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April 18, 2014

Junior Hockey | How the Austin Bruins ended the longest game in NAHL history

Posted by: Feldman

This is a few days late, but let's put a wrap on the longest game in North American Hockey League history. The Bruins won it last Saturday, when Lucas Kohls scored with 3:03 to go in the third OT to beat Minot 4-3 at Minot and win a NAHL Central Division semifinal series 3-1.

I'll have a post later today breaking down the Central Division finals series against Bismarck, which begins at 7:05 tonight at Riverside Arena, but let's wrap up the Bruins-Minotauros semifinals series first. 

Here is a link to a 38-second video of the winning goal posted on YouTube by Bruins radio play-by-play man John Peterson. The video is a little grainy, but you can see the play develop. (I'm also going to attempt to imbed the video at the bottom of this post, but we've run into issues trying to do that in the past, so I apologize if it doesn't work).

I'm a little late in getting this posted, but I talked to a few Bruins players and coaches earlier this week about the 3-OT game and Kohls' winning goal, so I wanted to make sure I posted the breakdown of the goal, as well as their comments.

Here's the anatomy of the goal that ended the longest game in NAHL history at 116 minutes, 57 seconds:

1. As the video starts, at about the 2-2 1/2 second mark, you see the puck hit Minot's Jadin Martin and deflect all the way across the ice to Kohls, a defenseman, who beats a Minot forechecker to it at the Bruins' blue line. Kohls makes an instant decision to push the puck up to Niko Hildenbrand rather than skate it across the center line and dump it in.

2. Hildenbrand was about to go off for a shift change, but stayed on when he saw the puck slide to Kohls. Hildenbrand carried it into the Minot zone, with Kohls and Easton Viitala crossing the blue line shortly after him. 

3. Hildenbrand, knowing a Minot defender is directly in his shooting lane, decides to let a slap shot fly from just inside the Tauros blue line. As he does, Kohls and Viitala both go to the net and nearly collide with one another.

4. Hildenbrand's shot hits the Minot defender and trickles through his skates (if it's a clean shot-block, the puck probably goes harmlessly into the corner or over to the halfwall and the game goes on). Viitala alertly picks it up and keeps going to the net. At this point, we see it's essentially a 3-on-2 for Austin, with one Minot defender watching Hildenbrand and attempting to block his shot and one Minot defender keeping an eye on both Kohls and Viitala. 

5. Viitala does what the Bruins coaches have been instructing their players to do since the first OT -- put shots on net. Don't just throw a puck toward the goal, put a good shot on net. As he does this, the Minot defender who blocked Hildenbrand's shot is too late turning around and can't get a body or stick on Viitala. The other Tauros defender also reacts too late to break up Viitala's shot attempt. From Minot's perspective, it's not the end of the world because goalie Brandon Wildung is square to Viitala and in perfect position to make the first save. 

6. The problem for Minot is that the defenseman who reacted too late to break up Viitala's shot -- the one who initially was watching both Viitala and Kohls -- drops to his knees and attempts to stick-check Viitala's shot and take away his passing lane. That leaves Kohls unattended as Minot's third man back is well behind the play. 

7. Kohls knows he has to act fast as that third Tauros defender is coming. He sees the puck sitting right in front of Wildung's pad and he pulls it away quickly and calmly, then flips it over Wildung's outstretched leg as that third Minot defender finally realizes what's happening and dives to break up Kohls' shot. It doesn't work, though, and Kohls scores to send the Bruins to the division finals for a third straight year. Had Viitala held the puck a couple seconds longer and attempted to make the cross-crease pass to Kohls, a Minot defender likely would've been able to break up the play. 

8. The Bruins players are so exhausted, they can't even sprint over to hogpile on Kohls. We can see Josh Bretner and Hildenbrand, two of the other players on the ice when the goal was scored, glide over to the far wall to embrace Kohls and Viitala. In fact, it looks like backup goalie Dillon Kelley is the only one to leave his feet and jump into the pile. 

9. Losing a game like that is a lonely feeling; none of the Tauros players skated over to console Wildung after the goal. I'm not drawing any sort of conclusions from that; I don't know the inner workings of Minot's team well enough. I just know that it seems like every time Nick Lehr has given up a big goal this year, there are two or three Bruins players tapping him on the pads or putting an arm around him.

10. Bruins coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf breathe a sigh of relief that 1) they don't have a to play a Game 5 on Monday in Austin and 2) they get to change clothes and make the long bus ride back to Austin with a positive feeling (and they finally get to get some rest).

NOTES ON THE GOAL AND THE MARATHON GAME

* Hildenbrand was very close to not even being in the game in the third OT, much less in position to set up the winning goal. He was injured in the first period (upper body; not a concussion) and played a few shifts in the second period. He was obviously hurting and Tok told him to take his pads off and ice the injury.

"I was in the locker room icing and watching with the guys who were scratched that night," Hildenbrand said. "I iced through the third period, first overtime and second overtime and then I said 'coach it's feeling better, let me get out there,' and he said 'it's your call' so I went back and, I've never got dressed that fast before."

Hildenbrand made it to the bench about 3-4 minutes into the third OT, as the coaches were actually feeding players bananas and oranges ON THE BENCH. 

"I'm not saying that did it for us, but it sure helped," Tok said. "Niko actually wanted to change (on the winning goal). He shot the puck and stood there after he shot it, just to watch. You can see on video, he kinda took a step toward the bench like he was going to finish his change, then he watched and it went in the back of the net and he looked like 'OK, I don't need to change.'"

* Kohls made a heads-up play to jump into the attack, though he said he just did it instinctively (the benefit of being a defenseman who converted from forward) and didn't realize the Minot defenders weren't hustling back into their zone. 

"You want your defensemen doing that and we did quite a few drills throughout the week leading up to it, where the defensemen were jumping into the play," Tok said.

* Hildenbrand on playing in the longest game in the NAHL: "Never been in anything like that. We were just thinking, move the puck, get it on net, everybody's tired, the goalie's tired, so shoot the puck as much as possible and hopefully you get something to go in."

* Kohls on the feeling as the game went on and on: "We knew it was going to be a really gritty goal (to win it). We just thought 'keep getting pucks on net.' The goalies were playing great, glove saves everywhere. It wasn't going to be pretty. We knew it'd take a second or third chance. It wasn't going to be pretty."

* Tok, on what coaches were doing as the game went on: "The guys were playing as hard as they could, you could tell. Some fatigue was setting in, but it was basically be a cheerleader as much as we could and be a nutritionist."

Again, check back later today for a post on the Central Division Finals, which begin with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Saturday at 7:05 in Riverside Arena in Austin. 

