Blocked Shots and Balanced Scoring Lead Apollo To State [VIDEO]
The Apollo Eagles boys hockey team is heading to the State Tournament for the second time in three years, and third time in team history, this season. The Eagles downed Sartell, Alexandria and Cathedral to punch their ticket to the tourney.
Apollo is the fifth seed in the Section A tournament and will face fourth-seeded Breck School in the first round of the tourney on Wednesday night at 8 PM. The game can be heard on AM 1390 The Fan and on 1390thefan.com.
The Eagles battled past the Crusaders Thursday night in front of an electrified crowd of over 2100 hockey fans.
"The experience was awesome," head coach Pete Matanich said. "It was similar to the experience against Little Falls a two years ago....but not quite the same."
"The kids have really turned out this year more than they ever have," Matanich said about the fan support. "Even within the community- the youth teams, the parents, all coming out. It's been very supportive."
Forward Jason Omann was a part of that game against Little Falls two years ago and played in the state tournament that season as well. He says he was in awe of the crowd before the game even began.
"An hour before (the game) I stepped out to see what it was like," Omann said. "It was just filled, it was nuts... it was already packed."
The Eagles played gritty defense to slow down a powerful Crusader attack, and blocked a ton of shots on their way to the win. Matanich says that blocking shots has been a key to their success all season long.
"Over the last couple of years (blocking shots) has been something we have really preached to do," Matanich said. "It takes a lot of time to instill that, because a lot of kids flinch or aren't used to doing it."
"Once you get used to doing it, kids realize it doesn't hurt as much if you don't flinch. Our guys have been doing a great job of it the last couple of years," Matanich said.
The Eagles' state tournament team in 2012-13 was led by a dynamic top line of Jared Christen, Paul Kenney and Omann. That team saw Christen set a team record with 44 goals, Omann set the team's assist record with 42 and both Christen and Kenney had 40 assists. Christen's 84 points that year set a team record, ten more than Mike Howe's previous mark in 2001-02.
Omann says that this year's team is deeper than the previous tournament team.
"We are a lot more deep than we were two years ago," Omann said. "We've gotten scoring from our first line down to our third line and even the fourth line too."
"There are a few guys on our blue line getting some points this year too," Omann said. "It's just scoring from all over the place."