In each of the last three decades at least one banner season has unfolded for the Brainerd Warriors boys' hockey team.
This winter the Warriors, who open Section 7AA quarterfinal tournament play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brainerd Area Civic Center against fifth-seeded Hibbing, have enjoyed one of those banner seasons. They went 18-3-1 overall, tying the 1993-94 team for the second-most wins in program history, and finished the regular season with nine consecutive victories.
In addition the Warriors clinched a tie for the fifth Central Lakes Conference title in program history with a 9-2-0 record.
Advance tournament tickets on sale
Advance tickets are on sale for Thursday's Section 7AA boys' hockey quarterfinal tournament game at Brainerd Area Civic Center between the Brainerd Warriors and Hibbing Bluejackets.
Tickets will be sold in the Brainerd High School activities office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until they are sold out. Individuals will be allowed to purchase up to four tickets. Individuals must show identification when purchasing tickets.
All tickets will be for general admission seating. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students.
Approximately 400 tickets will go on sale Thursday at the civic center. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Other banner seasons included the 1980-81 team that earned the top seed in the one-class Section 8 tournament and lost 5-4 in overtime in the quarterfinals to Fergus Falls. Brainerd finished 17-2-1.
Ten years later the top-seeded Warriors advanced to the section championship game in the final one-class tournament. They lost to Roseau 3-2 in double-overtime and finished 21-3-1, the most wins in program history.
This season, despite the second-best record of any section team, Brainerd was voted the fourth seed. Top-seeded Duluth East is 18-4-0, No. 2 Greenway 17-5-0 and No. 3 Cloquet 15-7-0.
"Any time you finish 18-3-1 you've got to be doing something right," Brainerd coach Ty Eigner said. "No one can take anything away from these kids. They had the second-most wins in the school's (history) and won the conference championship.
"Until you play every team in the section you are never going to get (seeding) just right. Do I think as coach of Brainerd High School that we should have been seeded higher? Yes. Am I surprised? No. We didn't play as tough a schedule as Hibbing, Duluth East or Greenway."
Brainerd beat ninth-ranked St. Cloud Apollo twice, defeated Moorhead for the first time in nine years and won at Alexandria and at Willmar after losing to both at home.
If the Warriors advance in the section they will do so without sophomore center Brian Reese and senior defenseman Tom Zaleski.
Reese suffered a lacerated kidney after being cross-checked from behind Jan. 29. He was leading Brainerd in scoring (35 points) at the time and may be lost for the season.
On Feb. 15, Zaleski was assessed his second cross checking from behind penalty of the season and must sit out three more games -- the duration of the section tournament.
"(Assistant coach) Toby Kvalevog and I were talking that we haven't had our full roster -- what we would consider our top 20 players -- suit up together in a game since before the Fergus Falls game (Jan. 25)," Eigner said. "That's the game when (goalie) Tyler John went out (and later had an emergency appendectomy).
"To this team's credit every time something happens, Zaleski's first suspension, someone's sick, we have an appendectomy, or a kidney, we have had kids step up.
"We play three goaltenders. Any one of them could start Thursday and deserve it."
In Reese's absence defenseman Tim Conboy has stepped up to seize the team scoring lead with 20 goals and 26 assists. Forward J.P. Platisha follows with 37 points, Colin Ryan has 33, Henrik Impola 20, Zaleski 21 and Ben House 17.
Goalie Grant VanWyngeeren has a 6-0-1 record and 1.71 goals-against average, Joel Zacher is 6-0-0 with a 2.30 GAA and John is 6-3-0 with a 2.51 GAA.
Hibbing (13-9-0) is led by John Bottoms with 35 points, Jeff Bugliosi (30), Brad Willis and Eric Grzybowski (22 apiece) and Derek Brennan (21).
The Bluejackets' top goalie is Kasey Conda with a 2.04 GAA and .899 save percentage.
Eigner watched Hibbing play Feb. 12, a 7-1 win over Irondale.
"Like we've told our kids they are solid," Eigner said of Hibbing. "They do a lot of things very well and they play hard. The don't have any real weaknesses that jump out at you. They play three lines, four defensemen and have solid goaltending. They're a good-looking team. This will be a good test for us.
"I think this will be as good of a No. 4 vs. No. 5 game as there is going to be in the state. There will be two pretty good teams playing."
Hibbing leads series 3-1
The Bluejackets beat Brainerd three times between 1995-96 and 1992-93. The Warriors' only win was 3-2 in 1993-94.
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