Hudson assistant boys hockey coach Dean Talafous has seen a lot of great hockey over the years, first as a player at the University of Wisconsin and in the National Hockey League, then as coach of a national championship team at UW-River Falls before moving on to the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
But perhaps no team has impressed him more than the Raiders did in their 7-1 victory over Eau Claire Memorial in the championship game of the WIAA State Tournament Saturday, March 3, in Madison.
"As a coach, you dream about seeing your team play to its full potential," Talafous said. "It only happens maybe once out of every 100 times. But tonight it happened. Tonight it happened."
Hudson's emphatic victory over their Big Rivers Conference rival Old Abes capped a dominating state tournament run that saw the Raiders outscore their three opponents 18-3 on their way to winning their second straight state championship and fourth in the program's history. The top-ranked Raiders took care of St. Mary's Springs, 7-1, in the quarterfinals and beat Verona, 4-1 in the semifinals before routing No. 2 ranked Eau Claire Memorial in the title game.
Head coach Brooks Lockwood said he had some concerns heading into the playoffs. After opening the season with 21 straight wins the Raiders went 1-1-1 in their final three games, including a 2-2 tie with the Old Abes and a 3-2 loss to state qualifier Green Bay Notre Dame. They qualified for their third state tournament with a hard-fought 4-1 victory over Superior in a sectional final that included two empty-net goals by Hudson in the final minute.
But Lockwood said he finally saw the team he knew the Raiders could be at the state tournament.
"I think we were a little worried heading into the playoffs," he said. "When were we going to see the team that we know we could have? And we just peaked at the right time. We were very fortunate. Last year I think we might have peaked in sectionals and waded through the tournament. This year we peaked right when we needed to."
Eau Claire Memorial advanced to the championship game with a 6-2 win over West Salem in the quarterfinals and a 2-1 double overtime victory over last year's state runner-up Waukesha North in the semifinals.
Despite playing just 17 hours earlier, the Old Abes played Hudson to a 1-1 tie through the first ten minutes of the game before the Raiders reeled off six unanswered goals to become the first team to win a championship game in running time since 2006.
Senior co-captain Jordon Halverson said even when the Raiders took a 5-1 lead into the third period they couldn't let up against a team like the Old Abes.
"You can't take them lightly," he said. "They're a good third period team. When we played them earlier in the season they scored three goals in the third period, so we knew coming into the third we needed to stay on top of them."
The Raiders did just that. Cole Danielson finished off a hat trick with a power play goal 2:48 into the period and Jack Flattum scored from the right circle with 7:54 remaining to make it 7-1 and institute the running clock. Ben Lundeen, Payton Hanson and Joe Martin added a goal each in the win.
Junior goalie AJ Cohen, who stopped 58 of the 61 shots he faced in the three state tournament wins, said he didn't relax until the Raiders scored their seventh goal against the Old Abes.
"That's pretty hard to come back from," he said. "Especially when there's only eight minutes left."
Aaron Squires and Danielson scored two goals each and Bennett Schrank, Martin and Carter Maack each had a goal in the Raiders' 7-1 quarterfinal victory over St. Mary's Springs, Thursday, March 1.
Hudson avoided a rematch with the team that handed them their only loss of the season when Verona defeated Green Bay Notre Dame, 4-1, in their quarterfinal matchup. And in the semifinals against the Wildcats, Schrank scored twice and Squires and Lundeen had a goal each to set up an all Big Rivers Conference showdown for the state title.
Hudson ended the season with a record of 26-1-1 while Eau Claire Memorial finished 25-3-2 with two of their losses and a tie coming at the hands of the Raiders.
Danielson was named the tournament MVP after recording five goals and six points in the three games. Squires and Halverson were also named to the all-tournament first team while Schrank, Lundeen, Flattum and Cohen were selected to the second team.
The Raiders are the first team to win back-to-back state championships since Superior won three titles from 1993-95. Lockwood, a player on Hudson's first state championship team in 2001, grew emotional after the Raiders picked up their fourth state title in program history.
"It's just a great group of kids," he said. "Great program and great group back in our hometown. The association is wonderful and it's a tight knit group of people that really care about each other. It means a lot to me."