BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. - The Vegas Golden Knights have made history in their first season in the NHL, reaching the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team.
The Duluth Wolfpack, a lesser-known, relative newcomer to the world of prep lacrosse, were hoping to produce a similar shock result Wednesday in the Section 7 final against Centennial.
In just their third varsity season, the Wolfpack had gone from a 4-11 debut in 2016 to 6-9 a year ago and a remarkable section-best 14-1 this season.
But like their Vegas counterparts - whose season could come to an end Thursday - the Wolfpack's dream season concluded Wednesday with an 8-6 loss to the Cougars at Park Center High School.
"This is definitely a see ya later rather than a goodbye," sophomore attacker Jayden Erie said. "I thought we matched up pretty well with that team, but it just didn't go our way."
Senior midfielder Brady Partington, junior midfielder Jordan Rodriguez and junior attacker Garrett Hoch each scored two goals for the Cougars (9-6), who advance to next week's state tournament.
The Wolfpack finished 14-2 and brimming with confidence about the future.
"This was huge," Duluth junior midfielder Will Smyth said of reaching the final. "Beating Blaine the other night (in the section semifinals) almost felt like winning state."
Smyth opened the scoring 1:12 into the contest with the first of his two goals before the Cougars scored four times in a row to take a 4-1 lead into halftime. The most damaging of those goals came with 5 seconds left in the half when Rawley Scherman scooped up a loose ball and stuffed it in from just outside the crease.
"We had a few mental mistakes," Wolfpack coach Scott Wishart said. "That cost us a few looks and opportunities. And we had a few turnovers that led to some goals (for Centennial)."
Centennial added to its lead in the third quarter before the Wolfpack made a run, starting with the first of Erie's three goals 8:59 into the second half to cut the deficit to 6-3.
Smyth and Erie tallied again just 1:35 apart in the fourth quarter to make it 6-5 before Hoch and Andrew Renneke ended the suspense with Centennial goals.
Erie, who closed the season with 30-plus goals, tallied in the final half minute to close the scoring.
"It was nice to get off to an early start, with the possession and a quick goal. I'm always confident with our team whether we're up or whether we're down. I have faith in the guys on the field," Wishart said. "It was tough going down but we made sure we battled back."
Dan Heldt and Matt Ortscheid started the Duluth Chargers club team in 1999, a movement that eventually led to varsity status for the combined East and Denfeld program three years ago.
Numbers have continued to climb as has the athleticism of the players.
"We're coming, we're coming," Wishart warned the competition. "We're pushing, we're hungry and the kids are putting in the time. The offseason starts tomorrow. We have to keep these kids hungry and motivated. We have a great lacrosse community and great athletes up there so we need to keep building and keep taking steps forward every year.
"This season shows that lacrosse is here to stay, and we're trying to do everything we can to get more kids out playing. Whether it's starting at 8 years old or with freshmen and sophomores in high school."
Erie is one of those who began playing about seven years ago and sees a bright future.
"I'm super proud of what our program has been able to do," he said. "Even at the youth level, we've been getting more and more kids involved every year."
Will that lead to a state-tournament berth next year?
Smyth, for one, believes it can.
"Our junior class has been playing together since fifth grade, we know each other so well," he said. "We could have a chance at state again next season. We're graduating some seniors and we'll miss them, but I think we can replace them."