New look Mustangs back at it

The Breck boys hockey team is off to a 9-2-1 start, and has climbed all the way to third in the Class A state rankings.

But the Mustangs would like to make one thing clear: this is not the Breck of old.

These Mustangs aren’t the team that won consecutive state championships in 2009 and 2010, nor are they the group that just last year finished third in the Class A boys state hockey tournament.

After all, those teams never won a Schwan Cup Gold Division game. And as the season dives headlong into the stretch run, that is what Breck is as of now – a winner in the Gold Division of the Schwan Cup.

“We made it a point this year to win our first Gold Division game,” said head coach Les Larson. “We won the Sliver last year, so we got promoted, and we got the opportunity to play Duluth East. Fortunately we were able to beat them 2-0, That was really good for us.”

Breck graduated 15 players off last year’s team, including Mr. Hockey finalist Grant Opperman. The Mustangs entered this season loaded with question marks, specifically with how the varsity roster would take shape. Much of those openings were filled in the summer during the period of time coaches are allowed contact with the team.

But still, regardless of the pedigree Breck has built by qualifying for nine state tournaments and winning four state championships, the schedule wasn’t exactly set up for a team facing the very definition of a rebuilding year.

“We knew who we were going to be playing,” said Larson. “The only thing we could do is try and prepare the kids the best we could.”

If so, mark Larson down for a serious coach of the year candidate.

Breck has already won nine times, including seven victories over teams ranked in either Class A or AA.

The Mustangs defeated Class AA No. 9 Duluth East in the Schwan Cup Gold Division quarterfinals, and finished off the tournament with a 2-1 loss to Class A No. 1 St. Thomas Academy, and a 4-4 tie against Class AA No. 10 Burnsville.

Their only other defeat this year came in a 4-2 loss at Class A No. 5 St. Cloud Cathedral, but that loss came back on Dec. 4. Since then, the Mustangs are 8-1-1, including last week’s victory over Class A No. 2 Totino-Grace.

“We are real pleased with how this group has played,” said Larson. “We have a real young team this year. We knew we would go through some growing pains. We are still thin. If the flu bug hits us or we get a bunch of injuries we might be in trouble, but so far, we’ve been pretty happy with how the kids have played.”

They still know how to win. That much was evident late Jan. 8, when Breck battled back from a 2-0 first intermission deficit to upend Totino-Grace with a four-goal third period.

Chase Ellingson, Lucas McCormick, Thomas Lindstrom and Matt Colford each scored in the period. Colford finished the game with two goals and two assists, Lindstrom also added a pair of assists, and goaltender Henry Johnson finished with 20 saves in the win.

“We were kind of standing around during the first period, and then we got going in the second,” Larson said. “We really controlled the second, and we just knew if we did the same thing in the third it was just a matter of time.”

Breck, which moved up to No. 3 in the Class A rankings after the victory, was scheduled to play three more games this week. The last of those was a 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19 visit to St. Thomas Academy.

The Cadets beat Breck 1-0 in last year’s Class A state semifinals, and then won another one-goal game during the semifinal round of last month’s Schwan Cup.

“We like that we get to play them twice in the season, and we hope it is three times before we are done,” said Larson. “They are very good, and really deep. We’ll be the underdog, but we wont’ give up. We’ll go in there and play our hardest. If we do that, anything can happen.”

Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]