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Pekin Dragons Repeat As Downstate Champions

By Ross Forman, 03/20/24, 6:00PM CDT


The No. 1-seed Pekin Dragons cruised past the No. 2-seed Kankakee Irish on Sunday, March 17, at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington to claim the (Downstate) Illinois High School Hockey State Championship for the second consecutive season.

Freshman defenseman Brody Teaney scored late in the second period, pushing the Dragons’ lead to 4-0 and solidifying their stance heading into the third. “That goal really sticks out in my mind,” said Ryan Otto, in his ninth season as Pekin head coach.

The Dragons compete in the Lincoln Land Prep Hockey League and feature players from Pekin High School, Tremont High, Illini Bluffs, Midwest Central, Dee Mack and Delavan High.

“Everyone played well,” Otto said.

The Dragons led 1-0 after the first, then struck for three in the second.

Senior goalie Charles Maquet “played great” to secure the shutout, Otto said.

Pekin stars Colton Cox and Owen Gruden, as well as brothers Deitrich and Brendan Miller, were exceptional in the finals, Otto said.

“It’s great,” going back-to-back, sparking further interest in the program, Otto said. “To win two (state championships) in a row is something I never dreamed of five years ago. We’d go up north (years ago) and play but had no luck in those years playing in the Combined or Red Division.”

This season marked the first time that Pekin fielded a JV team in about 15 years. So, yes, they already are thinking about a three-peat.

“We have a lot of players returning and our young guns are already contributing. They will be ready to go again,” next season, Otto said. “This was a heckuva run. We were able to stay focused all year, regardless of who we were playing (against) or how the games went.”

Pekin’s state championship avenged the team’s 4-3 loss about five weeks earlier to, you guessed it, the Kankakee Irish. The Dragons ran roughshod through the league, scoring 10 or more goals in nine of 16 league games, including a stretch with 10 or more goals in five consecutive games.

“Summer workouts are right around the corner,” said Otto, 43, who was a three-year goaltender for the Dragons during his playing days. “These state championships (as a coach) are very rewarding. Seeing these kids go out there and compete, pull together and win, it’s a rewarding experience.”

The Irish advanced to the finals with two earlier state tournament wins: 6-0 over Champaign and 5-4 in overtime over Glenwood.