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Former Lourdes star Jake Taylor hopes to relive Tourney experience as a coach

Jake Taylor is in his third season as the boys hockey head coach at Lakeville North. His Panthers will face rival Lakeville South — coached by former Owatonna bench boss Josh Storm — at 7 p.m. Thursday in Rochester, in the Section 1AA championship game.

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Jake Taylor
Mark Hvidsten
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Jake Taylor knows what it’s like to play in a state tournament.

And not just any state tournament. Taylor has played in — and played for a championship — in The Tourney, the Minnesota high school boys hockey state tournament.

Taylor — a Byron native and a rugged defenseman who went on to play for the University of Minnesota, followed by 366 games in the top minor league in the world, the American Hockey League — still holds that memory of helping Rochester Lourdes reach the 2001 Class A high school state championship game, the first-ever title game played at the Xcel Energy Center.

Though the Eagles fell in a tight 2-1 game against Benilde St. Margaret’s, Taylor — now in his third season as the boys hockey head coach at Lakeville North High School — cherishes having had that opportunity.

“For sure, obviously I was super lucky that the kids I grew up with in Rochester, we won PeeWee and Bantam state tournaments,” said Taylor, who was one of three Lourdes players named to the 2001 All-State Tournament Team, along with Brandon Harrington and Dan Smith. “We came up a little short against Benilde, but I think it’s really hard when you haven’t experienced that … we’re trying to get our kids (at North) to understand that.

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“Playing in that tournament — I’ve done a lot of stuff in hockey as a player and that is for sure one of my most favorite memories. As a coach, if you could just put those memories in your players’ brain, it’d be great.”

Taylor, 38, is hoping his players will earn those experiences this month.

Lakeville North (21-6-0) will meet rival Lakeville South (24-3-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Section 1AA championship game, at the Rochester Recreation Center. The winner gets a spot in The Tourney, the boys state high school hockey tournament, scheduled for March 9-12 at Xcel Energy Center.

Taylor was an assistant coach at North for six seasons before taking over as head coach prior to the 2019-20 season when long-time Panthers head coach Trent Eigner departed to take the same position at St. Thomas Academy.

“I’d got done playing and at the time we were living up in Woodbury,” Taylor said. “The guys coaching at South said ‘you ever think about coaching?’ and at the time I wasn’t really thinking about it.

“It’s been the best thing ever. It’s kept me involved in hockey. And the cool thing with coaching is I get to give back. I had some awesome guys who coached me when I was growing up here (in Rochester) and throughout my career, so it’s been fun to be able to give back.”

The Lakeville teams will meet in the section final for the ninth time in 13 seasons. South beat North 7-3 in last season’s section final, and South has topped North twice this season, by scores of 6-3 and 3-0. However, both meetings this season have been closer than the three-goal margin may indicate. South had to score four third-period goals to rally for a win in the first matchup, and in the second meeting, South scored twice in the final 6:40 to pull away.

“There’s that added thing with the North-South rivalry, so we have our work cut out for us,” Taylor said, “but I know our kids are going to give it everything they have.”

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Storm settling in at South

Taylor won’t be the only head coach on a bench in Thursday’s section final who has a connection to southeastern Minnesota.

Josh Storm — a Lakeville native — is in his first season as Lakeville South’s head coach after spending the past 10 years as the head coach at Owatonna High School. Storm has guided the Cougars to a 24-3-0 mark so far this season, including Section 1AA playoff victories against Dodge County (9-1) and Rochester Mayo (6-0).

“I haven’t taken enough time to reflect on it, I don’t think, yet,” Storm said when asked how much he’s enjoyed this season. “In the moments I have, it’s been really special. I didn’t know how the kids would receive me. I’m not an ex-Division I coach and haven’t had a state tournament pedigree, but the kids have been awesome. I genuinely love those kids; it’s been a real dream come true.”

Like his players, Storm has a strong familiarity with Lakeville North. Last season, Storm’s Owatonna team played North to a 2-0 game in the Section 1AA semifinals, the Panthers scoring twice in the final 2:09 — including an empty-net goal — to eke out a victory.

“I’m so proud of what we always accomplished in Owatonna,” Storm said. “I thought we always overachieved and we always played at a high level. To be able to take everything we did in Owatonna and add some layers to it, it’s been so much fun going to the rink every day.

“... I know it won’t lsat forever. I’m just trying to enjoy it and make it as great of an experience for all of the kids as possible.”

Albert Lea will have an eye on all-Lakeville matchup

By the time Thursday’s Section 1AA championship game rolls around, Albert Lea hopes it will be preparing to play in next week’s Class A state tournament.

The Tigers (19-8-0) are set to face New Prague (10-15-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Section 1A championship game. New Prague rallied from two goals down to knock off top-seeded Northfield 3-2 in overtime last Saturday in the section semifinals. Third-seeded Albert Lea followed that by holding off second-seeded Lourdes 4-3 in the other semifinal.

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The last time the Tigers went to state — in 2007 — they were guided by legendary coach Roy Nystrom, whose teams won more than 700 games in his legendary coaching career, first at Grand Forks Central in North Dakota, then at Albert Lea.

Nystrom, who retired after the 2016-17 season, will have a keen interest in both Section 1 title games. Albert Lea plays Wednesday, then on Thursday, Nystrom’s grandson, Ben Portner, will play for Lakeville South, against rival Lakeville North.

Portner, a senior forward, scored a goal in the Cougars’ 6-0 win on Saturday against Mayo. He has 11 goals and 28 points this season.

RECENT SECTION 1AA TITLE GAMES

YEAR
2021
WINNING TEAM
Lakeville South 7
LOSING TEAM
Lakeville North 3
2020Lakeville South 3Hastings 2
2019Lakeville South 4Lakeville North 0
2018Lakeville North 4Lakeville South 3
2017Lakeville South 3Lakeville North 1
2016Farmington 6Lakeville North 2
2015Lakeville North 6Farmington 1
2014Lakeville North 6Farmington 0
2013Lakeville North 6Lakeville South 3
2012Lakeville South 7Lakeville North 1

RECENT SECTION 1A TITLE GAMES

YEAR
2021
WINNING TEAM
Dodge County 4
LOSING TEAM
Mankato West 3
2020Mankato East 3Mankato West 1
2019Minnesota River 5Rochester Lourdes 3
2018Mankato East 6Rochester Lourdes 1
2017Northfield 3Red Wing 2 (2OT)
2016Mankato West 1Northfield 0
2015New Prague 2Northfield 1
2014New Prague 3Mankato West 2
2013Rochester Lourdes 6Mankato West 1
2012Rochester Lourdes 4Northfield 1
Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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