And here's an attempt to put the video in here; if this doesn't work, click on the link at the top of this post to see Kohls' game-winning goal from last Saturday.

 

April 05, 2014

Junior Hockey | Wild playoff opener for Austin, Minot

Posted by: Feldman

First off, there's no need to panic if you an Austin Bruins fan. 

Yes, the Bs are down 1-0 in a best-of-5 NAHL Central Division semifinal playoff series against Minot after an 8-6 loss at Riverside Arena on Friday. 

Here's the game story that is in Saturday's Post-Bulletin.

Yes, it was less-than-pretty hockey.

But, remember, this Bruins team won 40 games in the regular season and a second consecutive division title. Teams don't do that if they're not mentally tough. This Bruins team is mentally tough, though we certainly saw that toughness tested tonight by a number of Tauros players who were doing their best to get under the Bruins' skin. 

This game was such an aberration for both teams for a number of reasons:

* Minot had scored more than four goals in a game just once during the 60-game regular season. It scored four in the first 16:07 on Friday.

* Austin won all four regular-season meetings this season at home against Minot. The Tauros hadn't won a game at Riverside since April 13, 2013, which was Game 2 of a Central Division semifinal series.

* Austin goalie Nick Lehr wasn't sharp. He let in at least two that he'd like to have back, I'm sure, but he also received very little help in front of him. On at least three Minot goals, the goal-scorer was allowed to walk into close range without being touched or covered. In other words, seven of Minot's eight goals (not counting the empty-netter at the end) were full-team breakdowns on Austin's part. 

* Lehr gave up four goals in the first period. He gave up four goals just four times in 49 regular-season appearances. He had never given up more than five in a game during his three seasons with the Bruins. Minot scored five in the first 26 minutes.

* Minot was 3-for-5 on the power play. That was completely out of character for a Bruins penalty kill that was outstanding in the regular season, ranking No. 2 in the league with a 90.5 percent kill rate. "Both of their first two power plays, we had an opportunity to cut cycles off and clear pucks and we didn't do it," Tok said. "They got second opportunities that ended up in the back of the net. So, losing battles because we were stick-checking. It gave them more opportunities to score and they capitalized."

That probably sounds like I'm hanging the loss on Lehr, which is not the case. That's not fair to him, considering it wasn't a good game in any facet for the Bruins. Even when they went up 3-1, coach Chris Tok wasn't happy with how they were playing. 

Tok said he felt like the Bruins were playing a preseason game.

To me, it felt like a good team that was coming off four emotionally and physically draining games against its biggest rival. Austin never got in a rhtyhm. It led 3-1, then gave up three goals in less than six minutes to fall behind 4-3 with 3:53 to go in the first. Austin tied the score three times, but never took the lead back.

It felt somewhat like the WCHA Final Five championship game a couple years ago, when a very good Minnesota team led North Dakota 3-0, then gave up six unanswered goals -- five in the third period -- to lose 6-3. That night, everything North Dakota threw at the net was going in. That's how things felt Friday night at Riverside. Everything Minot threw at the net was going in.

In 2012, Minnesota came back the following week and took it to North Dakota, 5-1, in the West Regional championship game to earn a berth in the Frozen Four. I have a feeling that's how this Austin team will respond, by going out and playing the way it has the past two weeks. We'll see, I guess, what this team is made of.

"We were playing pretty badly to be up 3-1," Tok said. "Then, what happened, we're playing bad, get up 3-1, then we were worse and we saw what happened after that."

Tok said the Bruins had a good week of practice, but he was a bit concerned that after taking three of four from Bismarck over the previous two weeks, to win the division by a point, Austin might not be sharp.

"My biggest fear that I had coming in was that it was going to be a letdown because of the drive that we had to win the title and how intense those four games were against Bismarck," Tok said. "I was worried that guys were battered and bruised, so guys would go out and protect themselves, and looking at all the stick checks, that's what we did. I don't if there's anybody in our room that needs an ice back after tonight's game. Last week, every guy on the team was using ice bags because of blocking shots and running into guys and sticking their nose in there and competing. Tonight I didn't see too many guys use ice bags and I don't think we needed many."

Yes, the Bruins lost, but they scored six goals and put 39 shots on net.

My guess is we see a lineup change or two for tonight's Game 2, but I'd bet my next paycheck that Lehr -- unless he slips in the parking lot and breaks his leg or something -- will start in goal. He's going to want to backstop this team to three wins in the next four games and he has certainly earned that right. 

Don't be shocked if No. 31 -- and the defensive corps in front of him -- has a big game in Game 2. 

AROUND THE NAHL

* In the other NAHL Central Divison semifinal series, Bismarck went on the road and beat Aberdeen 4-2, thanks to a hat trick from Evan Giesler and 29 saves from Aaron Nelson. The Bobcats' victory means both lower-seeded teams in the division went on the road and won their playoff openers. That's something that Tok has said all season -- anyone in this division can beat anyone on a given night. 

* No. 3-seeded Wenatchee (Wash.) beat the No. 2 seed Minnesota Wilderness 3-0 in Game 1 of a Midwest Division semifinal series. Wenatchee was the only other lower-seeded team in the NAHL to win on Friday. 

* Port Huron, the regular season North Division champ, already has a 2-0 lead in its best-of-5 division semifinal series against Johnstown. Port Huron has won a pair of one-goal games -- including a 4-3 victory in OT on Friday -- to take control of that series.

* No. 2 Michigan beat No. 3 Janesville 4-2 in Game 1 of the other North Division semifinal series.

* In the South Division semifinals, top-seeded Amarillo beat Wichita Falls 4-2 and No. 2 Topeka beat No. 3 Rio Grande Valley 3-1 in the first games of their best-of-5 series.

 

April 03, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins primed for postseason push; Folin receives praise

Posted by: Feldman

Here's a lesson for young hockey players — young athletes in any sport — everywhere: Listen to your coaches. They usually know what they're talking about.

Back in September, Austin Bruins head coach Chris Tok and assistant Jamie Huffman insisted to me that the 2013-14 Bruins would be a good team, even though they turned over more than half of their roster from last season's division title team. They weren't going to blow anyone out, they weren't going to be able to flip a switch and blow away an opponent like last year's team could. But, the coaches said, there is talent here. It won't be easy, but they'll be a good team by the end of the season.

I wasn't sure. Not because I didn't believe the Bruins could do it; I figured, with the teams that Bismarck and Aberdeen had constructed, and the fact that all five teams in the Central seem to play one another tough, it would be difficult for Austin to earn enough points in the first half of the season (while players were still learning roles and what is expected of them) to be in position for another division title in March.

Guess what? It's the end of the regular season. It wasn't easy. The Bruins have talent. They've become a very good team. And they're the NAHL Central Division champions for a second consecutive season.

