BEMIDJI -- Minnetonka boys hockey coach Sean Goldsworthy calls it "playoff hockey."
The defending Class AA state champions and top-ranked Skippers play a grueling schedule loaded with ranked opponents in an effort to prepare for section and state tournaments that will be top-notch teams.
Sometimes, it isn't pretty. But it doesn't need to be.
With temperatures hovering near 20-below zero at the opening puck drop, Minnetonka adjusted to the elements perhaps a little bit quicker in a 5-2 win over second-ranked Andover in the opening game on Hockey Day Minnesota.
"It was a major distraction," Goldsworthy said of the weather early on. "But you know what? You've just gotta deal with it. It was the morning game, the start time was early so that's hard for the kids. But then they get out there and after the first period, I think we settled in and it turned into normal game ... as best it could."
With bulky jackets on loan from the Minnetonka football team and batting gloves borrowed from the school's baseball team, the Skippers overcame the cold and got a critical mid-season victory, a win they hope stakes their claim as the best team in the state.
There's still plenty of time before the state tournament begins in March, and there are still plenty of conference games and section tournaments to navigate if these clubs are to meet again. But there's no doubt, both teams think there's a chance they could have a rematch in St. Paul in mid-March.
"They are a great team and we wanted to come out hard and compete, especially on a stage like this," said Minnetonka senior defenseman Grant Docter. "It was fun to kind of stick it to them a little bit, but they're not going away any time soon. They're one great team and we expect to see them again for sure."
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Minnetonka knew it would take some "playoff hockey" early on. Goldsworthy said he spent much of the first period watching the ice conditions.
About five minutes into the game, he said the ice quality started to take a steep decline.
With the Skippers clinging to a 2-1 lead through two periods, Goldsworthy's message to the team was to keep things simple.
"Pucks gotta get deep, no sloppy turnovers, get to the net," Goldsworthy said. "Our guys were talking about it, pucks were jumping on them all day long. So the message was to keep it simple."
While the final score indicated a game that looked lopsided, a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period certainly helped the Skippers. Minnetonka extended its one-goal lead early by scoring twice, then answered again when Andover made it 4-2 later in the final frame.
Huskies coach Mark Manney said he won't look too far ahead. His club still has plenty of business to take care of, including a potential rematch with Duluth East come section tournament time.
But if Andover and Minnetonka do meet again, he believes his group gained enough confidence to know its a game they could win.
"We're going through a stretch right now, it's our eighth game in 16 days, it's been a battle," Manney said. "It was nice to see 'Tonka, get on the same ice as them and I think our guys' impression is, they're pretty good, but they're nothing to be afraid of.
"We wanted to win. We didn't get it, but I think we learned a lot about our team and we can use that going forward."