Mar. 25—HUTCHINSON — With the puck out of harm's way, Darby Halonen flung his stick and right glove toward the right circle in the defensive zone as the clock on the scoreboard approached triple zero.
Next, the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato senior goaltender ripped off his helmet before junior defenseman Gavyn Lund jumped into his arms.
Soon, the rest of their teammates flooded the ice with their equipment. Because on Wednesday night, the Dragons became section champions, again.
Behind a hat trick from senior forward Logan Benson, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato beat Hutchinson 4-3 in the Section 3A title game from Burich Arena.
The Dragons were the second seed while the Tigers were the top seed. Hutchinson mauled LDC 8-1 in last season's section championship. But a bit of revenge on their opponent's home ice, the Dragons are headed to state for the fifth time in program history and the third time in the last six years.
"After last year, going down to Gustavus (Adolphus College) and playing them there, we came out on the wrong side," LDC head coach Brice Berggren said. "I told the boys yesterday that it was a good learning experience as tough as it was. To be in that position and get a taste, we were hoping to taste the other side and we were fortunate enough tonight to do that."
The visitors led 3-1 after two periods. Hutchinson charged back to tie it with goals from T.J. Tydlacka and Ty Glaser.
With 5 minutes, 31 seconds remaining, the Dragons went on a power play. They needed just 15 seconds to cash in, but they did so under a degree of controversy.
Tristan Hoppe controlled the puck in the defensive zone with Benson on his hip. Benson jabbed toward the puck and appeared to get his stick slightly caught in Hoppe's skates. The senior defenseman went down, but there was no call. Suddenly with a wide-open look at the net, Benson immediately sniped a shot by Tigers senior goaltender Austin Hagen for the game-winner.
"I don't even know who fell," Benson said. "The puck just ended up on my stick right in the slot. So I just shot it and it ended up going in."
The home fans roared in anger over the non-call. Hutchinson head coach Matt Telecky was not interested in ripping the officials after the game.
"It was unfortunate the timing of it," Telecky said. "We just needed to kill (the penalty)."
The Tigers had their chance to tie it after junior forward Zach Zwilling was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining. Pulling Hagen with under a minute to go, the hosts got just two shots on goal with the player advantage.
Halonen made both saves and finished with 28 stops in the win.
"I'm very proud of the way we came back," Berggren said. "When you have a two-goal lead and all of a sudden it's tied up, it's easy to feel that momentum swing and feel it start going the other way. These boys answered back with a lot of energy."
Benson provided energy out the gate. He delivered the game's opening goal on a wrist shot just 2:36 into the game. Lund made it 2-0 when he fired a shot from the point midway through in the second.
The Tigers got that goal back on a goal from K.K. Starrett, but the Dragons entered the second intermission up 3-1 when Benson snuck in for a rebound in the minute of the period.
The senior forward had a game kids dream of. But he took it all in stride.
"I just came to play a hockey game and wanted to do my best," Benson said. "I kind of got lucky; two pucks just popped up in front of me and I just pushed them into the net. I didn't have to do much on them."
Section 3A championship
Litchfield/D-C (10-8-2) 1 2 1 — 4
Hutchinson (12-7-2) 0 1 2 — 3