Austin is also playing as well as it has all season. I talked to two coaches and four players earlier this week before a practice and you could sense something different in them after sweeping two games at Bismarck last weekend.

Bismarck has been a pain in the backside for this Bruins team over the past couple years. It hasn't seemed to matter how well either team is playing or where they're playing, the Bobcats flat-out give the Bruins fits.

But something clicked last weekend — the Bruins coaches urged the players to go out and take the division title, don't count on Aberdeen losing at Wenatchee and handing the Bs the title (Aberdeen swept at Wenatchee, so, yes, the Bruins certainly earned it).

Tok referred to some of the great battles Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders had in the 1980s. The Islanders swept the Oilers in 1983 to win their fourth consecutive Cup. The following year, the Oilers had learned their lesson. They turned things around and took it to the Islanders, winning the Cup in five games.

No one is predicting the Bruins will take it to the Bobcats if the teams meet in the playoffs this year — Austin isn't looking past a pesky Minot team in the first round, while Bismarck is the No. 3 seed and will have its hands more than full against No. 2 Aberdeen — but the message is clear from the coaching staff: This Bruins team needs to not worry about anything other than itself. It needs to play its game, pay the price physically and take the postseason division championship.

I casually asked a couple of veteran players, off the record, about their plans for next season. They weren't having any of that question. It's all about now, about beating Minot and advancing in the postseason.

"The Islanders beat the Oilers the first time they met," Tok said. "The next time, after the ('84 finals), Gretzky looked around the Oilers locker room and every guy had two or three ice bags on. They took it. They earned it. You could take a picture of that locker room and see the guys, they'd earned it, just by the dedication and the pain that they've suffered to win.
"Our guys understand that. We told them after the game last Saturday, there are no more rookies in here. You've been here, you've played a 60-game schedule. We all understand, the guy next to you, he's not a rookie. We're all guys who understand what it takes to win and that's what we're going to do."

LOTS OF CLOSE ONES

Here's a stat that says a lot about this Bruins team: It has played in 35 games — more than half of its 60-game schedule — decided by one or two goals. They are 23-11-1 in those games (and 40-19-1 overall).

In other words, the Bs don't get rattled if the game is tight late in the third period.

"We had a lot of those close games, we're used to it, we know what we need to do in those situations," second-year Bruins defenseman Jake Arroyo said. "We know, every period counts, every shift counts in the playoffs, so it's good that we know how to play in those close situations."

Tok has seen this team develop patience and poise as the season has gone on. And the Bruins have battled so many injuries, that you won't see anyone look around and wonder what the heck they're supposed to do if they're not on the ice with their usual linemates or defensive partner. Actually, with all the injuries this team has had, there's really no such thing as "usual linemates or defensive partners."

"Our guys, we don't panic," Tok said. "We believe in what we have to do on the ice. We talk about the process to get where we want to go. A great example was Friday night in Bismarck. We played a great first period, outshot them 15-5 and we're down 1-0. We walked in the (locker) room, talked about one adjustment — not really even an adjustment, just a reminder — sure enough, came out in the second, got more pucks on the net and took the lead.
"That's the way it is. It was like 'just stick to it here, let's get it done,' and they did."

HIGH PRAISE FOR FOLIN

The Bruins coaching staff, players (current and former) and fans were quite thrilled on Monday to see that former Bs defenseman and two-year UMass-Lowell standout Christian Folin had signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild.

To show that Folin enjoyed his time in Austin, he told Wild.com that he always had an idea that he'd like to return to Minnesota to play.

• Here is a story I wrote for Tuesday's paper that includes reaction on Twitter from some of Folin's former Bruins teammates. (Notice that current Bruin Austin Nelson is among them; kinda crazy to think that Folin was a Bruin two years ago today, and today he skated in Chicago with the Wild).

• Here is NAHL.com's story on the Folin signing.

• Here is the Minnesota Wild's "Pondcast" interview with Folin.

I asked coach Tok what qualities pro teams saw in Folin that made them believe he can play at the NHL level. His answer boiled down to one thing: work ethic.

"He's a guy who was always out there trying to improve his game," Tok said. "He wasn't always playing a rebound game with the goalies or something. He was always working on his shot, working on picking up pucks in transition, always working to get better.
"It's the same with (current Bruin) Guillaume Leclerc (who, coincidentally is committed to UMass-Lowell). You watch after practice, he's always by himself working on his individual skills to make himself better.
"I go back to a kid that we coached (in the USHL) who's playing in the NHL, Joe Pavelski. It was the same thing every practice with him: 'coach, can we do this,' or 'coach, can we do this.' It was always 'coach, coach, coach...' when they're asking to do it, as a coach, it's like, yeah, no problem."

NEW FORMAT FOR ROBERTSON CUP

In recent seasons, NAHL teams that won their first two playoff series advanced to the Robertson Cup, the NAHL's equivalent of the Frozen Four.

The four postseason division winners would play three days of round-robin play, then the two teams with the best records would advance to the national championship game on the fourth day of the Cup finals.

This season, the round robin play has been eliminated, as has the neutral-ice setting.

The last four teams remaining in the NAHL playoffs will be re-seeded based on the league's regular season standings (so, if all four regular-season division champs advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs, Austin would be the No. 3 seed.)

The No. 4 seed will play at the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, both in best 2-out of-3 series, with all three games (if necessary) being played on the higher seed's home ice.

The same goes for the Robertson Cup finals. The team with the highest seed will play host to a best 2-out of-3 series for the national championship.

BRUINS-TAUROS, HEAD-TO-HEAD

Let's take a look at the Austin-Minot first-round matchup:

GOALIES
Minot
: Brandon Wildung (14-7-3, 2.44 GAA, .918 save pct.) and Merrick Madsen (10-16-0, 2.75, .904). Neither Wildung, a Mercyhurst commit, or Madsen, who is headed to Harvard, have played in an NAHL playoff game. That lack of playoff experience could be a factor. The Tauros also have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, ranking No. 19 at 81.8 percent.
Austin: Nick Lehr (35-13-1, 1.84, .932) is in his third season with the Bs and his third trip to the postseason. He was 4-2-0 with a 1.90 GAA and a .942 save pct. in last year's playoffs. The Minnesota recruit has been clutch in close games this year and never panics.
Advantage: Bruins.

