State hockey called off with Rangers on a roll

Sean Welsh/Register: Brookings senior Carter Merritt, shown here during a home game versus Sioux Center on Dec. 30, finished second on the team with 27 points – 11 goals and 16 assists – this year. The Rangers’ season ended in the state semifinals when the tournament was canceled.

The South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association Varsity Boys’ State Tournament was officially canceled late last week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two quarterfinal games were contested in front of limited spectators the morning of March 13 at SCHEELS IcePlex in Sioux Falls before the event was postponed.

The second-seeded Rangers blasted Watertown 9-0 and No. 6 Oahe dropped Sioux Center 6-2.

Rushmore did not attend the tourney despite qualifying.

“Obviously you feel for the seniors and that’s everywhere all over the nation, whether it’s college or high school – the big thing is the seniors don’t get to finish their time out and those are the guys you kind of feel worse for,” said Brookings coach Justin Kirchhevel. “In general, our team was doing really well and was kind of coming together at the end of the season. We really needed to finish the season strong, but it’s one of those things where you can’t really predict that kind of thing and you have to take precautions.

“We understand that; it’s best for the community and the state organization. It’s just one of those things where you feel for the seniors. We wish we could have played it out and had a chance to win the state title it just didn’t end up happening.”

Cancellations have been the norm this spring across the globe, but this one came at a bad time for the Rangers.

They were on a roll.

After losing 3-2 to Watertown and 7-6 to Huron in home games Feb. 22-23, they rattled off four consecutive shutouts and appeared to have been peaking at the right time.

“That was definitely the hardest part. We’re a tournament team and we built to that for the end of the year,” added Kirchhevel. “We were still a young team but just one of those teams that had been building all year.

“Everybody was a little bit worried about Watertown – we were ready for them and ended up beating them 9-0 and taking it to them. Before that, we shut down two of the highest scoring offenses in South Dakota, so we were excited for what was ahead and we were probably playing at our best at that point. But just one of those things where it’s definitely a disappointing end to the season.

“A lot of the kids are ready to go and want to start for next year already and get everything prepared because they want to win a state title. That’s what we were focused on this year but we didn’t get that opportunity. It’s kind of unprecedented territory with where we’re at but we’re looking forward to the future.”

Brookings beat Yankton 10-0 at home and then posted road victories of 2-0 over Oahe and 6-0 over Huron on Feb. 28-March 1 to conclude the regular season.

The Rangers went 15-3-1-1 for 32 points – two behind top-seeded Sioux Falls 1 (17-3).

Brookings allowed a league-low 2.05 goals per game while scoring 4.7, which was good for fifth in the SDAHA.

“We had a few seniors that were pretty upset but they understood that we had no control over it,” noted Kirchhevel. “It’s just one of those things where we control what we control – we won the first game 9-0. The last four games we had shutouts to end the season. We were playing on a high note and it just kind of stinks that we ended on that streak.

“(After the Watertown) game, I told them we can’t control what’s going to happen but we can be prepared for what’s going to happen next. We thought it was going to get postponed but it ended up being canceled. It’s just one of those things where we really haven’t had our exit meetings as of yet or cleaned out the locker room. … We’ll try to move these seniors on to whatever school and we have a few kids that are trying to play hockey after, so just move them on to the best of our ability and be positive about.”

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