'X' marks the spot for tourney-bound Century/John Marshall boys hockey team

Mar. 1—ROCHESTER — Kyle Lappi did his best to muffle a smile as the Century/John Marshall student section erupted in a chant of "MVP! MVP!" when Lappi's name was announced late Thursday night.

If anyone at the Rochester Recreation Center deserved to smile, it was Lappi.

As the junior goaltender slowly skated back toward his teammates, a section champion's medal draped around his neck, he couldn't fully contain it. Lappi looked up into the sea of neon — Panthers fans were bright and loud Thursday night — and flashed a brief smile.

The calm he showed during the awards presentation was the same calm he had just shown on the ice, in possibly his best performance of the season. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Lappi made 32 saves, including 15 in the third period, as Century/John Marshall beat Lakeville South 4-1 in the Section 1, Class 2A boys hockey championship game.

"Two words: lights out," Century/JM senior captain Aiden Emerich said when asked about Lappi's play. "Nothing got past him. We needed him just as much as the other five guys on the ice. He made it known why he's the best goalie in Rochester."

The Panthers had perhaps their best performance of the season up and down the lineup, as they snapped Lakeville South's five-year stranglehold on the Section 1-2A championship and snapped Rochester's 15-year Class 2A state tournament drought.

"Our depth, we love that, but even more importantly, the kids were very disciplined," said Century/JM co-coach Josh Klingfus, who was an assistant coach on Century's 2005 and 2007 state tournament teams. "We had a good game plan coming in and they executed it. Everybody had their own little job to do and we kept things simple. We were smart with the puck, played well positionally and obviously a great win for the boys."

Now it's time for Century/JM (22-4-2 overall) to get its Hockey Hair ready for the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Panthers will play in the state quarterfinals — at The Tourney, one of the two or three best high school state tournaments in the country — at The X next Thursday. Their game time and opponent will be determined this weekend, when the coaches of the eight tournament teams hold a seeding meeting.

"It means the world to me," Emerich said of helping the Panthers become the first Rochester team to get to the Class 2A state tournament since 2009, when Century went for the third time in five years. "I know, for sure, all the other seniors, it means the world to everyone. We've been brewing this up, for some of us, for four years now, so it just means everything."

While Lappi was exceptional between the pipes, the first-year Century/JM co-op indeed used a total team effort to end South's run of five consecutive section championships.

The Panthers' first goal was scored by a sophomore in his first year on the varsity, Calvin O'Reilly. Junior Brekken DeWeese scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first since Nov. 25, Century/JM's second game of the season. And the scoring was capped by a goal from senior defenseman Bo Bondy, just his second of the season — and his second in quite some time.

"His first goal this season was his first goal in seven years," Klingfus said with a chuckle, "since his first year of PeeWees. I'm very excited for him to get that one. He's just such a sound defenseman, blocks shots, he made great first passes on the breakout. He did everything, all the little simple things, right. And then he gets the huge goal, after they had scored, to give us our three-goal lead back."

Century/JM never trailed in Thursday's game, which marked the first time the Panthers had ever faced Lakeville South in a section championship game. O'Reilly got the scoring started 6:30 into the game, taking a pass from Bondy with his back to the goal, then spinning and shooting in one motion.

"We knew we needed to score quick in order to get the edge against these guys and that's what we did, and I'm very proud of that," Lappi said. "It was a huge game and I was definitely nervous going into it, but to make that first save, that's all I needed."

The Panthers' momentum grew early in the second, though the game came to a halt for more than a half-hour. Junior forward Ole Fevold scored on a great wrist shot from close range 4:28 into the second, to make it 2-0. The goal ignited the Panthers crowd, who caused two panes of glass to shatter amid the celebration. The delay to replace the glass lasted 38 minutes, as the ice was resurfaced and the teams were given a 3-minute warmup period.

"We just kind of sat down and tried to stay calm," Lappi said. "We knew we had to be ready to go when they got (the glass) ready again. We just did our best to stay calm."

Lappi said the same thing happened to Century/JM during a game earlier this season at Graham Arena IV. This time, the Rec Center didn't have two panes of new glass that matched the height of the others, so the game was resumed with two panes of glass being shorter than the others. Klingfus said he was concerned that the long delay might zap the Panthers' momentum.

"We didn't really want that break tonight," he said. "We had just scored, had all the momentum, then had to go to the locker room for a good 30 minutes. It seemed longer; we had the kids just walk up and down the hallway, try to keep their legs as fresh as they could. Hats off to them, they did a great job when we came back out."

Century/JM went up 3-0 seven minutes after play resumed, on a perfectly executed tip drill. Justin Sutton fired a shot from the point toward DeWeese, who got his stick on the puck and redirected it over the shoulder of South goalie Carson Hauger.

South answered 47 seconds later when Jackson Ernst scored his 23rd of the season. But Bondy scored 2:05 after that, with 2:50 to play in the second period, to give Century/JM a 4-1 lead and cap the scoring.

"I was just trying to get the puck to the net and found an open spot and was able to bury it," Bondy said. "It was a great feeling.

"And it feels great (to be the group to get Century/JM to state). The guys who were here over the last two, three years were great leaders and showed us the heart that it takes. We did it for them and for all the future Century and JM players."

The Panthers and Cougars did not meet in the regular season. Their last matchup occurred in the section semifinals a year ago, when South scored three times in the first period, then twice in the first 24 seconds of the second period en route to a 6-0 win against Century.

Things were different this time around for a first-year co-op whose players have bonded well since the decision was made last summer to join forces.

"It was the summer program in June and July that really introduced all the guys to each other," said Century/JM co-coach Matt Erredge, who played in a state tournament for Austin High in 1993. "It was just a lot of hard work by them and time together making new friendships, and for us to get together as a coaching staff and figure out a game plan for the season.

"Hats off to the guys, though. They're the ones who played the games. They did what we asked them to do. Everyone on this team played some part, no matter how big or small, an important part. This is just such a great win for the program."


Century/JM 1-3-0 — 4

Lakeville South 0-1-0 — 1

First period — 1. CJM, Calvin O'Reilly 9 (Bo Bondy 10) 6:30. Second period — 2. CJM, Ole Fevold 18 (Brock Clarey 20) 4:28. 3. CJM, Brekken DeWeese 4 (Justin Sutton 18, Cooper Hedin 5) 11:18. 4. LS, Jackson Ernst 23 (Eiji Hofmann 11) 12:05. 5. CJM, Bo Bondy 2 (unassisted) 14:10. Third period — none.

Shots on goal — CJM 9-11-6 — 26; LS 8-10-15 — 33. Goalies — CJM, Kyle Lappi (W, 20-4-2; 32 saves-33 shots); LS, Carson Hauger (34:00, L, 9-7-0; 16 saves-20 shots); Brooks Currie (17:00, ND; 6 saves-6 shots). Power-play opportunities — CJM, none; LS, 0-for-2. Penalties — CJM, 2-4 minutes; LS, none.