FORWARDS
Minot: The Tauros beefed up their scoring ability greatly in early February when they traded for Michael Louria, a UMass-Lowell commit who finished 10th in the league in scoring with 52 points. But beyond Louria, no Tauros player averages even a half-point per game. In fact, their second leading scorer is defenseman Jon Lizotte and another blue-liner, Scott Dornbrock, is tied for third on the team. If the Tauros are going to have a chance, they'll have to keep the score low and get some production from their blue line.
Austin: The Bruins have the second-leading scorer in the NAHL on their team and, somehow, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Jay Dickman seems to go about his business quietly. The Bemidji State recruit isn't flashy, but he has a great, hard shot that has produced 28 goals (to go along with his 36 assists, for 64 points) this season. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Guillaume Leclerc, the Bs second-leading scorer (21-25—46 in 54 games), a 5-8, 165-pound waterbug from France. Opposing teams seem to be more preoccupied with knocking him down than stopping him from scoring. Leclerc gets up every time — and he has taken some clean, hard hits this season — and usually makes the opponent pay. Add in guys like Luke Dietsch, Drew Anderson and Niko Hildenbrand ... I could go down the line to every forward on the roster. They all know their roles and embrace them.
Advantage: Austin.

DEFENSEMEN
Minot: As mentioned, Lizotte and Dornbrock are solid contributors offensively, but the Tauros struggle mightily on the penalty kill. It'll be crucial for them to stay out of the box. The addition of Grand Rapids native Jordan Stejskal in a trade in late January gave the Tauros a bit more grit or "nasty" on the blue line; he has 86 penalty minutes this season, in addition to 11 points. The Tauros' blue-liners will have to find a way to chip in offensively while not doing too much on the offensive end.
Austin: This may be the position group that has improved the most as a whole since the start of the season. Veterans Josh Bretner, Jake Arroyo and Kody Reuter have anchored the group, while newcomers Cory Dunn and Charlie Manley have settled into their roles nicely. The addition of Lucas Kohls — at 6-3, 195 — has given the Bs some more size and physicality on the back-end, too. Kohls moved back to defense when Eli May moved up to a forward spot and it's a switch the coaching staff seems to love.
Advantage: Austin.

THE PREDICTION
Austin has earned the No. 1 seed and is playing some of its best hockey of the season. That said, Minot isn't an easy team to play against, especially up there. I think either Wildung or Madsen steals one from them, but they won't steal three. Bruins in 4.

March 27, 2014

Austin Bruins getting healthy at right time

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins have two games remaining in their regular season and eight days until the North American Hockey League playoffs begin.

Now is a good time for a team that has battled injuries all year to get healthy.

It's been weeks -- months, maybe -- since the Bs have had their full 23-man roster available on game day. I'm guessing coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf would probably share their meals with Bruiser the bear for a month if they could make three healthy scratches per night this weekend at Bismarck, where Austin will close its regular season (7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

There have been times this season when the Bruins haven't been able to dress a full 20-player lineup. That shouldn't be the case this weekend, though the Bs will likely only have 21 of their 23 men avaialable. Tok said a couple of players sustained injuries last weekend against Bismarck during a split at Riverside Arena, and have tried to skate this week, but haven't been able to go full-speed.

Ideally, this would be the time of year where some Bruins players could sit out a game or two and be more rested for the start of the postseason. The Bruins wrapped up the regular season division title with a few weeks to go in the regular season last year and were able to do that with players such as A.J. Reid, Brandon Wahlin and Cody Dixon.

Austin doesn't have the luxury of resting guys this season, as it will likely battle with Aberdeen down to the final night for the division title. The Bruins have a one-point lead in the standings (77-76), so an Austin win on Friday, coupled with an Aberdeen loss at Wenatchee (Wash.) would give the Bruins the title.

Still, though, like I said before, the Bruins will likely only have 21 players available this weekend, and that's because they will get Sam Kauppila, Trey Dodd and Austin Nelson back from injuries.

Those three guys will be a big shot in the arm to Austin's offense.

Dodd has 17 points in 43 games, but has only played in four games since Valentine's Day.

Kauppila, who played for the NAHL U18 team at the Top Prospects Tournament, has 15 points in 41 games, but has been hasn't played since a 2-1 victory against Aberdeen on Feb. 21.

NELSON HAS PERSEVERED

As for Nelson, it's nice to see him back in the lineup and I know the Bruins' coaching staff is happy for him personally and happy for themselves that he's returning. Nelson has 15 points in 38 games this season, but he has sat out the last two weekends after he thought his Bruins career might be over.

Nelson, a third-year Bruin, missed 48 games last season after tearing the labrum in his right hip (Rochester hockey fans may remember this is the same injury that essentially ended Century grad Alex Kangas' college career with the Gophers).

During the Bruins' game at Minot on March 7, Nelson thought he had suffered the same injury to his other hip. He spent a long day-and-a-half thinking his time with the Bruins might be done. On Monday, March 9 -- his 21st birthday -- Nelson saw a doctor and, this time, received good news: He didn't suffer a torn labrum.

It was not only a relief for Nelson, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward from Hastings, but it was a relief for the Bruins coaching staff (and probably fans, too). Nelson will now get to end his junior hockey career on the ice, instead of in the stands.

"Austin has had some difficult times over the past couple of years, but he has really stuck with it," Tok said.

I was somewhat surprised to see that Nelson was back this season, not because I didn't think he could play at this level, but because it would be easy to understand why someone with his injury history would want to call it a career.

"I was a little surprised (at the start of the season) when he said he wanted to come back," Tok said. "I said 'great, we'd love to have you.' He's a great kid, on and off the ice."

Nelson has played in 103 games as a Bruin, with 20 goals and 21 assists.

FRONT-TO-BACK, BACK-TO-FRONT

With all of the injuries the Bruins have battled this season, the coaching staff has had to juggle forward lines and defensive pairs more than they would have liked. 

Sometimes those changes stick, sometimes they don't.

At least a couple of those changes have worked out quite well -- the move of Eli May from defense to forward, and the move of Lucas Kohls from forward to defense. May gives the Bruins another gritty forward who will get in the corners on the forecheck and win puck battles. He can also shift back to the point on the power play, as well as play on the penalty kill. Kohls has 33 points this season, but he gives Austin a big body on the blue line (he's 6-3, 195) who has a lot of offensive skill.

"Eli brings a lot to the table up front," Tok said. "He gets in there and creates turnovers. We had him in more of a defensive/checking-line role, but he created so many turnovers that we put him up with some other guys."

Tok said he anticipates May and Kohls staying in their current roles throughout the playoffs.

THIS WEEKEND

Austin (38-19-1, 77 pts.) at Bismarck (31-22-5, 67 pts.) -- Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m., VFW Sports Center, Bismarck

Bruins notes: Austin's power play has struggled all season. The Bruins are ranked No. 22 in the NAHL, converting at an 11.3 percent clip. ... The Bruins, however, have one of the top penalty-kills in the league. They are ranked No. 2 in the NAHL, killing 90.5 percent of their penalties. ... Austin has played 58 games this season and 17 have been decided by just one goal. The Bruins, though, have gone to OT just five times this year. They have two OT wins and are 2-1 in shootouts.

