Each of the last three years, Grand Rapids High’s season ended in the same fashion: a sectional semifinal loss to Duluth East. This year, Bruins tender Jason Koehn and his Thunderhawk teammates weren’t going accept the same fate. Trailing 5-3 in the third period of what this season was the sectional championship, Grand Rapids stormed back to capture a 6-5 win and clinch the school’s first trip to the Minnesota State Tournament for the first time since 2007.
“I felt that feeling last year of losing in the semifinals,” Koehn said. “This year, in my senior year, for all the guys it’s been a goal to get to the State Tournament.”
Koehn returned to Grand Rapids after playing nine games with the Bruins at the outset of the NAHL season. He didn’t register any points, but he learned a lot from his first experience in juniors.
“I really learned not to take high school for granted because juniors are definitely a lot different,” he said. “I also learned a lot from coach Grabowski. He really showed me a lot of little things that really improve your game and make you stand out a lot more.”
Koehn took Grabowski’s tips back to Grand Rapids and scored 3 goals with 5 assists in the 25 game regular season. The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but Grabowski says that isn’t the reason the Bruins were drawn to Koehn.
“He didn’t score a ton in high school hockey but we don’t really expect him to be that type of player,” Grabowski said. “We like him because he’s a six foot centerman who has a pretty good compete level.”
That compete level will be put to the test on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center as the Thunderhawks prepare to take on Bemidji in the quarterfinals. The two teams played to a 1-1 tie back in November in their only regular season meeting. It was about as evenly matched a game could be, with each team registering 21 shots on goal.
“They are a very similar team to us. We both have a sophomore goalie in net,” Koehn added after referencing the early season draw. “It should be a really close game.”
As for next season, Koehn’s personal goals with the Bruins are getting “bigger, faster, and stronger,” along with “showing up a little more on the point sheet.” He will enter Bruins camp with the perk of having being through the process once before.
“He’s been here so he kind of knows what to expect and he knows what he needs to do rather than a high school senior coming in blind so I think that’s to his advantage,” Grabowski said.
But before Koehn starts thinking about next year, his dream of winning a state title is still very much in reach. Said Grabowksi: “You’re on the biggest stage maybe in amateur hockey. Nowhere else do you have 18,000 people show up to a high school sport. It’s unbelievable so obviously it’s something that will be a great experience for him and we wish him the best.”
Grand Rapids and Bemidji face off on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 PM.