil Arena.
Flaherty stopped 29 shots — several point-blank attempts with no defensemen around — as Marshall defended its Section 7A high school boys hockey title with a 3-2 victory over top-seeded Duluth Denfeld.
The Hilltoppers (16-12) advance to the Minnesota Class A tournament at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center and will find out this weekend which team they’ll play in a quarterfinal next Wednesday.
“Several times we lost (defensive) coverage and they had a guy wide open in front of the net, and he was just stellar,” Brendan Flaherty said about Caden Flaherty. “I can’t say enough about him.”
Included among Flaherty’s better saves was one on Tre Opack to start the third period and another on Alex Thompson out front during a frantic Denfeld power play in the final minutes. The loss ended the Hunters’ quest for their first state tournament appearance since 1989.
“When you get opportunities, they need to get to the back of the net,” Hunters coach Kevin Smalley said. “When they don’t, you run out of time. And we ran out of time.
“I don’t think they were a better team than us — they worked really hard to win so I’m not taking that away from them — we just didn’t put the puck in the net.”
The outcome was far different than Denfeld’s 8-3 victory over Marshall on Jan. 31 at Mars Lakeview Arena. The Hunters (19-9) scored five goals in the second period, forcing coach Flaherty to replace his namesake from the net.
“We caught Denfeld at a bad point of the year — that was our January downward spiral,” said Caden Flaherty, whose brother, Keegan, is a Minnesota Duluth senior winger. “But we knew that when we got healthy and got rolling, it was going to be a different outcome.
“Coach said it was a big mistake what they did in our own building, and that we would come out fired up and ready to go. And that’s what we did.”
Coach Flaherty describes that night as a turning point.
“It was the low point of the season, rock-bottom,” he said. “We got to February and we started winning games. We started scoring a lot of goals and gaining confidence.
“I’ve never coached a team where the turnaround has been so drastic. The seniors were the reason for that.”
The Hilltoppers decided to play their five senior forwards and Flaherty in the second half of the season.
“We decided we were going to live and die with the seniors,” coach Flaherty said. “We went through some frustrations this season — we lost some games by wide margins in our own building — and we had some work to do.”
One of the seniors, Matt Klassen, opened the scoring with his 15th goal of the season 5:53 into a wide-open first period. Linemate Jeremy Lopez passed the puck off the end boards to an unchecked Klassen in the slot.
The Hunters tied the game less than three minutes later when Levi Talarico poked the puck in from the left edge of the crease for his 32nd goal.
Marshall’s Kris McKinzie regained the lead by slipping a backhander past goalie Zach Thompson’s pads and across the goal line at 9:29 of the first period for a team-leading 21st goal of the season.
Denfeld junior Reid Lemker batted in a rebound midway through the second period to tie the game 2-2 on a power play, setting the stage for sophomore Cam McClure.
It was McClure who scored the game-winning goal in the third period of last year’s Section 7A title win over Hibbing-Chisholm 2-1. This time he broke the tie by circling alongside the Hunters’ goal, taking a pass off the side boards and pirouetting in front of Thompson before wristing a shot past the four-year starter with 2:14 left in the second.
From that point on, it was up to Flaherty to preserve the lead.
“They had a goaltender that was making some saves and I don’t think we had a bounce of the puck the whole game,” Smalley said. “It seemed like every time we were in a good position, the puck bounced over a stick or something else happened.”
Denfeld loses eight seniors from a team that beat Marshall and potential state qualifiers Duluth East and Hermantown. The pain was evident afterward.
“The bottom line is the guys fell short of their goal,” Smalley said. “We had a year that opened up some eyes and showed that we can still play. I thought maybe tonight we’d get rewarded but we didn’t.”
Duluth Marshall .............. 2-1-0—3
Duluth Denfeld ................ 1-1-0—2
First period — 1. DM, Matt Klassen (Jeremy Lopez, Michael Damberg), 5:53; 2. DD, Levi Talarico (Alex Thompson, Patrick Potswald), 8:08; 3. DM, Kris McKinzie (Luke Pavelich, Kyle Jones), 9:29 (pp).
Second period — 4. DD, Reid Lemker (Talarico, A. Thompson), 10:02 (pp); 5. DM, Cam McClure (Jack Dodd, Kyle McKinzie), 14:46.
Third period — No scoring.
Saves — Caden Flaherty, DM, 29; Zach Thompson, DD, 27.