Bobcats notes: Bismarck is locked into the No. 3 spot in the Central Division playoffs and will face either Austin or Aberdeen in the opening round. ... The Bobcats are in the middle of the pack in the NAHL in both power-play (14.3 pct., No. 15 overall) and penalty kill (85.0 pct., No. 11 overall). ... Bismarck G Aaron Nelson, a MSU Mankato commit, has three shutouts this season, all against Austin (including a 1-0 blanking last Saturday in Austin). ... D Nate Repensky is the team's leading scorer with 49 points. He is committed to Yale.

Path to No. 1: There are many ways Austin could win its second consecutive division title. The simplest would be to beat Bismarck twice this weekend. NAHL teams get two points for a win, one for a tie. Four points are up for grabs this weekend for first-place Austin and second-place Aberdeen (which plays at Wenatchee at 9:05 p.m. CDT Friday and Saturday). The Bruins need to earn one more point than Aberdeen this weekend to win the division title outright.

March 14, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Divisional semifinals edition

PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show returns today as we wrap up last weekend's big series sweep over the Twin Cities Northern Lights and look ahead at this weekend's divisional semifinal series against the Dells Ducks.

The Ice Hawks play the Ducks at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Lake Delton, Wis. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center. If necessary, Game 3 would be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday back in Lake Delton.

ENJOY THE SHOW!

PhersyAndFatisShow31414

 

March 07, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Back from the dead

PHERSY: It's been far too long, but the Phersy and Fatis Show ... is BACK!

It's a long one. We had a lot of catching up to do. But we look back at the last few weeks and then look ahead at this weekend's playoff series against the Twin Cities Northern Lights.

The Ice Hawks hit the road tonight for a 7 p.m. tilt against the Lights at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Saturday night, it's time to pack the Rec Center for a 7 p.m. game ... it will be an elimination game!

If necessary, Game 3 would be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

Enjoy the show ... it's a long one!!

PhersyAndFatisShow3614

 

March 06, 2014

Boys hockey | The Tourney: Breaking down the Class AA field

Posted by: Feldman

I've always been a bigger fan of the opening day of state tournaments than championship Saturday. Don't get me wrong, especially when it comes to The Tourney, championship day is intense and it doesn't get more memorable than when the Class AA boys hockey title game is decided in OT (thinking of Kyle Rau's 3-OT winner for Eden Prairie vs. Duluth East in 2011). 

But the best part about opening day of The Tourney is that all 16 teams still have a chance, regardless of how big of an underdog some teams may be. 

To me, it's like eating a meal backwards: Dessert first (Wednesday and Thursday), then the main course on Friday and Saturday.

If I have confused you (it's OK, I've confused myself, too), my point is: We got to see four first-round games today and we still have a whole day of dessert left, as the Class AA quarterfinals get underway Thursday.

LOCAL TV INFO: All championship-round games can be seen on channel 6.2 or 386 on Charter cable. A webcast is available at Prep45.com for $4.97. 

So, here's a look at the Class AA state tournament, just in time for the first game of the day...

THE MATCHUPS

11 a.m. — No. 2 Lakeville North (23-4-1) vs. Roseau (20-7-1)

Overview: In seven trips to state as Lakeville High School/Lakeville North High School, the Panthers have never won a state quarterfinal game. Based on their regular season performances and their No. 2 seed, the Panthers are the favorite in today's first Class AA quarterfinal against a program that has done more than advanced to some state semifinals. Roseau is making its 34 state tournament appearance, the most all-time (first since 2010) and is going after its eighth state championship. North is not the typical representative of Section 1AA. It has fared very well in the regular season against other teams that have qualified for state. The Panthers own two wins against Eagan, one against Eden Prairie and they won at Duluth East on Feb. 6, the third-to-last game of the regular season. North started slowly against Owatonna and Farmington in the final two rounds of the Section 1AA tourney; it can't afford a slow start against Roseau's top line of Alex Strand, Zach Yon and Alex Halstensgard, which has combined for 199 points this season. North is very solid defensively but will freshman goalie Jake Oettinger be able to remain poised on the state's biggest stage?

Lakeville North leaders: Jr. F Jack Poehling (28-23--51); Jr. F Nick Poehling (12-29--41); Sr. F Tristen Hazlett (12-26--38); Fr. F Ryan Poehling (11-22--33); So. F Max Johnson (12-19--31); Fr. G Jake Oettinger (9-2-1, 1.62 GAA, .937 save pct.); Sr. G Will DuPont (14-1-0, 1.87, .904).

Roseau leaders: Sr. F Zach Yon (39-41--80); Sr. F Alex Strand (29-48--77); Sr. D Cole Bjugson (9-36--45); Sr. F Alex Halstensgard (19-23--42); Sr. G Ryan Anderson (20-7-1, 2.25 GAA, .901 save pct.).

Notes: All three Poehling brothers committed to St. Cloud State on the same day about a month ago. They play together on the Panthers' top line and have combined for 125 points. ... Yon is a Mr. Hockey finalist and a University of North Dakota commit. ... Roseau has scored 46 power play goals this season and converts at nearly a 50 percent clip. ... North had a 19-game winning streak snapped in the regular season finale, a 1-0 loss to Prior Lake. North then outscored its three Section 1 opponents 24-2. ... North is ranked No. 2 in the state, Roseau is No. 16.

The pick: Roseau seems to be the trendy upset pick, but I wonder how many of those people picking Roseau to win this game have actually seen Lakeville North play. It's not the same North team that has appeared at state in the past. This team is incredibly poised and patient with the puck and it's three lines deep. It needs to bring its best effort from the opening drop of the puck, though, especially on the defensive end, where it has excelled this year. I think it will, but Roseau won't make it easy: LAKEVILLE NORTH 5, ROSEAU 3.

• • •

1 p.m. — No. 3 Eden Prairie (17-8-3) vs. Centennial (16-10-2)

Overview: Centennial is back at state for a second consecutive season after beating Blaine 2-1 in the Section 5AA championship game. Blaine outshot Centennial 39-16 in that game, but senior goalie Blake Miller -- all 5-9, 145 pounds of him -- stood tall with 38 saves. He'll need to do that against a high-powered Eden Prairie team that features two Mr. Hockey finalists, Sr. F Steven Spinner and Sr. D Luc Snuggerud. The Eagles had to go to OT against Benilde-St. Margaret's to win the Section 6AA title, 3-2. Senior Michael Parrish blocked a shot in that game that led to Jack Keeley's winning goal. The Eagles are playing to honor Parrish's father John, who died of a brain tumor last month. Centennial enters state on a four-game winning streak; it hadn't won more than three in a row all year prior to this streak. In fact, Centennial won just two of its final seven regular season games.  

