What do a combined 39 wins — a program-best 20 victories for Chaska, and 19 wins, one shy of a team record for Chanhassen — get in the Section 2AA boys hockey playoff bracket?
The first-ever all-District 112 playoff hockey match-up.
Expect to see the fire marshal on Thursday, Feb. 24, as the third-seeded Hawks, the co-champions of the Metro West Conference, host the sixth-seeded Hawks at Chaska Community Center at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.
Chaska owns a 12-game win streak into the post-season, having scored four or more tallies in 10 of those wins. Goaltenders Carter Wishart and Kai Girard have surrendered just 10 total goals in that span, a goals against average of 1.51 for the season.
Chanhassen has 13 wins in the last 15 games; the only defeats coming against league champions Chaska and Benilde-St. Margaret. The 19 total wins ranks second in program history to the 2011-12 team with 20 victories.
The Storm have registered four or more goals in 16 contests this season.
“I don’t think anyone knew where everyone would end up, seeds wise, with Minnetonka beating Eden Prairie, maybe things would shake up. We were thinking (Chanhassen) or Holy Family, so kind of what we expected. It should be a great atmosphere. We know they want this one bad. We want it, too. It should be one of those once-in-a-lifetime nights,” Rinzel said.
While Chaska has continued to pile up the wins in recent seasons over Chanhassen, the two regular season meetings were competitive, 3-2 and 4-2 decisions for the Hawks.
Chaska led 3-0 in the first meeting before Chanhassen rallied in the third period with two goals. The second contest saw the Hawks score early in the first and third frames, the final difference on the scoreboard.
It’s anyone’s game in the playoffs.
“Our team, we’re a close group of guys throughout the locker room. A lot of us have grown up together playing hockey and I think it’s something special that we have. It feels good being at the rink each day with these guys,” Rinzel said.
The Section 2AA pre-season favorite, Prior Lake, has 15 wins, 36 goals scored forward Alex Bump, and an experienced goaltender in Trevor Boschee.
Eden Prairie gained the No. 1 seed double-digit losses, a 14-11 record. While many of the household names from the Eagles’ state runner-up team from 2021 graduated, Eden Prairie was one of three teams along with Minnetonka and Wayzata to share the Lake Conference title.
Minnetonka’s last-week 5-1 win over Eden Prairie, a season split, wasn’t enough to gain the top seed. The Skippers were 7-1 down the stretch, outscoring opponents 40-7 in the stretch.
Add in Wright County Conference champions Holy Family Catholic, which beat 16-win Stillwater in overtime in the regular season finale, and a much-improved Shakopee team with 12 wins, and Section 2AA could go any numbers of the way to the championship game March 2 at Braemar Arena in Edina and beyond to the state tournament.
“Good teams get it done in the regular season and great teams get it done in the playoffs. We need to prove to ourselves, and everyone else, that we are an unbelievable team. We know what we are capable of doing, and that’s what it is going to take to win three games,” Rinzel said.
SIMILAR TO 2020
Chaska had graduated the likes of Mike Koster and Blaine Warnert, along with Rhett Pitlick and others. Only a handful of mainstays were in the line-up to begin the 2019-20 season. Yet there the Hawks were, in the Section 2AA final, led by a pair of freshmen in goaltender Wishart and forward Jimmy Snuggerud.
Rinzel was a freshman on that team as well, playing all 28 games, including the 3-2 section championship loss to Eden Prairie.
This year’s Chaska team feels very similar to that group. While there are a few more experienced skaters, Wishart will make his third consecutive playoff opener start instead of his first, the Hawks have talented youth that have helped them to 20 wins.
Sophomores Sam Scheetz and Tanner Bruender lead Chaska with 20 and 15 goals, respectively. Freshman Sam Spehar has seven tallies and 19 points. Sophomore Adam Kleber has given the Hawks another steady blueline force.
So, why can’t this be Chaska’s year to break through and play in the state tournament?
“We had a rough patch there in December, but I feel like we’re running on all cylinders right now into the playoffs. We’re ready,” Rinzel said.
Like it is most years in hockey, the team with the hot goaltender might be the one that moves on. The guys in front of him, though, have a job to play, too.
“I think our young (defensive) core coming in, new guy Adam Kleber, Luke Iverson and (Blake) Markwell having their first season be the COVID year, without the fans, without the nerves, but I think they’ve done a great job and played as well as anyone could ask. I feel good about out defense and where we’re at,” Rinzel said.
Rinzel, already committed to play at the University of Minnesota, was able to showcase his abilities against some of the country’s top draft-eligible prospects in an All-American game in January in Michigan. The Chaska junior is the top-rated United State High School skater according to NHL Central Scouting.
Rinzel reunited with former Chaska teammate, and future Gopher teammate, Snuggerud, who scored in the game.
Rinzel, six feet, four inches when not on skates, even more imposing on skates, is having his best season with seven goals and 25 assists. Four of his tallies have come on the power play.
“It was a really fun experience. Being able to go out there and play with some guys you know, getting to play with Jim again, it was a great experience,” said Rinzel, the youngest of four siblings — Jack, Eric and Olivia, who has made 18 starts as a sophomore goaltender at Union College this season.
Other first-round match-ups are Eden Prairie and Bloomington Jefferson, and Prior Lake and Holy Family Catholic — the two winners meet at noon on Saturday at Braemar in Edina — and Minnetonka and Shakopee. That winner will play either Chaska or Chanhassen at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Braemar.
Alpine Ski: Consist runs, times separated by just four-tenths of a second, Chaska/Chanhassen senior Jared Buckley finished 25th at the State Alpine Meet on Feb. 16 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. Buckley had times of 40.47 and 40.87, 30th and 29th overall on each course. His overall time was 1:21.34. Teammate Fantaye Gilbertson, the first-ever Chanhassen female state alpine skier, missed a gate on her first run, disqualifying her from the competition.
Gymnastics: Reese Norbie received a score of 8.85 from one judge, an average of 8.725, in placing 33rd on uneven bars at the Class AA State Gymnastics Meet at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul on Feb. 19. It was the second state competition in three seasons for the Chaska/Chanhassen senior. Metro West Conference and Section 2AA champion New Prague was second to Wayzata for the team title.
Dance: Chaska was among the top-six finalists in Class AAA high kick on Feb. 19 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, placing fifth overall. Eastview, Wayzata and Lakeville North took the top three positions with Brainerd and Lakeville South also among the finalists. Eastview, Maple Grove and Wayzata went 1-2-3 in the jazz competition. Holy Family Catholic, competing in the Class AA division, was a jazz finalist on Feb. 18.