The enthusiastic crowd outside the Centennial boys hockey locker room had probably doubled in size by the time Champlin Park made its way through the maze.
The party was on for the Cougar faithful, but there was a pause accompanied by a genuine round of applause as the Rebels exited in a single-file line to their awaiting bus outside of the Warner Coliseum March 1.
Over the course of the previous 52 hours, that group hadn’t experienced anything similar since the 1995 Champlin Park boys hockey team made the schools inaugural state tournament appearance.
Eighteen years later, the Rebels are still trying to get back.
And in the aftermath of this, their closest attempt since that memorable tourney run in 95, the hurt was palpable.
“Guys are pretty beat up in there,” said junior defensemen Mason Van Tuyl. “It might take us a little while to figure out what we’ve done.”
The players have earned the patience. The community has as well.
Both certainly showed up Friday.
An announced crowd of over 7,000 fans packed the Warner Coliseum for the always popular Section 5AA and 4AA championship double-header, and Champlin had its share of that number.
The Rebel faithful has been waiting for this day for as long – or longer – than any of the players have been alive.
The cheered in unison as Champlin Park rallied from a goal down against Centennial to even the score at 1-1 on a Scott Lessard power play goal early in the second period.
They came to their feet again when, with Centennial leading 3-1 midway through the third, Luke Dalman scored to make it a one-goal game with over nine minutes to play.
That would be as close as Champlin Park would get however, as the Cougars added one more to go on and win the Section 5AA championship with a 4-2 victory in the final.
But, the fans rose one more time, as they serenaded the team as it headed off the ice one last time, through that throng of Centennial fans, and into the locker room.
“This is the state of Minnesota, so this is built up,” said head coach Pat Janostin. “It is important. The crowds grow, and that is what made it so special for the kids. They are hurting, but someday soon they’ll realize what a privilege it is to play in this game, in this building. They’ll remember it for a long, long time.”
Those memories will undoubtedly include high school hockey playoff shocker Champlin Park pulled off Feb. 27 to get into the final.
The Rebels beat Blaine 5-4 behind a two-goal night from Calvin Spencer, who tipped-in the game winner with less than a minute to go, and a 43-save performance from Tyler Nelson, who held Blaine long enough for Champlin Park to sent the top-seeded Bengals home in the 5AA semifinals.
“Will beats skill,” said Nelson afterwards. “We all believed this could happen, and that is what it came down to. We haven’t been [to the Coliseum] in a long time, and we wanted to leave a stamp on this place.”
Their stamp stretched well beyond the old-time barn architecture that is the building’s trademark.
Janostin spoke of the emails and text messages he received following the Blaine game. Twitter accounts exploded throughout the Northwest Suburbs. And Champlin Park was officially back on the map when it comes to high school hockey.
Decades from now, the players will perhaps look back on it and realize what was done.
That is, if the pain they felt Friday subsides by then.
“It is so tough, because this is what we all play for,” said Van Tuyl. “You dream of playing in the state tournament. Every kid does. To get this close…..it might hurt for awhile.”