Eden Prairie leaders: Sr. F Steven Spinner (20-27--47); Sr. D Luc Snuggerud (9-37--46); So. F Michael Graham (18-20--38); Sr. F Colton Schmidt (12-11--23); Sr. G Jake Gerdes (14-7-2, 2.54 GAA, .900 save pct.).

Centennial leaders: Sr. F Ryner Gorowsky (22-16--38); Jr. F Connor Lovick (17-15--32); Sr. F Adam Anderson (7-21--28); Sr. F Collin Hughes (11-11--22); Sr. G Blake Miller (12-10-1, 2.49 GAA, .897 save pct.).

Notes: Eden Prairie played a very difficult schedule. All of its losses came against teams ranked in the top 10 at the end of the regular season: No. 1-ranked Edina (three times), No. 2 Lakeville North, No. 6 Duluth East, No. 9 Benilde-SM, and No. 10 Wayzata (two times). ... Centennial has started games strong this season, outscoring opponents 37-19 in the first period. ... Gorowsky's older cousin, Tom, captained the 2004 Centennial team that won the state championship. ... E.P.'s Snuggerud played in the section championship game with a broken bone in his hand. ... Eden Prairie has won the championship the last two times it's played at state, 2009 and 2011. The latter title was won in a 3-OT thriller vs. Duluth East that ended with Kyle Rau's diving goal.

The pick: The Eagles' top-end guys stand out, but their depth makes the difference in this one: EDEN PRAIRIE 4, CENTENNIAL 2.

• • •

6 p.m. — No. 1 Edina (22-4-1) vs. Stillwater Area (16-10-2)

Overview: Talk about a contrast in historical success. Unranked Stillwater is making its first-ever state tournament appearance and it gets to face a team in its opener that is at state for the 30th time (36th if you include Edina East and Edina West's appearances). In all, No. 1-ranked Edina has won 11 state high school championships and is going for its third in five seasons. The Hornets are at state for an eighth consecutive season. Stillwater is riding high after winning its first section title in just its second-ever appearance in a section championship game. Its 2-1 upset victory against Hill-Murray in the Section 4AA title game was the last game played at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Stillwater didn't win more than two games in a row at all during the regular season, then won three in a row to capture the section title.

Edina leaders: Sr. F Miquel Fidler (18-27--45); Jr. F Dylan Malmquist (14-25--39); Sr. F Cullen Munson (18-19--37); Sr. D Tyler Nanne (8-22--30); So. F Kieffer Bellows (11-18--29); Jr. F Matt Masterman (13-15--28); Sr. G Andrew Rohkohl (20-4-1, 1.90 GAA, .920 save pct.).

Stillwater Area leaders: Sr. F Jon Heddle (15-14--29); Sr. F Sam Sagissor (12-9--21); Sr. F Brandon Jungmann (8-11-19); So. G Josh Benson (11-8-1, 2.59 GAA, .892 save pct.).

Notes: Edina's Rohkohl has three shutouts this season. ... Stillwater has just two players with more than 10 goals and two players with more than 20 points. No Ponies player has more than 29 points. ... Edina has won 11 in a rown since a 3-3 tie against Wayzata on Jan. 18. ... All four of the Hornets losses came against teams ranked in the top 13 in the state -- No. 3 Hill-Murray, No. 8 Elk River, No. 11 Burnsville and No. 13 Eagan. ... Edina is the No. 1 seed and No. 1-ranked team in the state. ... Stillwater senior defenseman Mitch Reinke is a Michigan Tech commit.

The pick: Edina is ranked No. 1 for a reason. It played the state's toughest schedule and has 22 wins in 27 games. The Hornets' depth will be too much for Stillwater: EDINA 6, STILLWATER AREA 1.

• • •

8 p.m. — No. 4 Duluth East (21-6-1) vs. No. 5 Eagan (18-9-1)

Overview: Players on both sides of this one should be comfortable under the bright lights of the state's biggest hockey stage. Eagan is at state for the third time in the past four years. Duluth East is at state for the 21st time in school history and the sixth consecutive season. The Greyhounds placed third last season and could well be back at state next season; they have just four seniors. East's defense will be a key; it allows just 1.93 goals per game and goalie Gunnar Howg has a .912 save percentage and four shutouts this season. Eagan is strong defensively, too, as it is led by senior defenseman and Mr. Hockey finalist Nick Wolff. He has 25 points and an incredible plus-46 plus/minus rating. Wildcats goalie Andrew Lindgren has an impressive .934 save percentage for the season and .948 in the playoffs. The Wildcats have been clutch in pressure situations in the postseason and they're used to being the underdog. As a No. 4 seed in Section 3AA, they needed overtime to beat Cretin-Derham Hall 2-1 in the Section 3AA semifinals, then led St. Thomas Academy by just one late in the section title game until Jack Jenson's empty net goal with 43 seconds to go.

East leaders: Jr. F Nick Altmann (20-26--46); Sr. D Phil Beaulieu (18-24--42); Sr. D Alex Trapp (7-26--33); Sr. F Jack Kolar (19-9--28); Jr. G Gunnar Howg (19-5-1, 1.85 GAA, .912).

Eagan leaders: Sr. F Jack Jenson (20-36--56); Sr. F Kyle Stebbing (18-16--34); Sr. D Tom Muck (9-20--29); Sr. D Nick Wolff (10-15--25); Jr. G Andrew Lindgren (18-9-1, 1.73 GAA, .934 save pct.)

Notes: Eagan is a veteran team, with 10 seniors. ... Jenson led the South Suburban Conference in scoring and Lindgren led it in goals-against average and save percentage. ... Eagan is ranked No. 13 in the state, Duluth East is No. 6. ... Among Eagan's 18 wins is a 2-1 victory against Edina on Dec. 7. ... East has won seven consecutive games, including a 3-2 OT victory against Elk River in the Section 7AA championship. ... East averages 3.7 goals per game and 5.1 per game during its seven-game winning streak.

The pick: Much like the 4-5 matchup in the Class A tournament, I could see this one going either way. I like the way Eagan's playing -- 8-2-0 in its past 10 games, the only losses were one-goal setbacks against No. 2-ranked Lakeville North No. 11 Burnsville. So, I'll take the minor upset: EAGAN 4, DULUTH EAST 3.

• • •

STATE SEMIFINALS

The picks: North has played the best teams in the state very tough this year and they'll do it again in this one, but I think Eden Prairie has just a little more offense in the end. This has the potential to be the best game of semifinal Friday: EDEN PRAIRIE 3, LAKEVILLE NORTH 2, OT.

