One of these winters, the Prior Lake boys hockey team is going to break down that Section 2AA door that leads to the state tournament.
It wasn't this season, despite the Lakers finishing with a strong 14-3-2 overall record, 13-2-2 in the South Suburban Conference.
Second-seeded Prior Lake fell 3-1 at home to third-seeded Minnetonka in the Section 2AA semifinals March 20. It's the ninth time in the last 11 seasons the Lakers' season has ended in the second round of the playoffs.
Prior Lake lost in the first round in 2019 and got to the title game in 2016 for the first time as a Class 2A program, but fell 4-2 to Eden Prairie.
The top-seeded EP Eagles beat Minnetonka 4-3 in overtime March 24 to win their third straight section crown. Eden Prairie has been to state seven of the last eight years.
Section 2AA has been strong for the last decade even though the teams have changed. In the last six years, Eden Prairie has won five titles and Minnetonka has one (2017).
Between 2011 and 2015, Edina and Burnsville were in Section 2AA with Prior Lake, while Minnetonka and Eden Prairie were in Section 6AA. Edina won all five section crowns in that span, beating Burnsville in the title game in four times.
The Blaze was an elite program at the time — three players from those teams are now in the NHL and one won the Hobey Baker Award playing for the Gophers.
So Prior Lake has never had an easy road in Section 2AA to trying get consecutive playoff wins over the likes of Edina, Burnsville, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie and emerging programs like Holy Family and Chaska.
But Prior Lake will keep on trying and next year's team will have some strong talent back, starting with juniors Will Schumacher, Alex Bump and Sam Rice. They were the team's top-three scorers this winter.
Schumacher led the Lakers in points with 36 (15 goals, 21 assists), while Bump had 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) and Rice finished with 31 (15 goals, 16 assists).
Junior Trevor Boschee got most of the minutes in goal for Prior Lake. He finished the season with five shutouts, a 1.74 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
The Lakers will need to replace nine seniors — Will Magnuson, Ryan Hadland, Keegan Masser, Bennett Soderberg, Braydon Buckingham, Marco Bianchi, Matt Beaty, Aidan Emerson and Zach Lavigne.
Magnuson (6 goals, 11 assists), Hadland (7 goals, 10 assists) and Beaty (7 goals, 10 assists) were tied for fourth on the team in points with 17, along junior Jackson Anderson (2 goals, 15 assists).
Soderberg (8 goals, 6 assists) and junior Riley Dueber (5 goals, 9 assists) each finished with 14 points, while Emerson (4 goals, 8 assists) and junior Justin Kingery (6 goals, 6 assists) both had 12.
Emerson and Magnuson were the anchors of the Lakers' defense.
In the playoff loss to Minnetonka, Soderberg had Prior Lake's lone goal in third period when the Skippers were up 3-0. Magnuson and Hadland had the assists.
Boschee made 22 saves.
Prior Lake opened the playoffs March 22 with an 8-0 win over seventh-seeded Chanhassen. Boschee got the shutout with 12 saves.
Beaty had a goal and three assists, while Bump had two goals and an assist. Soderberg, Kingery, Rice, Schumacher and Anderson each had one goal.
Hadland finished with two assists, while Dueber, Buckingham, Bianchi, Kingery, Emerson, Magnuson and junior Justin Simonson each had one.