For nearly two periods at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday, Lakeville South’s offense was ice cold.
The team’s lethal top line of Cade Ahrenholz, Cam Boche and Tanner Ludtke — which combine to score nearly three goals a game — was largely neutralized and the Cougars were in jeopardy of scoring less than four goals for just the second time this season.
Then suddenly, it wasn’t.
The undefeated No. 2 Cougars scored with eight seconds left in the second period and four times in the third to erase a two-goal deficit and beat unseeded Wayzata 5-3 to advance to the Class 2A state championship Saturday.
“We haven’t been the best at the beginning for quite a while. We were sluggish but finally got our legs under us in the third,” Lakeville South coach Janne Kivihalme said. “We need to clean that up moving forward.”
While Lakeville South (20-0-2) stayed neck and neck in the shot department, much of the first two periods were dominated by the Trojans, who advanced to the semifinal after Hill-Murray was forced to bow out because of COVID-19 exposure.
A sloppy and unenergetic first shift allowed Wayzata (14-6-2) to get lucky as Hayden Davison took a shot from the right slot that bounced off the leg of Lakeville South’s Cade Ahrenholz into the net. Just 25 seconds into the game, Lakeville South was trailing.
Then in the second period, following one of the first sustained periods of offensive pressure by Lakeville South, Wayzata’s Dylan Lews captializied on a bad clear attempt.
The senior found himself with the puck right in front of the net as the puck careened off a teammate’s skate. He put it past goaltender Cody Ticen to give the Trojans a two-goal lead and stifle the Cougars momentum.
The Trojans appeared primed to take that two-goal lead into the third period before Lakeville South found a breath of life with eight seconds left in the period. Ashton Dahms cleaned up a rebound and found the back of the net to cut the lead in half.
“It took the wind out of our sails.” O’Leary said. “You wish you could just keep playing and not have to go to the locker room and stew on it.”
The effects of the goal carried into the third period and proved to be pivotal as O’Leary thought his team “lost their legs.” And against one of the premier offenses in the state, that’s a death knell.
The Cougars first line began to generate some momentum and with a little over 10 minutes to play in the third period, Ahrenholz found the equalizer. The senior captain secured the puck from a scrum in front of the net and elevated the shot above the goaltender’s glove to tie the game at two.
Ahrenholzer wasn’t done. A little over five minutes later, the senior captain netted his second of the game on the power play. Fourty-seven seconds later, his linemate and the team’s leading scorer Cam Boche scored to make it 4-2.
Boche would add an empty-netter in the final moments after Wayzata cut the lead to one with 81 seconds left.
“They took it to us in the third and that was the end of the game,” O’Leary said.
Lakeville South will play the winner of Maple Grove-Eden Prairie in the state championship on Saturday.