St. Cloud Apollo boys played a style of hockey that anyone who followed the Class A State Hockey Tournament is now familiar with.
The Eagles were focused on defense, stingy in their own end of the rink and would do anything to make sure the puck didn’t reach the net.
Junior defenseman Tanner Breidenbach embodies everything about that specific strategy.
“Having him being one of our skill guys helps, too, because he helps fuel the fire for everyone else,” Apollo coach Pete Matanich said. “If he’s doing it, the guys with less skill are going to be doing it, too.
“That’s why he’s one of our leaders.”
Breidenbach was the defensive leader on a defensive-first team. His 28 assists and 38 total points are both team-leading offensive numbers.
That balance of skill was recognized by those around the Central Lakes Conference, Section 6A and in March, the state took notice when Breidenbach helped the Eagles take fourth in Class A.
Now, the Times has named him the 2015 boys hockey All-Area Player of the Year.
“This year was a blast,” said Breidenbach, who was named to the Class A All-Tournament team.
“The state tournament was one of the funnest weeks of hockey I’ve ever had. It was an awesome experience. Once in a lifetime.”
Breidenbach is known for his athleticism and ability to kickstart Apollo’s offense from the back end from his defenseman position, but perhaps his most noticeable calling card is shot blocking.
That aspect of defense is so important to Breidenbach that he’s willing to put everything in front of a slapshot.
And on one particular slapshot by a St. Cloud Cathedral player in the section championship, it was Breidenbach’s helmet that stopped the puck. He was on the ice in pain and was helped to the locker room, but he didn’t stay there long.
“When I went to the locker room, my focus was just to get back out there and play once I knew that I was fine,” Breidenbach said. “I probably missed two or three minutes. I heard that one of our defensemen got a penalty, so I was trying to get back out there as quick as I could.
“Blocking shots is obviously painful, but we all encourage it and everyone accepts it.”
Breidenbach returned to the ice before the end of the period, finished the game while fearlessly continuing to get down in front of shots. Apollo won the game.
His efforts resulted in an All-Section 6A selection and All-Central Lakes, voted by the coaches.
“He’s a good defenseman who’s big and skates well,” Sartell coach Ryan Hacker said. “He leads their D-corps back there, and with Apollo’s system, they need some guys to block some shots and he blocks a lot.”
Added St. Cloud Cathedral coach Eric Johnson: “He’s a catalyst for their success and he plays a ton of minutes. When your top guy takes one off the side of the head in the section championship game, everyone else on the team is going to be willing to put in a lot more effort when they see that.”
That’s what his opponents have said, and they’ll have to prepare for Breidenbach’s two-dimensional game another season.
“He sees the ice so well, so he makes plays before they even open up for others to see,” Matanich said. “He’ll make the breakout pass, jump up in the rush and be the guy coming down the slot.”
All-CLC defenseman senior Grady Ewing has played his last game for Apollo, as has senior Logan Traut, but the Apollo D-corps has Brandon Baker, Danny Wieber and Leighton Lommel returning for their senior seasons with Breidenbach.
“We have a lot of big players coming back, but that’s when the other guys have to step up and fill roles,” Breidenbach said. “I’d say we play the whole defensive zone very well as a group, tipping passes and blocking shots.”
Between now and next season, Breidenbach will remain busy. Breidenbach will continue to participate in different invitational leagues throughout the offseason, in addition to playing for the Apollo baseball team this spring.
And come November, the Eagles will be a likely favorite to win Section 6A and head back to state, given the defensemen and group of solid forwards returning.
“I’d say we have a really good chance to be good,” Breidenbach said. “We’ll be very competitive in our section again, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Follow Tyler Buckentine on Twitter at @TylerBuckentine.
2015 Boys Hockey All-Area Team
Spencer Zwiener, Sr., Sartell
Area leader and Central Lakes Conference leader in goals (25), assists (34) and total points (58) … two-time All-Central Lakes … All-Section 6A … invited to play in the Ted Brill Great 8 … three-year letter winner … No. 2 all-time leading scorer in school history with 52 goals and 69 assists for 121 career points … set school records for goals and assists in a single season.
“He scored almost 60 points, but it’s more than that. It’s the leadership he brought to our locker room and to practice every single day and to the games, he brought a very professional attitude. He showed the younger guys how it needs to be done.”
– Sartell coach Ryan Hacker
Logan Neu, Jr., St. Cloud Cathedral
Scored 24 goals with 19 assists for 43 total points … All-Section 6A … All-Granite Ridge Conference in 2013-14 (no conference affiliation this season) … invited to play in High Performance Spring Festival.