Edina likely hasn't forgotten its visit to Eagan on Dec. 7, when it fell behind by two goals 12 minutes into the game and Eagan goalie Andrew Lindgren stopped 39 shots in the Wildcats' 2-1 victory. Edina turns the tables this time, but not by much: EDINA 5, EAGAN 2.

• • •

CHAMPIONSHIP

The pick: This might not be the matchup a lot of hockey fans want, but it'll be a good one. Edina and Eden Prairie are both playing extremely well right now, but Edina is the team that will add to its legacy, winning the state's first back-to-back big-school championships since Bloomington Jefferson in 1993-94: EDINA 6, EDEN PRAIRIE 4.

March 05, 2014

High School Hockey | Links from the rinks

Posted by: Feldman

As I start typing this, the start of the Tourney is exactly nine hours away! Who's excited? Yeah, I hear you, it's hard to get all hyped up at 2 a.m. Maybe if you see this at, say, 9 a.m., while you pretend to do some work, you'll feel more excited.

I figure since I'm spending some time reading through lots of boys hockey preview stuff, I might as well link to all those stories here.

* First, if you don't feel like clicking the mouse to scroll down to the previous post, here's a link to my Class A state tournament preview. I'll put together the AA preview later today.

* Here's the story I did for today's paper on Rochester Mayo coach Lorne Grosso being named one of five inductees to the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame this year.

* The nuts-and-bolts preview from the Minnesota State High School League.

* Lots of good stuff available from the Minneapolis Star Tribune's David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen:
     * The Tourney will likely reap more than $1 million in profit, but attendance is down
     * Class A hockey is a nice entree to the Class AA main course
     * "Gamers" lead Centennial back to state

* From the St. Paul Pioneer Press
     * Section 1AA champion Lakeville North gets the chance to show the state it's for real
     * Here's a bunch of tidbits you should know as The Tourney gets underway

* Tom Miller from the Grand Forks Herald writes that East Grand Forks has higher expectations this time around.

* Also from the Grand Forks Herald, Roseau is happy to be back in the Class AA tournament for the first time since 2010

* From the Duluth News Tribune, St. Thomas Academy and some other private schools aren't in Hermantown's path this year

* Also from the DNT, Louie St. George III has a look at today's Hermantown vs. Luverne state quarterfinal game.

* Tyler Buckentine of the St. Cloud Times writes that St. Cloud Cathedral has found success on the ice by keeping things loose off the ice.

* Luverne High School veterans tell the Worthington Daily Globe that this season's success started after a painful loss in last year's section tournament.

That's all I have for now; I'll get at the Class AA preview while I watch the Class A state quarterfinals this afternoon.

Oh, and if you need to call in sick today or tomorrow or Friday, here's a good list of excuses to give your boss. Shhhhhhh ... don't tell my editors, though, I might use all of these.

Boys hockey | The Tourney: Breaking down the Class A field

Posted by: Feldman

Everyone is off of work and school the rest of the week, right? After all, it's holiday time, so call in sick today. And Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday, if you work Saturdays. And turn on channel 6.2 or 386 if you have Charter cable, pop some popcorn, get some peanuts, make a pizza or, if you're me, go grab some Chipotle and get settled into the recliner by 11:17 (I believe that's the time that the first game will actually begin) and become a high school hockey zombie for four days.

It's the best time of the year, The Tourney, the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.

(According to the P-B's Paul Christian, The Tourney will also air locally on channels 10 and 13).

It all gets going today with the Class A state quarterfinals. We won't have an extensive preview in our print edition since we don't have an area team in the tournament. So I'll do one here for both classes.

Just a reminder that, for an eighth consecutive year, the tournament is seeded. The top 5 teams were seeded, the remaining three placed in the bracket by random draw.

No more wasting time, let's get to the Class A tourney.

THE MATCHUPS

11 a.m. — No. 2 Hermantown (22-4-2) vs. Luverne (27-0-1)

Overview: This is an intriguing matchup to open The Tourney. Everyone is picking Hermantown, and rightfully so. The Hawks are at state for a fifth consecutive season. They finished as the state runner-up in each of the past four, including a bitter 5-4 loss to St. Thomas Academy last year in which the Hawks held leads of 3-1 and 4-2, only to lose on a power play goal (after an awful sequence of bad calls and no calls, including an STA player not being called for a hold while having a Hawks player in a headlock) with 6.1 seconds to go. STA isn't in The Tourney this year, though, after moving up to Class AA and losing in the Section 3 tournament. Luverne is making its state-tournament debut. It is the last unbeaten team in the state, though the No. 17-ranked Cardinals have played just one team ranked in the top 20 — No. 20 Bloomington Kennedy (a 3-1 Luverne win on Dec. 28). Hermantown is ranked No. 2 in the state.

Hermantown leaders: Jr. F Ryan Kero (21-28—49); Jr. F Nate Pionk (22-26—48); Sr. F Scott Wasbotten (23-23—46); Sr. F Kori Ochs (15-17—32); So. F Cole Koepke (18-13—31); Sr. G Jace Thomas (10-1-2, 1.55 GAA, .926 save pct.); Sr. G Adam Smith (12-3-0, 2.50, .901).

Luverne leaders: So. F Chaz Smedsrud (38-49—87); Sr. F Logan Norman (22-49—71); 8th F Jaxon Nelson (30-40—70); Jr. D Toby Sengvongxay (20-32—52); Sr. G Kendall Meyer (21-0-1, 1.16 GAA, .949 save pct.); Jr. G Connor Crabtree (6-0-0, 1.26, .896)

Notes: You may notice Hermantown players all have the name "TIM" stickered onto their helmets. It's in honor of Tim Ellingson, an outdoor rink manager for many years, who died on Jan. 2 while skating at an outdoor rink. One of the Hermantown players found him. ... The Hawks have scored five shorthanded goals this season. ... Gunnar Olson set Luverne's career points record this season. ... Jaxon Nelson has more than 70 points as an eighth-grader.

The pick: Give me the experienced team that has a chip on its shoulder after last year's state title game. Hermantown won't overlook anyone in The Tourney: HERMANTOWN 5, LUVERNE 1.

• • •

1 p.m. — No. 3 New Prague (21-4-3) vs. Chisago Lakes Area (20-8-0)

Overview: New Prague is in the state tournament for the first time, finally breaking through in the Section 1A championship game after some close, heartbreaking losses in the section semifinals and final in recent seasons. Junior goalie Conner Wagner stood on his head for much of the Trojans' 3-2 victory against Mankato West in the Section 1A title game. At one point, New Prague led 2-0 but was being outshot 22-8. Wagner showed the poise necessary to win at state. His teammates will have to provide the offense. Chisago Lakes is at state for a second time, but the first time since 1995. Chisago Lakes was the top seed in the Section 5, Class A tournament. It beat Princeton 5-4 in the section final, scoring three times in the third period to win. Blake Lizotte scored with 2:09 to go in the third for the winning goal.

