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Hard, 'a grinder,' sends Warroad to Minnesota Class A title game

Daimon Gardner recorded a hat trick for Warroad 55 seconds into the second period and Jayson Shaugabay finished with a goal and two assists.

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Warroad forward Matthew Hard (9) celebrates his winning goal in overtime against Mahtomedi Friday, March 11, 2022, in the State Boys Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
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ST. PAUL — The three guys on the Warroad boys hockey team’s top line are each used to playing a role, offensively.

Matthew Hard is the center who grinds in the tough areas to get possession and feed the puck to his wings and stars of the team, Jayson Shaugabay and Daimon Gardner.

But in the biggest game of his high school career, the grinder got the glory.

Hard scored 2:21 into overtime to clinch a 5-4 semifinal win for the Warriors against Mahtomedi in the Minnesota Class A State Boys Hockey Tournament Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.

“It’s always nice to see [Hard] get one,” Shaugabay said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone wants to score in overtime.”

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The second-seeded Warriors are back in the championship for the first time since they lost to Breck in the finals in 2009.

Warroad (26-3-1) will face the Hermantown/Alexandria winner in the championship at noon Saturday. Third-seed Mahtomedi (17-12-1) is relegated to the third-place game at 9 a.m. where it will play the Hermantown/Alexandria loser.

Gardner completed a hat trick for Warroad 55 seconds into the second period and Shaugabay finished with a goal and two assists.

“I’ve always been the grinder,” Hard said. “I usually get down low and dish it off to these guys and let them go score.”

Hard scored the game-winner on the power play when the Mahtomedi defense left him open in front of the net and Carson Reed fed him the puck. Hard’s shot deflected off Zephyrs goaltender Ben Dardis’ glove and into the net.

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Mahtomedi goaltender Ben Dardis (32) watches the winning shot by Warroad forward Matthew Hard (9) go in the net in overtime Friday, March 11, 2022, in the State Boys Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

It’s not that goal scoring is anything new to Hard. His OT winner was his 23rd of the season, but the Warriors do rely heavily on his linemates, Gardner and Shaugabay, who proved Friday they are Warroad’s big guns.

Gardner is a Mr. Hockey finalist who, through Friday, has a team-high 45 goals and 38 assists for 83 total points, and Shaugabay (27-54—81) was selected to play on USA Hockey’s U17 team in 2021.

“We tried different combinations with a lot of our forwards to see what worked,” Warriors coach Jay Hardwick said.

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“Sometimes, we split Jayson and Daimon apart to give teams different looks, but we knew we could always come back to this.”

Warroad got on the board first with Gardner’s first of three goals when he knocked down a Mahtomedi clearing attempt with his right glove, controlled the puck and fired a wrist shot over Dardis’ left shoulder to the far post.

Charlie Drage tied the game for the Zephyrs five minutes later, tapping in a centering pass from David Wolsfeld on the rush.

The teams traded goals before the first intermission – Mahtomedi’s on Brent Gulenchyn’s first of two power play goals on shots from the point. Gardner tied it with 13 seconds left in the first on a 2-on-1 rush.

The Zephyrs added two quick goals early in the second period 17 seconds apart by Gulenchyn and Drage.

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Warroad forward Daimon Gardner (13) scores on Mahtomedi goaltender Ben Dardis (32) during the first period Friday, March 11, 2022, in the State Boys Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

“It was a game of a lot of highs and lows,” Zephyrs coach Jeff Poeschl said. “We jumped up 4-2 and my message was ‘it’s a long game, boys’.”

Poseschl was right in that there was plenty of time on the board for Warroad, with one of the state’s top offenses at 5.77 goals scored per game, to stage a comeback from a two-goal deficit.

Gardner’s hat trick clincher drew Warroad within one and an all-out effort goal by Shaugabay had the game tied at four at the 7:49 mark of the second period.

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Shaugabay forced a turnover on a Mahtomedi breakout, drew a delayed hooking penalty, took a shot from his knees, got up and buried his own rebound.

Dardis – a Frank Brimsek Award finalist who led the Zephyrs to a state title as a sophomore in 2020 – finished with 35 saves and the five goals he allowed Friday were the most he’s allowed in one game against a Class A team since Mahtomedi’s section final loss to Gentry Academy in 2021. Friday was also just the second time in 2021-22 that Dardis allowed more than two goals to a Class A team.

Dardis bailed the Zephyrs out early in the opening minutes of the third period when Carson Pilgrim picked off a pass in the Mahtomedi zone. He skated the puck in close, faked a shot and tried to score on his forehand but Dardis read the move and stuffed Pilgrim with his outstretched left pad.

“I wouldn’t want any other goalie behind me than Ben,” said the goalie’s brother, senior defenseman Grant Dardis. “He’s been unbelievable every day, goes to work and grinds.”

Shaugabay created one more chance to win the game for Warroad before overtime when he toe-dragged to his left to evade two Zephyrs and allow himself enough room to fire a wrister in the closing seconds of the third, but Dardis got the body in front of it for the save.

According to the scouting report on Dardis, shooters try to avoid his quick glove, but that’s where Hard beat him in OT.

“I did shoot it toward the glove,” Hard said. “I tried to keep it low and I think it bounced off his glove and went in.”

PHOTO GALLERY (click/swipe to view)

Follow the Minnesota boys hockey postseason with state tournament information and brackets from every section.

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