Warroad boys hope to bring the town its second state hockey title in two months
The Warriors won a girls title in February. If the No. 2-seeded boys win, it will mark just the third time in Minnesota history that a school has won both in the same year.
WARROAD, Minn. — Last month on a Friday afternoon, the Warroad boys hockey team ducked out of class early to go to Izzy's Lounge.
They gathered there to watch the Warrior girls team play in the Minnesota Class A state tournament semifinals.
Warroad won, and a day later, brought home the state championship.
"It was exciting," Warroad senior forward Matt Hard said. "Watching them was a lot of fun, especially knowing we would have a chance to do that later."
Now, the boys get their turn.
Warroad won the Minnesota Section 8A boys title over Thief River Falls and will begin play in the Class A state tournament Wednesday as the No. 2 seed. The Warriors are hoping to bring another hockey championship back to the town that dubs itself Hockeytown USA.
Only two schools have ever won Minnesota boys and girls state titles in the same year.
Edina did it in 2019. Academy of Holy Angels did it in 2005.
"The boys and girls teams. . . all those kids are very close," Warroad boys coach Jay Hardwick said. "The boys see what the girls accomplished, they saw how much fun the girls had and how much fun they've had since they won the state tournament. They look at it and say, 'I want to do that, too.'"
The Warriors (24-3-1) have a good shot. They've only lost to one Class A team all season — it was a road game at No. 1-seed Hermantown in overtime. Those teams will have to win twice in St. Paul to produce the final most are anticipating.
The path for Warroad begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday against Monticello in the Xcel Energy Center. It's a rare morning game for the Warriors.
"We'll be ready to go," Hard said. "We'll get to bed early and be ready to go. We're at the X. It could be at 8 a.m. and we'd be ready to go."
Warroad is looking for its first boys state championship since T.J. Oshie's senior year in 2005.
"We're a fast team," Hard said. "We stick to our system, even though we have a lot of skill. Using the system the coaches put in front of us, once we get that down, the skill takes over."
Up front, the Warriors are led by the 1-2 punch of Clarkson-bound Daimon Gardner and Minnesota Duluth-bound Jayson Shaugabay.
Gardner is a 6-foot-4 power forward with a heavy shot. The senior leads the team with 39 goals and 76 points. Shaugabay is a highly skilled, 5-foot-9 junior forward. He has 74 points.
"They are totally different players," Hardwick said. "Daimon is a big, strong power forward, who shoots the puck extremely well. Jayson wants to slow the game down and out-think you and beat you with his skill, his vision and awareness on the ice. I think they're a very good complement to each other. They both do a lot of things really well in different ways."
On defense, the leaders are senior Carson Reed and junior Eric Comstock, whose sister, Katy, was on the Warroad girls state title team.
"Sometimes, people look at a guy and see that he has a lot of points," Hardwick said. "What gets overshadowed is how well they defend. Guys like Carson Reed and Eric Comstock defend so well. They rarely get beat."
In net, Hampton Slukynsky has a .928 save percentage and a 1.48 goals-against average. His older brother, Grant, captained Warroad's last state tournament team.
"I'm hoping this year, with the group, we have experience," Hardwick said. "Some younger guys have played in peewee state championships. They've played in big games before. It isn't a vacation we're going on. This is a business trip. We're going to win hockey games."
Coach: Jay Hardwick.
Seed: No. 2.
Quarterfinal game: Warroad vs. Monticello, 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Site: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
State championships: 1994, 1996, 2003, 2005.
Scoring leaders: Sr. Daimon Gardner 39 goals, 37 assists, 76 points; jr. Jayson Shaugabay 25-49—74; sr. Matt Hard 22-19—41; soph. Murray Marvin-Cordes 15-17—32; soph. Carson Pilgrim 15-12—27.
Top defenders: Sr. Carson Reed 9-29—38; jr. Eric Comstock 4-29—33; soph. Ryan Lund 5-18—23; Todd Powassin 6-11—17.
Top goaltender: Jr. Hampton Slukynsky 24-3-1, 1.48 goals-against average, .928 save percentage.
Coach Hardwick says: "I'm hoping we're better prepared this time than a couple years ago. We had a very good team, but it had been 10 years since we had been there. None of those kids had been to a state tournament before. Now, we've got some guys on our team that saw everything. Sometimes, you've got to go there and lose before you can go there and win."