ST. PAUL — Nick Worden described Friday’s game as an emotional roller coaster.
There were ups, downs and in-betweens.
The Dodge County head coach saw some breaks go his team’s way. He also saw them make their own breaks.
In the end, as the Wildcats have for much of this strange season, Dodge County found a way to win. The Wildcats’ 11th consecutive win marked another milestone in program history, as the 4-1 triumph against Little Falls lifts the Wildcats into the Class A state championship game in the program’s first-ever state tournament appearance.
No. 9-ranked Dodge County (19-3-1) will face No. 1-ranked Gentry Academy (18-0-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in the state championship game.
But before the Wildcats’ attention turned Friday night to 18-0-0 Gentry — which rallied to beat East Grand Forks 5-3 in Friday’s other Class A state semifinal — they were allowed a little time to enjoy the moment.
“It was a big dance party,” Worden, the Wildcats’ third-year head coach said of the locker-room scene after Friday’s semifinal victory. “It was a lot of fun. I told the guys they have until 7:30-8 to enjoy this, then we’ll have a team meeting and put a game plan together for Gentry Academy.
“We’re fully aware of how good Gentry is, but we’ll put a game plan together and we’ll give it our best.”
Isaac Dale stopped 33 shots, Charlie Blaisdell scored the game-tying goal early in the second period, and Brody Lamb continued piling up goals, recording a hat trick and an assist in the Wildcats’ second victory this season against Little Falls (14-5-1). Dodge County also beat Little Falls 3-2 on March 5 at Little Falls.
Friday’s win didn’t come without some tense moments for both sides, most notably that Little Falls had two goals disallowed at key moments in the game.
The first came just less than 10 minutes into the game, when Gabe Hirsch poked a loose puck into the net after a scramble in the crease to apparently give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. But officials reviewed the goal and waved it off due to goaltender interference, ruling that a Flyers’ player made contact with Dale in the crease before the puck was pushed into the net.
The second came 6:03 into the third period, with Dodge County leading 2-1. Little Falls held the puck in the Wildcats’ zone for an extended period of time and shot the puck into the net, but an inadvertent whistle blew just seconds before the puck went in, officially stopping play.
The Flyers hit the crossbar 26 seconds later, but couldn’t get another one past Dale. Lamb added two goals in the final 4:56 to make it 4-1.
“The guys did a really good job” of managing their emotions amid the ups and downs, Worden said. “We try to preach to just stick with the process, it’s a long game and there will be a lot of roller-coaster moments. Let’s just keep the dips as shallow as we can.”
Dale helped in that cause, making 33 saves and looking comfortable and in control for much of the game. The junior has now stopped 66 of the 70 shots he’s faced at state.
“I thought he was unreal today,” Worden said of Dale. “I’ve always said with him, in games where he gets peppered, he tends to really rise to the occasion, then in games where only sees 10 shots, at times he’ll struggle a little.
“Today was confident and played an outstanding game.”
Win or lose on Saturday, Dodge County will end its season playing for a state title, something that was perhaps not even a dream when the program was started.
“It’s huge,” Worden said. “I think about guys like Dan Dale, Jeff Lamb, some of the guys who really took these kids through the youth program and did an outstanding job of working with them, then pass them on to us as high school coaches.
“One of our goals today was to raise our level of competitiveness, have a refuse-to-lose attitude. Guys like Charlie, Easton (Hammill), Brody, Matt Donovan, they were unreal when we needed them to be.”
How They Scored
A goal-by-goal look at Friday’s scoring:
• Little Falls 1, Dodge County 0: With just 20 seconds to go in the first period, the Flyers won a faceoff in the Wildcats’ zone. Matt Filippi sent the puck to defenseman George Moore at the point. Moore held the puck briefly to find a shooting lane. His low shot hit Dodge County’s Brody Lamb, then bounced off Matt Donovan’s skate and in.
• D.C. 1, L.F. 1: Lamb made a nice cross-ice pass through the neutral zone to Gavin Giesler, who carried it deep into the zone through the right circle. Giesler left it for Lamb, who circled back toward the point, then fed Charlie Blaisdell at the top of the circle. Blaisdell targeted the top corner, but it hit the glove of Flyers goalie Dane Couture and bounced in.
“That goal was huge,” Worden said. “Charlie worked his tail off today, getting a lot of pucks to the net. That was exciting to see. Earlier in the year, a lot of his shots were getting blocked and he’d get frustrated. Today, every shot he took found a lane.”
• D.C. 2, L.F. 1: On a power play, Donovan won a draw directly to Lamb, who skated toward the slot to create some space, then fired a laser to the far-side top corner. The shot went bar-down and gave the Wildcats their first lead.
• D.C. 3, L.F. 1: Gavin Giesler carried the puck into the zone — officials reviewed the play and concluded Giesler was in control of the puck when his skates and body entered the zone ahead of it — and dished it to Lamb. The junior cut to the net, moved the puck from his backhand to forehand and tucked it around the outstretched pad of Couture with 4:56 to play.
“I thought Gavin did a great job,” Worden said. “I was hoping he’d be physical and bring that presence. He did a good job of that and created some things offensively for us.”
• D.C. 4, L.F. 1: Lamb caps the hat trick by scoring his ninth goal of the tournament into an empty net with 1:06 remaining in the game.
DODGE COUNTY 4, LITTLE FALLS 1
Dodge County 0-2-2—4
Little Falls 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. LF, George Moore 4 (Matt Filippi 9, Nick Stevens 19) 16:40. Second period — 2. DC, Charlie Blaisdell 3 (Brody Lamb 35, Gavin Giesler 15) 6:10. 3. DC, Lamb 49 (Matt Donovan 30) 10:01 (pp). Third period — 4. DC, Lamb 50 (Giesler 16) 12:56. 5. DC, Lamb 51 (unassisted) 15:54 (en).
Shots on goal — DC 8-11-4—23; LF 12-15-7—34. Goalies — DC, Isaac Dale (W, 16-3-0; 33 saves-34 shots); LF, Dane Couture (L, 14-5-1; 19 saves-22 shots). Power-play opportunities — DC, 1-for-2; LF 0-for-1. Penalties — DC, 1-2 minutes; LF, 2-4 minutes.