ST. PAUL — If a two-goal lead is the most dangerous one in hockey, maybe Greenway knew precisely what it was doing Wednesday night, March 6, at Xcel Energy Center.
The Raiders played coy, then played their way into the Class A semifinals of the Minnesota high school boys hockey tournament by rallying past Delano 6-4 to conclude opening day of the 75th state tournament.
Their reward: a date with top-seeded Mahtomedi at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 8.
“We’ve battled through enough adversity that we knew what we had to do,” Greenway senior forward Donte Lawson said.
Twice the fourth-seeded Raiders (16-13) trailed by a pair of goals, 2-0 and 3-1. Which is where things stood until Lawson planted himself in front of the net and redirected Nikolai Rajala’s shot from the outside, which halved No. 5 Delano’s lead 1:26 into the second period.
The Raiders, wearing their white sweaters with Kelly green breezers and helmets, spent the remainder of the second declawing the Tigers (17-10-2) and buzzing goalie Aaron Kruse. They outshot Delano 17-7 in the period, energizing Xcel on an otherwise mundane day filled with lopsided quarterfinals.
Trailing 3-2 midway through the second, Lawson’s electric linemate, junior forward Ben Troumbly, got the puck in the Raiders’ defensive zone and started the other way, feeding to Lawson, who swung out wide and hugged the boards before sending a beautiful centering pass back to Troumbly. The St. Cloud State commit pushed in his 22nd goal of the season.
Greenway coach Grant Clafton admitted there likely were some jitters for his club, making the program’s first trip to state since 2001. That’s only natural, he said.
“I mean I’m 35 and I was shaking on the bench,” the coach said.
Those shakes must’ve intensified when Kory Dunnigan’s second tally helped Delano regain the lead 7:23 into the third. But that was it for the Tigers, who couldn’t sustain the momentum.
Mitchell Vekich tipped in the equalizer a little more than a minute later, and when a loose puck frittered out to Christian Miller, the big defenseman knew exactly what to do with it. Without hesitation, he sent a rocket from the high slot past Kruse, giving Greenway its first lead of the night with 7:20 to play.
“Right when I saw it, I was thinking slap shot,” Miller, another St. Cloud State commit, said.
Lawson’s empty-netter sealed it.
Clafton wasn’t surprised the Raiders, who have now won 10 in a row, needed to be pushed around a little bit before they made their move. Nothing’s come easy for this team.
“Once our backs are against the wall, then it’s like, ‘OK, now we’ll start playing,’ ” Clafton said.
Delano had defeated Greenway 4-3 back in December. The Raiders were shorthanded that night, though, without Troumbly or Miller. And they didn’t have nearly the confidence they do now, especially after beating Hermantown for the Section 7A crown.
The first three games Wednesday featured an aggregate score of 18-2. The Raiders and Tigers salvaged the day.
“It was a whale of a hockey game,” Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen said. “When you think of what a 4-5 game should be, I think you saw that tonight.”
Second-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral and No. 3 East Grand Forks meet in Friday’s first semifinal.