“He got off to a fast start this year. When he plays with speed, he’s as good as anyone. If he continues to improve on consistency, he’ll be a great player.”
– Cathedral coach Eric Johnson
Braden Altena, Sr., St. Cloud Tech
Scored 14 goals with 19 assists for 33 points … All-Central Lakes … invited to play in the Ted Brill Great 8 … three-time letter winner … three-time All-Central Lakes Honor Student Athlete … Outstanding Offensive Player Award recipient (voted on by teammates) … 2014-15 team captain … 2014-15 team leader in goals and total points … Section 8-2A All-Star Tournament participant.
“He was an offensive tool for us as a sophomore and he just got better each year. It was pretty obvious this year that he was going to be our main offensive threat. He’s one guy who, if he got the puck, could go end to end.” – Tech coach Joel Heitkamp
Tanner Breidenbach, Jr., St. Cloud Apollo
Scored 10 goals with 28 assists for a team-leading 38 points … 2015 Class A All-State Tournament … All-Section 6A … two-time All-Central Lakes Conference … two-time Times All-Area … helped set school-record lows in goals against (34) and goals against average (1.34) … invited to play in the High Performance 17 Festival.
Grady Ewing, Sr., St. Cloud Apollo
Scored six goals with 19 assists for 25 points … All-Section 6A (second team) … All-Central Lakes … helped lead a penalty kill that had a success rate of 92.9 percent … invited to play in the Ted Brill Great 8.
“He’s a really gritty, tough defender. He’s great, defensively, but can be really great offensively, if need be. He’s always willing to block shots and do whatever it takes to win.”
– Apollo coach Pete Matanich
Nick Althaus, Jr., St. Cloud Apollo
Compiled a 1.52 goals against average with a .916 save percentage and six shutouts … All-Central Lakes.
“He’s been extremely steady for us and won some big games for us this season. He’s extremely, extremely competitive.”
– Apollo coach Pete Matanich
Matt Moran, F, Jr., Sartell
Collin Johnson, F, Jr., Sartell
Jason Omann, F, Sr., St. Cloud Apollo
Gino Lucia, F, Sr., St. Cloud Apollo
Grant Thompson, F, Jr., River Lakes
Matthew Prozinski, D, Sr., River Lakes
Trevor Cornelius, D, Jr., St. Cloud Cathedral
Spencer Meier, D, So., Sartell
Zach Fritz, G, Sr., St. Cloud Cathedral
All-Area Boys Hockey Players of the Year
2015 — Tanner Breidenbach, D, St. Cloud Apollo
2014 — Will Hammer, F, St. Cloud Cathedral
2013 — Austin Poganski, F, St. Cloud Cathedral
2012 — Danny Johnston, F, St. Cloud Cathedral
2011 — Andrew Deters, Sartell
2010 — Nick Maiers, St. Cloud Cathedral
2009 — Ben Hanowski, Little Falls
2008 — Beau Hanowski and Ben Hanowski, Little Falls
2007 — Jared Festler, Little Falls
2006 — Tommy Wippler, Sauk Rapids
2005 — Steven Festler, Little Falls
2004 — John Swanson, St. Cloud Tech
2003 — Travis Winter, St. Cloud Tech
2002 — Mike Howe, St. Cloud Apollo
2001 — Mike Howe, St. Cloud Apollo
2000 — Chris Harrington, St. Cloud Apollo
1999 — Chris Harrington, St. Cloud Apollo
1998 — Lenny Hoffman, St. Cloud Apollo
1997 — Kent Sauer, St. Cloud Apollo
1996 — Cory Dockendorf, St. Cloud Apollo
1995 — Wes Ruprecht, St. Cloud Apollo
1994 — Benji Wolke, St. Cloud Cathedral
1993 — Stuart Swenson, St. Cloud Apollo
1992 — Kelly Rieder, St. Cloud Apollo
1991 — Charlie Host, St. Cloud Apollo
1990 — Todd Williams, St. Cloud Apollo
1989 — Dan O’Shea, St. Cloud Tech
1988 — Cory Laylin, St. Cloud Apollo
1987 — Jeff Althaus, St. Cloud Cathedral
1986 — Jeremy Mendel, St. Cloud Apollo
1985 — Todd Bissett, St. Cloud Tech
1984 — Ken Carlson, St. Cloud Apollo