2008 Hill-Murray Pioneers

The 2008 AA boys hockey champions the Hill-Murray Pioneers, despite their programs string of over 20 state tournament appearances, had not won a state title since 1991. Their play can be summed up with their methodical wins over Roseau in the semis and Edina in the finals. The team was centered on goaltender Ryan Phillippi, who hadn't performed to his ability the previous two state tournaments. All had changed though as Phillippi would stonewall his way through three games, giving up just two goals on 83 shots. (His 97.65 save percentage would be amongst the highest in the history of the tournament.)

As announcer Lou Nanne would comment, the Pioneers game plan was to force Roseau defenseman Aaron Ness and Edina star Joe Gleason to give up the puck in their own zone before they started wheeling. Should Hill lose, atleast it wasn't going to be with their opponents fastest players. With Edina's powerful front line and the skill and speed of Ness & Co., the Pioneers plan was that if pressure mount in their own zone, their forwards would help out on the back checking. Defensive guys like Dan Sova and Bo Dolan were also huge on the boards. They were physical, and the team as a whole wasn't really all that impressed with the favored teams' credentials. The team believed in their coaches system: keep the gaps close between the defensemen and forwards/centers, win some of the battles in the boards, don't get caught in oddman rushes, wear your opponent down by checking, and most importantly, believe in your goalie. However, Hill-Murray did take some penalties. They were down many times on powerplay, but especially during the Roseau game (six short-handed), the teams confidence grew while on the penalty kill. They seemed to play even better in those situations because they were stronger on the boards. They cycled, disrupted skating lanes, and blocked off shooting and passing lanes. In total for the three days their opponent was 0-14 on the powerplay.

Ryan Furne captained the offense with 5 goals. Isaac Kohls and Dan Cecka were instrumental to the teams offensive output. Between the three they had 54 of the teams 89 shots on goal. Maybe the single most important aspect after their goaltending was the teams ability to transition from defense to offense with solid passing. They generated as much, if not more, quality chances on net than their opponent. (They had three breakaways alone on Roseau.) The team would score a respectable 12 goals in total, but on defense it was even better, only allowing two goals to go along with two shutouts for Phillippi. Against the favored Hornets, Hill's defense had such confidence in their goaltending that they would occasionally allow the Edina forwards to have the angle from 10 feet out (presumably to eliminate the center). But Flip stopped them all. He was poised.

Hill-Murray's 2008 championship was about intelligent hockey being engineered by the coaching staff and carried through by teammates being on the same page. It can be argued where this Hill-Murray team stands amongst the great ones, but the Pioneers' methodical approach is what makes them memorable.


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