The ride to The Tourney
March 16, 2016
In a sellout crowd at Aldrich Arena, fans packed wall to wall and the student section screaming, the boys hockey is heading into overtime versus their rival, Hill Murray. After Stillwater kills off a penalty at the end of the third period, the Ponies have momentum going into overtime. All of a sudden it happens. The pass and the goal heard around the world. Senior Gavin Holland sauces it across the ice to junior Noah Cates who spins and scores. The arena absolutely erupts in cheers. The team jumps for the bench and the celebration is on in front of the Stillwater student section.
One of the fans at Aldrich recalled his experience. Senior Wyatt Miller said, “Yeah the atmosphere at the game was unreal. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was hyped up and when Noah scored that amazing goal everyone went crazy. It was a great feeling knowing our team was going to State.”
After Stillwater’s Section 4AA Title game victory against Hill Murray, the video of the goal goes viral making Sportscenter’s number one play in Sportscenter Top Ten Plays for the night. The goal has been retweeted on Twitter nearly 5,000 times and the goal has even made dozens of newscasts. From NBC to KSTP, the goal is being watched all across the country. But the Section 4AA champs know their journey is only beginning. In less than a week, they will be playing in front of over 18,000 people at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It was a crazy experience that game [The section final game versus Hill Murray]. The building packed, it was awesome to see all the fans up there and Noah’s goal was something special. The celebration was great after,” said junior Mason Bartosh.
The first test will be against a talented Farmington team. Going into the game, the boys have momentum still carrying in from the week prior game and it shows. They come out scoring early, thanks to senior Jackson Cates’ goal from his brother, Noah. A few minutes later, junior Luke Manning lights the lamp again for the Ponies coming off a nice feed from senior Simon Sagissor. Stillwater never looked back, beating Farmington 4-1.
Bartosh explained, “You know the start was a little bit anxious, everyone was getting under their feet a little bit, but once we got going it was a good game and we battled hard and got the W.”
Going into the second game, Stillwater would be against Wayzata who just came off a 3-1 victory vs. Burnsville. In a sold-out crowd of what would be the largest crowd in MSHSL Hockey history at just over 22,000 fans, the Ponies battle hard. After Wayzata comes out hard scoring a quick goal, the Ponies know they are in a dog fight. They get motivation from senior goalie Josh Benson, who does the splits stopping a Wayzata forward on a breakaway in one of the most incredible saves of the year. After a scoreless second, the Ponies are down to their final period. Giving up a late goal to Wayzata, the Ponies do not quit and Jackson Cates scores with just over a minute to go.
The fight comes up just short and the Ponies fall to the eventual State Champions, Wayzata. The Ponies end up finishing fourth in State, the best in school history. Benson explained, “It was an unbelievable experience and one that we all dream of as a kid. It was good for our whole community as a whole and was a fun and memorable weekend.”
In Stillwater hockey history, the Ponies have made State appearances twice; one in 2014 and now in 2016. This run for Stillwater ended them with a 27-1-1 regular season record and the school’s first conference championship. Along with the Section 4AA title, the Ponies will be taking home that fourth place State Tournament finish, which is something to be very proud of. Taking fourth out of just over 250 Minnesota high school hockey teams is an accomplishment.
“Our team goal was to win the State Championship so we came up a little short, but it was a fun battle with Wayzata. We just didn’t get the bounces we needed,” said Benson. Bartosh added, “I think we were all bonded together pretty closely and we all knew the stakes and all wanted it.”