GRAND RAPIDS — Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Grand Rapids High School boys hockey team in the final weeks leading up to the Section 7AA Boys Hockey Tournament.
The Thunderhawks finished the season with a record of 17-7-1 and on a seven-game winning streak after defeating a good Hermantown team on Thursday. In those final seven games, Grand Rapids outscored its opponents 24 to 5.
Grand Rapids has earned the No. 2 seed in the section tournament and will play host to No. 7 seed Anoka on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids.
In other first-round games in Section 7AA, No. 1 seed Andover hosts No. 8 seed Duluth Marshall, No. 3 seed Cloquet-Esko-Carlton plays No. 6 seed Elk River-Zimmerman, and No. 4 seed Forest Lake will entertain No. 5 seed Duluth East.
Thunderhawk first-year head coach Wade Chiodo said he is happy with the No. 2 seed and that he is excited for the team to be seeded so high.
“When I took the job I wasn’t real sure what we had and I have said this in many interviews that prior to taking the job I probably watched two full games total in the last two years of Grand Rapids hockey,” Chiodo said. “I had other hockey stuff going on so I really wasn’t tuned into what Grand Rapids had going on.
“But since I have been here I have figured out that there are a lot of good athletes and a lot of good kids in the program. The one thing about this group of kids is that they have been able to handle adversity all season long and I am super proud of them for that. They keep buying into what we are talking about and it’s been an absolute joy having these kids on my team from the first player all the way down to the last player.”
The obvious strength of the Thunderhawks is their defense starting with senior goaltender Carter Clafton who has a gaudy 1.63 goals against average and a .934 save percentage this season. Chiodo said a good blue line corps led by Jack Peart also makes Grand Rapids tough in its defensive zone.
“I always believe you have to be strong from the net out and that is how I coached at Bemidji as well,” Chiodo explained. “Offensively I like the kids to be creative and do what they need to do to get time and space out there. But defensively we have some strict rules and that’s how we are going to play.
“When you get in tight games and playoff games you have to be good in your own end because that is going to win the game for you.”
The coach said Braeden Holcomb, Maccrea Murphy and Cooper Brodzinski, among others, have picked up their play offensively in the last weeks.
“I think in the last four or five games Braeden has taken it to another level,” Chiodo said about Holcomb. “That’s great because he is a great kid and he deserves it. He has done everything we have asked him to do and more, and that goes for Maccrea too. Maccrea has settled in and he is playing excellent hockey and he is playing the game the right way. I can’t be more proud of him.
“We have obviously been shuffling guys with Cooper (Brodzinski) now in there and doing a great job. He was called upon and he has filled those shoes big time and I can’t be more proud of him as well.”
While Andover is the favorite with the No. 1 seed, Chiodo said a handful of teams to include Forest Lake, Duluth East, CEC and Elk River, in addition to Grand Rapids, all have chances to earn a state berth.
“I think with those top teams that on any given day if you’re on, you get a few bounces and your goalie is good, anything can happen. It’s a one-game series and you have to play your game and play strong. It’ll be exciting and it’ll be fun to see how our team handles it and how these kids handle it. The game gets more ramped up; there are more emotions, there’s more paying attention to detail, and you have to make sure you take care of pucks.”
Chiodo was asked what he thinks will be the keys to success for the Thunderhawks in the section tournament and he said, “I think No. 1 is our discipline within our game. What I mean by that is playing our positions sound, understanding keeping guys to the outside, staying above the puck, those kinds of things that we talked about all year.
“We need to make sure we are advancing zones and chipping pucks, whatever it is we have to make sure the puck is moving forward. I also think power plays and penalty kills are going to be key to it. And I think last, to be honest, you have to get lucky. That’s how it goes sometimes, it is not always the best team. It is the team that is either hot and is clicking and has the luck on their side.”
The only detriment entering the playoffs is the injuries to several players including Joey DelGreco and Brandon Goehring. Chiodo said he has been shuffling lines all year and those replacing the injured players have experience.
“We have played a lot of different guys this year in multiple situations throughout the season,” the coach said. “Early on Hayden Demars was out and then Hunter Bischoff got hurt and now Joey DelGreco and Brandon Goehring are hurt. But I know for a fact in Class AA hockey that you have to have depth and if you do run into injuries and you have to call on someone late in the year, then they have some experience and an understanding of what’s going on.”
Following are results of Grand Rapids’ final two regular season games:
Grand Rapids 3
CLOQUET — The Thunderhawks continued their fine play as Carter Clafton recorded his second consecutive shutout as Grand Rapids beat Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (CEC) 3-0 in action Tuesday in Cloquet.
Clafton stopped 32 shots in his fine performance.
Cooper Brodzinski scored what proved to be the only goal the Thunderhawks needed in the first period.
Jack Peart scored on a power play in the second period and Easton Young rounded out the scoring by turning the red light on during another Grand Rapids power play in the third period.
Jacob Walsh had 30 stops in the nets for the Lumberjacks.
CEC 0 0 0— 0
GR 1 1 1— 3
First Period — 1. GR, Cooper Brodzinski (Maccrea Murphy, Braeden Holcomb), 3:48.
Second Period — 2. GR, Jack Peart (Holcomb, Murphy), 11:39 (pp).
Third Period — 3. GR, Easton Young (Murphy, Wyatt Miskovich), 2:59 (pp).
Goalie Saves — Jacob Walsh, CEC, 8-16-6—30; Carter Clafton, GR, 9-6-17—32.
Penalties — CEC 5-for-13 minutes; GR, 5-for-13 minutes.
Grand Rapids 4
GRAND RAPIDS — The Thunderhawks ended the regular season with a 4-2 victory over Hermantown, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class A.
The game didn’t start well as Zach Kilen scored just 22 seconds into the game to give Hermantown an early 1-0 lead.
However, Hunter Bischoff – returning from injury – tied the game at 12:04 for Grand Rapids.
Jack Peart, in dazzling style, put the Thunderhawks ahead 2-1 at 5:28 of the second period. But the Hawks’ Joey Pierce tied the game at 14:12.
A big moment in the game came with just 12 seconds left in the period when Hayden Demars scored during a scramble in front of the Hermantown net to give Grand Rapids a 3-2 edge entering the final period.
John Bonner scored with 5:57 left in the game to give Grand Rapids a two-goal cushion and goaltender Carter Clafton did the rest as the Thunderhawks went on to the win.
Clafton finished with 34 saves in a sterling effort for Grand Rapids in the nets. Jacob Backstrom kicked out 19 shots for Hermantown.
Grand Rapids finishes the regular season with a 17-7-1 mark.
Herm 1 1 0— 2
GR 1 2 1— 4
First Period — 1. Zach Kilen (Joey Pierce), 0:22; 2, GR, Hunter Bischoff (Kodi Miller, Wade Brouse), 12:04.
Second Period — 3. GR, Jack Peart, 5:28; 4. H, Pierce (Cole Antcliff), 14:12; 5. GR, Hayden Demars (John Bonner, Easton Young), 16:48.
Third Period — 6. Bonner (Young, Peart), 11:03.
Goalie Saves — Jacob Backstrom, H, 6-7-6—19; Carter Clafton, GR, 10-13-11—34.
Penalties — H 3-for-6 minutes; GR, 3-for-6 minutes.