High School

Rebels ready as Section 5AA playoff begins

By Nick Clark
Sun Newspapers

The jab hit close to home for Carl Ness last fall, when one of his friends informed the soon-to-be Champlin Park boys hockey captain of the downfall awaiting the team this winter.

The Rebels had 25 regular season games staring them straight in the facemask, and even those closest to the players figured a .500 season would be a worthy goal.

“One of my best friends told me we were going to win four games this season,” Ness said. “Four. I don’t think a lot of people had a lot of faith in us.”

That opinion has surely changed by now.

Champlin Park won its 12th game of the season last weekend, beating Armstrong 3-2 on Senior Night at the Champlin Ice Forum Feb. 18.

Ness scored the game’s first goal - his team-leading 19th of the season - by winning a race to a loose puck before bouncing it in off the post 6:49 into the game.

Sophomore Luke Dalman made it 2-0 early in the second period, and then after Armstrong cut the lead to 2-1 before the second intermission, senior Aaron Rickart scored his 12th of the year at 5:34 of the third.

That goal proved to be the game-winner, as the Rebels struggled to get pucks to the net for the rest of the game. But it was also a blueprint of what it could take to win this week.

The Section 5AA boys hockey tournament begins Feb. 21 with a play-in game between No. 8 seed North Metro and No. 9 Irondale.

The winner will advance to play top-seeded Maple Grove at 6 p.m. Thursday Feb. 23. As soon as that game is complete, Champlin Park will make its postseason debut.

The Rebels were awarded the No. 4 seed in the section, and will play fifth-seeded Osseo following the Maple Grove vs. Irondale/North Metro match-up.

Regardless of who they are playing, the team says it will be how they play that represents the difference between winning and losing.

And, just as it was with Rickart’s effort in scoring the game-winner against Armstrong, hard work will be critical.

“Aaron just battles his tail off, gets to that puck, and finds a way to score a huge goal,” said head coach Pat Janostin. “That’s what it takes. Playoff hockey is just different. It’s so much harder. We found that out the last couple years. Teams are coming and coming and coming. With the kind of team we have, we’ll have to create some of our own luck with how we work.”

The Rebels were ousted by Centennial a year ago, losing 6-3. The year prior, it was Osseo ending Champlin Park’s season with a 2-1 defeat.

None of the players on this year’s team have ever experienced the semifinal round of a section tournament. The plan is to change that immediately. And the Rebels say they are going to go about it the only way they know how.

“We just have to go in there and work hard, which is what we’ve been doing all season,” Ness said. “We are really excited for sections. We’ll go in there and play like we have these last two months and, if we do that, we’ll get to the Coliseum. Once you get there, anything can happen.”

The Section 5AA semifinals will take place at the Fairgrounds Coliseum at 6 and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28. The final will also be held at the Coliseum on March 2 as part of a doubleheader with the Section 4AA title game.
Maple Grove (21-2-2) was a lock for the No. 1 seed. Blaine (16-9) and Centennial (13-9-3) were No.’s 2 and 3 respectively.

The Rebels’ strongest argument for receiving the fourth seed was their NWSC record.

At 10-10, they were the next-highest finisher out of the rest of the Section 5AA teams that play in the league, and they closed the year with victories over Osseo Feb. 9, North Metro Feb. 11 and Anoka Feb. 14.

“The guys have kept working and finished the season strong,” said Janostin. “Hopefully they can get rewarded for that.”