As a Minneapolis Storm youth hockey player, Zander Zoia realized he and his teammates had a chance to compete with the state’s best someday. Zoia said his last youth team gained a lot from facing squads from hockey powerhouses in Edina, Maple Grove, and Wayzata.
“It was cool being able to play them, so we know what level we could play in the state,” Zoia said.
Zoia and his Minneapolis high school varsity co-op hockey teammates brought Minneapolis hockey back to the high school state level this month. Minneapolis beat Delano 3-1 on March 2 to end a 28-year state hockey drought for public schools in the city.
“We knew it as soon as summer training started,” Zoia said. “We knew we had the talent to do it.”
The Minneapolis co-op formed in 2010 amid the city schools dropping hockey programs. This year’s squad hopes this state tournament will grow hockey in the state’s biggest city.
“I think representing the city is a huge part for us,” junior forward Drew Pitts said. “If we do really well this week at the X, people will start to take notice and start to be like, ‘Minneapolis hockey is back.’”
Minneapolis head coach Joe Dziedzic, who won Mr. Hockey with Edison High School in 1990, informed the players after the game how long it had been since a Minneapolis school reached state. Dziedzic played at the University of Minnesota and in the NHL before coaching the Minneapolis co-op.
“I think that’s when we all kind of realized like ‘gee, we just did something huge,’” Pitts said.
Minneapolis went 19-6-1 and earned a No. 5 ranking in the Class A poll. The team also earned the No. 1 seed in the section for the first time in program history.
“We didn’t get that because of a lucky game or a lucky stretch. We got that because we were pretty consistent throughout the season,” Zoia said.
Senior forward Jack Hanson led Minneapolis in scoring with 24 goals and 28 assists. Zoia, also a senior forward, netted 11 goals and a team-high 29 assists. Senior goalie Alex Lamont held teams to 2.18 goals per game and had an .899 save percentage.
The team lost 4-1 to Alexandria in the quarterfinals on March 9, and beat New Prague 5-2 in the consolation semifinal on March 10. Hermantown beat Warroad 3-2 to claim the Class A title in the Minnesota State High School Boys Hockey Tournament.
This year’s Minneapolis program consists of players from South, Southwest, Washburn, and Edison high schools. Despite being spread across four of the seven public high schools, the players consider their team really tight.
“A lot of people think it’s like this big divide when we get to high school, but we’ve been playing youth hockey since we were five or six with each other,” Zoia said.
The team’s success led to bigger crowds at Parade Ice Garden toward the end of the season, especially youth night where the team played in front of a packed house.
“It was electric,” Lamont said.
Many of the players grew up cheering for the Minneapolis varsity team amid playing youth hockey in the Storm program.
“They might not know my name, but I know most of their names,” Zoia said.
Minneapolis players hope the state will know their names and their city’s renewed hockey tradition more now, too.
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