Chris Lepper knew he was walking into a great situation when he was named coach of the Burnsville girls hockey team last spring.
How good? How about Section 3AA championship good?
The third-seeded Blaze scored two shorthanded goals and added an empty-netter in a 3-1 win over fourth-seeded Eagan in the title game Feb. 12 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights.
Senior Aubrey Nelvin tallied the game-winner with 2:33 left to play in the game. All three of Burnsville's goals were unassisted.
Junior Allie Urlaub's sealed the win with 27 seconds remaining, scoring her 10th goal of the year on a shot from center ice into an empty net.
"These girls are so special," an emotional Lepper said. "I came into a great situation. These girls and coaches did it all. I've just been along for the ride. This team has had great youth coaches. The Cassanos were great coaches, and they taught these kids well.
"I'm so happy to be able to enjoy this moment with this team," Lepper added.
Lepper took over for Tracy Cassano, who coached the Blaze for six years before stepping down last spring to take the head job at Minnetonka. Cassano led Burnsville to the Section 3AA title in 2014 in her first season there.
But the Blaze lost in the section quarterfinals the next five years.
Lepper was at Woodbury the last six years, and wins were tough to come by there — just 29 in his six years. He took over a Blaze team that had 18 wins last winter with a ton of talent returning, starting with Nelvin, a team captain.
Nelvin wasn't quite sure this moment was possible, especially after the previous playoff woes in the first round.
"I'm so overwhelmed," Nelvin said, whose game-winner was her 10th goal of the season. "I'm so proud of these girls. We couldn't have done this without everyone pulling together and believing we could."
Burnsville will take a 19-7-2 record into state, the program's seventh appearance since 1996.
The Class AA brackets come out today and will be available at mshsl.org. Quarterfinal play starts Feb. 20 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Burnsville needed some semifinal heroics to get to the title game. Sophomore Sami Bowlby scored 16 seconds into overtime to lift the Blaze to a 3-2 win at second-seeded Eastview Feb. 8.
The Blaze were down 2-0 early in that game and came all the way back.
Against Eagan, Burnsville struck first. Urlaub got to a loose puck in the neutral zone and went on a breakaway, scoring on a backhand with 3:07 left in the first period.
The Wildcats scored a power-play goal at the 11:44 mark of the second period to tie the game up.
Eagan had just seven shots on goal in the first two periods and 11 for the game. The Blaze's defense did a great job of bottling up the Wildcat forwards.
Junior Maria Widen finished with 10 saves in goal, including stopping a point-blank shot late in the third period with the game still tied at 1-1.
Shortly after, Burnsville took a slashing penalty. But little did the team know that would play right into Nelvin's hands.
Nelvin was able to poke-check the puck into the neutral zone. She scooped it up, dashed down the right side of the ice, dipped her shoulder and crashed toward net, sneaking the puck past Eagan goalie Ruby Sieger.
"We are all kind of panicking there because they had the power play," Nelvin said. "I'm not sure how the puck went in. It just did. I was hoping there would be a rebound, but it was in the net. It was unbelievable."
Eagan has had the upper hand against Burnsville over the last six seasons. The Wildcats went into the title game 9-1-2 against the Blaze in the last 12 meetings dating back to the 2014-15 season.
The two ties came this season during South Suburban Conference play, 2-2 in Eagan Dec. 3 and 1-1 in Burnsville Jan. 18.
In the semifinals, Burnsville found itself down 2-0 just 2:48 into the game. Eastview scored 12 seconds into the contest.
But there was no panic. Sophomore Katie Katzmarek scored her 12th goal of the season with 4:19 left in the first period to cut the deficit to one goal. Nelvin and senior Avery Sawcuk had the assists.
Bowlby tied the game at the 8:19 mark of the third period with Nelvin and junior Gabby Gromacki assisting. Bowlby's game-winner was her team-leading 19th goal.
The Blaze outshot the Lightning 46-32. Widen made 30 saves.