The Highland Bulldogs Hockey Club capped off an undefeated run through the playoffs with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over the rival Triad Knights on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at East Alton Ice Arena to claim the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association 1A Championship.
Highland (13-9-3) entered the playoffs with an even 9-9-3 record, but the Bulldogs reeled off four post-season wins to hoist the championship trophy.
In the semifinal series, the Bulldogs swept Civic Memorial, posting a 7-3 win in game one on Feb. 8 before doubling up the Eagles 8-4 on Feb. 12.
Then, on Friday, Feb. 15, in the first game of the best-of-three series against Triad, the Bulldogs edged the Knights 5-4 in a shootout before going on to the final game win and sweep the championship series 2-0.
It was the first time since the 2000-01 season that team members of the HBHC have skated off the ice with a championship trophy.
Highland second-year coach John Criswell said winning the title is a big reward for all of the hard work and sacrifices the players put into the season.
"We have summer practice, and then the season practices begin in the first of October, and the season doesn't end until February. So it is a long season, and there is a lot of time and commitment that goes into it," said Criswell, who is also the president of the MVCHA. "It is a great feeling to leave the ice with that trophy."
Highland only had four seniors on the roster, but Criswell said they were a special foursome.
The four seniors were all vital cogs, including team captain Brock Troxell on defense, assistant captain Devin Korte on defense, assistant captain Zack Korte at center, and Ryker Grove at left wing.
"We figured we had a chance to do something special this season with the four seniors coming back to the team," he said. "The senior class meant so much to this team, and we couldn't have asked for anything better or more from our four seniors."
Sophomore right-winger Lucas Korte rounded out the main five, and backstopping the Bulldogs between the pipes was junior goalie Cody Blackburn.
Troxell, who ranked ranked third in the St. Louis area in assists, said the championship means a ton to him and his teammates.
"It was our team goal from the beginning," said Troxell. "We knew that this was our year. I was honored to be named captain as a senior of this talented group and be able to lead them to a championship against our rival. It makes up for a everything we have done this year. We have had such a small team, but having such a great achievement under our belts is a great reward.
"We were definitely not the favorites going into the playoffs. We had none of the teams' respect going in, and that made us really mad, and we were able to use that to push us through the playoffs. And we got hot at the right time. We started as soon as the first puck dropped in our first (playoff) game and we never let up."
Highland was also helped by a two-week break between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.
"That really helped us, because we have five players that played the majority of the games, and we have a sixth man who comes in when we need a break," Troxell said. "To be honest, that is quite unbelievable, considering the team's that we faced had 20 kids play throughout the game."
Devin Korte led Highland in scoring with 73 points, which was highlighted by a team-high 50 goals. His 73 points ranks third among the area leaders in the entire St. Louis area, while his 50 goals sits fourth. Korte also racked up 12 hat tricks to lead the entire St. Louis area, including four five-goal games. His final hat trick came in the 5-4 shootout win over Triad in the first game of the final series. Korte followed that up with a two-goal performance in the 4-2 title-clinching game.
Lucas Korte was next on the scoring pylon with 68 points, which places him fifth in the St. Louis area. He netted 33 goals and dished out 35 assists, which was tops in the St. Louis area. He also pumped in five hat tricks, and had two-goal, two-assist performances both in the 4-2 win over Triad to clinch the title as well as in the 8-4 win over CM to wrap up the semifinal round.
Third on the Bulldogs with his 59 points (28 goals, 31 assists) was Troxell.
Zack Korte was the team's fourth-leading scorer with 38 points on 23 goals and 15 assists.
In addition, Grove finished with 17 points on seven goal and 10 assists.
Blackburn finished the season 12-7-2 in the net, but he was never better than when it mattered most -- the final against Triad. Blackburn turned all but two of Triad's 30 shots away in the final game. He also stopped 26 of 30 shots in the 5-4 shootout victory over Triad in game one of the championship series.
All Star Game
During the two-week break in between the end of the regular season on Jan. 25 and the start of the semifinal series with CM on Feb. 8, the Highland Bulldogs were very well represented on the scoresheet at the 1A MVCHA All Star Game as the 1A Red Team came from behind to win an 8-7 thriller against the 1A Blue Team.
Blackburn started in goal and stopped 15 of 16 shots to give the 1A Red Team a 2-1 lead after the first period.
The 1A Blue team outscored the 1A Red 5-1 in the second period to take a 6-3 lead into the third period.
The 1A Red team roared back in the third period and scored the game winner with 3:56 remaining to secure the 8-7 victory.
Leading the Highland players were Lucas Korte with a pair of goals and one assist, Zack Korte with three assists, Devin Korte with one goal, and Ryker Grove and Brock Troxell each with one assist.
The 1A Red Team also won the Skills Competitiion that was held in between periods.
Players sought for next season
The Highland Bulldogs Hockey Club is already preparing for the upcoming 2018-2019 season. Any player interested who lives in the Highland School District and was born in 2005 or earlier is eligible to play in the upcoming season that starts in October 2018. The HBHC can help outfit the players with equipment in order to try out this exciting sport. If interested, contact Scott Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-514-2262.