Dodge County holds off La Crescent-Hokah to get back to Section 1-1A boys hockey title game

Feb. 25—ROCHESTER — Jackson Roethler and his Dodge County teammates didn't need long to figure out what kind of pace Saturday night's Section 1, Class 1A boys hockey semifinal game would be played at.

It was gas-pedal-to-the-floor, no letting up until the final buzzer.

After 51 minutes of up-and-down hockey, with highlight-reel goals scored at both ends, as well as great opportunities that didn't result in goals, Roethler and the Wildcats prevailed 4-3 against La Crescent-Hokah at the Rochester Recreation Center.

The No. 2-seeded Wildcats advance to Wednesday's section championship game against top-seeded Northfield after holding off a heavy third-period push by No. 3 seed La Crescent-Hokah, which threw everything it could at the Wildcats in the final 17 minutes, but couldn't get the tying goal past Roethler.

"We could really tell it's playoff time," said Roethler, who made 12 of his 25 saves in the third period. "I love playoff time, it's so much faster-paced. I'm really going to miss it when I'm done playing hockey."

Perhaps Roethler's best, and biggest, save of the night came with 81 seconds to play. A Dodge County defender lost an edge and fell at the blue line, allowing Lancers' speedster and 47-goal scorer Noah Gillette to carry the puck into the Wildcats' zone all alone. Gillette barrelled toward the net, but Roethler held his ground and somehow kept the puck out of his goal, preserving a 4-3 lead.

"I'm thinking 'oh no,'" Roethler said with a laugh, "but I calm myself down and stay positive, just think 'you got this, you got this.' I know I'm a good goalie and I know I can stop those shots."

The win lifts Dodge County (19-7-1 overall) into the section championship game for the second time in four years. The Wildcats won in 2021, when current University of Minnesota Gophers forward Brody Lamb led them to a section title and a spot in the state championship game.

"Obviously it's all of our dreams," Wildcats forward Brett Ludvigsen said of winning a section championship. "Everyone has been dreaming about it since we started playing hockey. You want to play at The X, show your skills, everything about it, and try to get to the next level."

The challenge on Wednesday will be a difficult one — Big Nine Conference champ Northfield is ranked No. 8 in the state and is 21-4-2 overall. The Raiders blew out Albert Lea 8-1 in Saturday's other Section 1-1A semifinal and have won their two playoff games this winter by a combined score of 17-3.

The teams didn't meet in the regular season this year, but Northfield defeated Dodge County 6-1 in last year's section semifinals.

"Their first line, that's three very good players and their (defensive) corps is very solid," Ludvigsen said of the top-seeded Raiders. "We know we can match up with them, we just have to play faster, more physical than we did last year."

Playing fast and physical was no problem for the Wildcats or La Crescent-Hokah on Saturday.

The Lancers scored the lone goal of the first period, senior Wyatt Farrell's 51st of the year, 11 minutes into the game.

Dodge County answered early and often in the second period, giving Roethler all the goal support he needed by getting four in the middle frame.

Gryffon Funke scored twice in the first half of the period, sandwiched around a Gabe Coshenet power-play goal, that turned the game from a 1-0 Lancers lead to a 3-1 Wildcats advantage. Funke's goals were his 43rd and 44th of the season, and his 98th and 99th of his high school career, setting a Dodge County record.

After Farrell scored his second of the game — and state-record tying 196th of his high school career — Ludvigsen scored the game's biggest goal. He took a pass from Funke and drove to the Lancers net, lifting it past goalie Charlie Wieser (20 saves) for a 4-2 lead with just 22 seconds to go in the middle period.

"I said to Gryffon right before that, 'go pop one,'" Roethler said, "and then he and Brett went down and scored, so it was pretty awesome. That was a big one."

La Crescent-Hokah (24-3-0) played possibly its best period of the season in the third. Gillette scored his 47th goal of the year — the third-most of any player in the state — four minutes in, to pull the Lancers within 4-3. But the more the Lancers pressed, the calmer Roethler became.

"We threw everything we had at them," Lancers coach Eriah Hayes said. "These guys gave everything they had in that third period. We just couldn't get a bounce at the end ... couldn't get a bounce at the end. But the effort of these guys, the way they fought and just never quit, I couldn't be prouder as a coach."

La Crescent-Hokah will say goodbye to perhaps the best senior class in program history, led by Farrell, a five-year varsity regular who tied former Little Falls star Ben Hanowski's state record of 196 career goals. Farrell scored a program single-season record 52 in both of his final two seasons.

The Lancers' other eight seniors include goalie Collin Morken and skaters Tobias Sajdok, Cody Hogan, Colton Holzer, Gillette, AJ Donovan, Cooper Johnson and Michal Stojka.

"I told those guys after the game they should be so proud of where they brought this program, kind of unimaginable things," Hayes said. "They took our program to new heights. They've raised the bar with what they've done for our program and our community.

"The support at our (home playoff game) Thursday night, it was like nothing I ever could have dreamed of. You couldn't have fit one more person in that rink. That speaks volumes to what these guys have done."


La Crescent-Hokah 1-1-1 — 3

Dodge County 0-4-0 — 4

La Crescent-Hokah: Wyatt Farrell 2 goals; Tobias Sajdok 1 assist; Noah Gillette 1 goal, 2 assists. Goalie: Charlie Wieser 20 saves (24 shots).

Dodge County: Gabe Coshenet 1 goal; Gryffon Funke 2 goals, 1 assist; Brett Ludvigsen 1 goal, 1 assist; Caeden Smith 1 assist; Bronson Freerksen 2 assists; Gideon Ellinghysen 1 assist. Goalie: Jackson Roethler 25 saves (28 shots).