Boys hockey: Mayo has eyes on Kiwanis repeat

December 26, 2018

Rochester Mayo has a couple of advantages over the rest of the Gold Division field in this week’s Kiwanis Festival boys hockey tournament.

First, Mayo is the lone unbeaten team in the tournament, and one of just eight unbeaten boys teams remaining in the state. The Spartans enter the tournament at 5-0-1.

Second, and more importantly, Mayo’s players are the only ones in the Gold Division who know what it feels like to win the Festival. Mayo won the championship last year, its second Festival title in four years.

The Spartans open Festival play in the first game of the day Wednesday, against Dodge County at 12:30 p.m. at Graham Arena I.

“We all get along really well and the run the systems coach has set up for us,” senior captain Jack Holtan said. “We all just show up and do our jobs. We have a lot of chemistry together, know where each other are going to be on the ice, and that helps a lot.”

Mayo’s success so far this season has been the result of its experience and depth.

Leading scorer Maddox Fleming, a freshman forward, is on pace to shatter his scoring total from a year ago. Fleming led all of Section 1AA last season as an eighth-grader with 38 points; he has nine goals and 23 points through six games this season.

The Spartans are far from a one-player team, though. Six players average at least a point per game, and senior goalie Jacob Gathje has put up outstanding numbers so far (3-0-1, 1.68 goals-against average, .933 save percentage).

“This was our goal, to start off the season the way we have,” said senior forward Zach Stewart, who is second on the team with nine goals and 18 points. “Now we want to keep it going. We worked hard in the offseason. Our goal is to win each game. Hopefully we can keep it rolling come the Kiwanis.”

A majority of this team jelled over the past year. It went 12-12-1 last season and pushed perennial section power Lakeville South to double-overtime in the section quarterfinals before falling 3-2.

“We have a pretty skilled team and everyone knows what to do with the puck when they get it,” Holtan said. “It’s nice to have a lot of guys we can rely on.”

Mayo has turned that solid ending to last season into a world of confidence this year. It has outshot every opponent so far and in the one game it didn’t win — a 1-1 tie against Mankato West on Dec. 6 — it outshot the Scarlets 43-19.

Stewart (a senior captain), Fleming and junior Will Weick (13 points) have led the way scoring-wise, but the Spartans have received key contributions from players up and down the lineup, including senior captains Holtan, Alex Norby and Layke Moger.

Mayo has also learned how to get stronger as a game goes along. It has outscored its opponents 35-12 this season, including 10-1 in the third period. The Spartans’ specialty teams have been impressive, too, as they are converting at a 30 percent rate on the power play (6-for-20) and their penalty kill is hovering around 80 percent.

“We have a great goaltending group again this year, led by Jacob Gathje. He’s done a great job,” Stewart said. “The past couple games, Joseph Wigle has played and he’s played great. They’re the big reason why we’re still undefeated. It helps us a lot; if we have an off-game ... it’s big for us, for our confidence.”

If Mayo is able to earn a victory against Dodge County, it could set up a rematch of last year’s Festival semifinals against Hayward (Wis.), which Mayo won 3-2 while having to kill a major penalty over the final 2:11. But it’s the championship game that the Spartans remember most, a 4-3 win against New Richmond (Wis.) that included goals by current Spartans Ian McBane, Fleming and Stewart.

“Obviously, endurance and stamina are important, playing three games in a row, in three days,” Stewart said. “You just have to give it everything you have, every shift, keep piling on goals and playing good defense.”

“We know every period matters,” Holtan said. “We can’t take any shifts off. We know what it takes to win because we did it last year, and hopefully we can do it again.”

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