“When a group of people commits to something bigger than themselves, dreams come true”

Elk River/Zimmerman wins Section 8AA as No. 4 seed

After 19 seasons, Elk River returns to The X

The Elk River/Zimmerman Elks haven’t made a trip to the State Tournament since 2005, but on Wednesday, that all changed. 

It’s not too often in Minnesota High School hockey there’s a fourth seed versus sixth seed facing off in the section championship, but the game of the underdogs didn’t disappoint. These two teams squared off to start their seasons on Nov. 28, when Buffalo got the better of the Elks 6-2.

Daniel Babcock pictured right the right, had one goal and one assist in the section final win for Elk River.

Elk River came out charging, scoring four minutes into the game, when Daniel Babcock scored off passes from Braden Hansberger and Kole Mears. The Elks dominant first period continued as they found twine again in the late stages of the opening frame. The phrase “shoot the puck and good things will happen” came true for Tristan Kriech as he fired the puck on the net, getting it stuck under the pad of Max Varner and finding its way into the net. Gavin Sperling and Preston Holmes both had assisted on the Elks second goal. The Elks were winning on the scoreboard and in shots, shots were heavily in favor of Elk River 10-2.

Buffalo made good adjustments in the second period, evening the ice with the type of play that got them to this point. The Bisons’ improved period came with no reward as the Elks netted their their third goal over halfway into the frame. Mears scored on a brilliant one-timed feed from Babcock, this was the second time these two connected on a goal in the game. The Elks were outshot by the Bison 13-9 in the second period, but Gavin Greniuk stood on his head, keeping the Bison off the scoreboard.

Elk River/Zimmerman took a couple of penalties midway through the third period, which gave Buffalo some life. The Bison had numerous good looks on both man-advantages but yet again, Greniuk stood tall and lived out every Minnesota goalie’s dream and completed a shutout in the section final game, taking down Buffalo 3-0. Greniuk stopped all 24 shots he faced for the Elks.

“It is a dream come true, I’m speechless,” said goalie Gavin Greniuk.

Gavin Greniuk had a lot to celebrate when he completed a shutout in the section-final win over Buffalo.

The Junior netminder has been a rock in net all season, going 16-9-1 and sporting a 2.24 GAA and .927 Sv%. He added his second shutout in the title game.

“It’s the team in front of me, I couldn’t have done it without the guys in front of me,” he said.

Greniuk was not only a big reason for the Elks section title game win but also their late-season surge.

“He’s the backbone of our team, he embraces the moment and the opportunity,” said Head Coach Ben Gustafson.


Elk River/Zimmerman improved to 18-9-1 on the season and getting revenge on Buffalo from their opening season loss.

En route to the title game, the Elks took down top-seeded Moorhead 4-2, but even before the win over the Spuds, the team had the confidence to win the section.

“We knew we could win this section before the playoffs started. In this section, everyone can beat anybody, so we knew if we played our game it was our time,” said Gustafson.

The Elks had a lot of confidence before the Moorhead game, and it showed.

“Heading into the Moorhead game, I knew our team was going to win, and it was no different tonight,” said Greniuk.

Hockey is a sport of momentum, and Elk River had lots of that heading into playoffs.

“We peaked at the right time, and you talk to any hockey coach and he knows if you get hot into playoffs anything can happen. We took down Andover and Centennial late in the season, so our confidence was souring into sections.”

The Elks return to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time in 19 years.

Elk River/Zimmerman cheering the win with their large student section. A great Minnesota tradition.

Class A Section Finals

Section 1A

No. 1 Seed Northfield 4, No. 2 Seed Dodge County 1

The top-seeded Northfield Raiders took down no. 2 seed Dodge County on Wednesday in the section 1A title game. The Raiders make it back-to-back trips to St. Paul after winning the section in 2023 against New Prague.

After a scoreless opening frame, Northfield was the lone team to score in the second period when Will Cashin found twine 13 minutes into the game. The Raiders outshot Dodge County 12-4 in the opening frame, and 21–6 in the middle period.

Northfield continued their dominance in the third period, scoring three times from Griffin Kennelly, Cayden Monson, and Michael Steward. Dodge County scored their lone goal in the final frame when Gideon Ellinghysen netted a goal for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t enough for a comeback as Northfield took down Dodge County 4-1. The Raiders were in control all game, outshooting the Wildcats 49-15.

The Wildcats netminder was great in net despite the loss. Jackson Roethler stopped 45 of 49 as he gave it his all in the title game.

Northfield moved to 22-4-2 and will head to St. Paul for a round-one game on Wednesday.

Section 2A

No. 1 Seed Orono 4, No. 3 Seed Minneapolis 1

After a 1-1 tie in the first period and a scoreless middle frame, Orono scored three times in the third en route to a 4-1 win over Minneapolis. The Spartans make it back-to-back trips to state for the first time since they went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Jackson Knight, Cayden Effertz and Tommy Lewin all scored in the third period as it put away Minneapolis in a fairly even game. Shots favored the Spartans 35-26, as both goalies performed very well. Mike Shroat stopped 31 of 34 in net for Minneapolis. Peyton Anderson stopped 25 of 26 for the Spartans.

The Spartans improved to 20-8-0 on the season and have a special date inside the Xcel Energy Center next week.

Section 3A

No. 2 Seed New Ulm 4, No. 5 Seed Marshall 2

Marshall moved into the section title game taking down the number one seed Luverne, but couldn’t get by the second seed New Ulm, as the Eagles will head to St. Paul after a 4-2 win over Marshall.

The Eagles struck twice in the first period when Brody Nordby and Brody Wenner both scored and gave New Ulm a 2-0 lead. Marshall came out with an early second-period goal when Andrew Seanor got them back within a goal. The celebration didn’t last long for Marshall, as Ian Brudelie scored on the power play for New Ulm, getting them back up by two. The Eagles held a 3-1 lead after two periods.

Seanor scored again for Marshall in the third period, but yet again New Ulm answered right back. Ian Brudelie scored the final goal of the game, giving the Eagles the 4-2 win and a trip to The X.

Section 5A

No. 1 St. Cloud Cathedral 4, No. 2 Seed Monticello Moose 1

St. Cloud Cathedral heads back to St. Paul after their section final 4-1 win over Monticello.

The Crusaders got goals from Griffin Sturm, Joey Gillespie, Andrew Dwinnell, and Caden Johnson as they never really gave up momentum. Cathedral outshot Monticello 39-27, as their netminder Nick Hansen stopped 26 of 27 for the Crusaders.

St. Cloud Cathedral moved to 23-4-1 on the year and made their second consecutive trip to the state.

Section 7A

No. 1 Seed Hermantown 4, No. 3 Seed Hibbing/Chisholm 0

Back, back again.

Hermantown makes it back to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year after a 4-0 win over Hibbing/Chisholm.

The Bluejackets were arguably the better team in the first period outshooting the Hawks 10-8, but Hermantown was the only team to score. The Hawks got a first-period goal from Will Esterbrooks, assisted by Bode Madill and Weston Bohlman. 

Hibbing gave Hermantown all they had in the opening frame, but Hermantown did what they do best in big games and took over. The Hawks scored twice in the second period, getting goals from Charlie Marchand and AJ Francisco to take a 3-0 lead after two periods. The Hawks also outshot Hibbing 22-8 in the middle frame.

Ford Skytta scored Hermantown’s final goal as they took down the Bluejackets 4-0. Rex Walli deserves a lot of credit, stopping 40 shots in net for Hibbing, and withholding a Hermantown surge. Dane Callaway stopped all 27 shots he faced as the Hawks make their usual trip to the Xcell Energy Center next week.