New Prague leaders: Sr. F Augie Isaacson (23-30--53); Sr. F Seth Kriha (11-35--46); So. F Alex Gregor (19-22--41); Sr. F Austin Kilian (21-12--33); Jr. G Conner Wagner (21-4-3, 2.28 GAA, .903 save pct.).

Chisago Lakes leaders: Sr. F Brandon Gillespie (25-26--51); So. F Blake Lizotte (14-34--48); Sr. F Trevor Lushanko (23-24--47); So. F Landon Lushanko (10-18--28); Sr. F Ryan Chambers (13-15--28); Jr. G Jacob Dubose (13-6-0, 1.95 GAA, .916 save pct.); Jr. G Bryce Thompson (7-2-0, 2.34, .906).

Notes: New Prague is ranked No. 6 in the state. Chisago Lakes is unranked. ... Chisago Lakes allowed just eight power play goals all season. ... Chisago Lakes went 14-0-0 at home this season, 5-8-0 on the road and 1-3-0 on neutral ice. ... New Prague is one of three teams in the Class A tournament that has not been shut out this season. Hermantown and Luverne are the others. ... New Prague assistant coach Nick Bowe played for Austin in the 2001 Class AA state tournament. ... The Trojans 21 wins are a single-season school record.

The pick: While New Prague's skaters didn't always look poised and calm during the Section 1A title game victory against Mankato West, their goalie did. This team will go as Wagner goes at state, and that's into the semifinals: NEW PRAGUE 4, CHISAGO LAKES 3.

• • •

6 p.m. — No. 1 East Grand Forks (25-2-1) vs. Orono (19-8-1)

Overview: East Grand Forks, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, is at state for a second consecutive season and a ninth time in school history. The Green Wave have never won a state title. EGF is the favorite for a reason; they have talented players up and down the lineup and most of them played at state last year, when EGF placed fourth. EGF has outscored its opponents 117-33 this season and has allowed just one short-handed goal all year. Orono is at state for the first time since 2007 and the eighth time in school history. Orono is ranked No. 11 in the state; it upset No. 4-ranked Breck in the Section 2A championship game, 2-1, to advance to state, though Breck outshot Orono 47-20. The Spartans gave up a total of four goals in three section tournament victories.

EGF leaders: Jr. F Reed Corbid (16-26--42); Jr. F Dixon Bowen (17-20--37); So. F Grant Loven (14-21--35); So. F Tanner Tweten (15-13--28); Sr. F Brandon Loven (14-11--25); Jr. Josh Weber (20-1-1, 1.22 GAA, .922 save pct.); Jr. Garrett Lieberg (5-1-0, 1.00, .898).

Orono leaders: Jr. F Joey Luedtke (12-22--34); Sr. D Jacob Flemmer (14-17--31); Sr. F Sam Challgren (6-18--24); So. F David McCuskey (11-9--20); Jr. G Jon Flakne (18-7-1, 1.95 GAA, .918); Sr. G Grant Mathiason (1-1-0, 2.50, .898).

Notes: EGF senior defenseman Eddie Eades' sister, Erika, played in the girls hockey state tournament two weeks ago, when EGF finished second. ... The Eades' dad, Cary, is the head coach of the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. ... The Green Wave have eight players with 22 or more points. ... Orono is 20 miles west of Minneapolis. ... Orono head coach Kasey Yoder played for Duluth Marshall in the 2001 state tournament, the first one held at the Xcel Energy Center.

The pick: East Grand Forks has been ranked No. 1 in the state for some time now for a reason. The Green Wave are the total package and they've been here before, so they know how to deal with the pressure: EGF 4, ORONO 1.

• • •

8 p.m. — No. 4 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7-1) vs. No. 5 Totino-Grace (17-10-1)

Overview: The only two private schools to make the 16 team field at The Tourney meet in the opening round, so anti-private school fans will be down to just one after the opening day. T-G last won a state title in 2002 and last appeared at state in 2005. The Eagles went just 4-3-0 in their final seven regular season games with lopsided losses to Hermantown (6-1) and Wayzata (9-0). T-G is used to playing under pressure, though. It came back from down 4-2 to beat Mahtomedi 5-4 in OT in the Section 4A championship. Cathedral is at state for the sixth time and the first since 2009. The Crusaders lost to the tournament's top two seeds during the regular season, East Grand Forks (3-1) and Hermantown (6-0), tied Orono and beat No. 3 seed New Prague (5-4, OT) and Totino-Grace (5-4). 

Cathedral leaders: Sr. F Will Hammer (23-30--53); Jr. F Matt Fritz (15-23--38); Sr. D Daniel Bailey (7-31--38); So. F Logan Neu (18-17--35); Jr. Zach Fritz (19-7-1, 2.17 GAA, .916 save pct.)

T-G leaders: Sr. F Nick Tandeski (15-16--31); Sr. F Kai Barber (19-11--30); Sr. F Brandon Hilliard (7-17--24); Jr. D Jason Krych (6-17--23); Jr. F Blake Vagle (7-16--23); Sr. G Dominic Wippler (15-8-1, 2.55 GAA, .904 save pct.); Jr. G Jack Lux (2-2-0, 3.38, .862).

Notes: Cathedral is No. 10 in the state, Totino-Grace is No. 8. ... Cathedral has produced some talented players in recent seasons. Former Gophers and current Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt played at Cathedral. So did U.S. Olympian Anne Schleper. ... Hammer has 172 career points, a Cathedral program record. ... T-G only has two players -- Tandeski and Barber -- with more than 10 goals. 

The pick: This one's a coin flip and I think the last game of the day is the best game of the day: CATHEDRAL 3, TOTINO-GRACE 2, OT.

• • •

STATE SEMIFINALS

The picks: As much as I'd love to see a Section 1 team in the state championship, Hermantown just appears to be a team on a mission. It blew out three good programs -- International Falls, Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Marshall -- in the Section 7 tournament by a combined score of 21-3: HERMANTOWN 5, NEW PRAGUE 2.

East Grand Forks' depth shines through in the other semifinal. The Green Wave are a poised group, having had to go to double-OT to beat Warroad in the Section 8A championship game last week. Goalie Josh Weber played an incredible game that night, and he'll do it again Friday afternoon at The X: EAST GRAND FORKS 4, ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL 1.

• • •

CHAMPIONSHIP

The pick: It's really hard for me to pick against East Grand Forks, thanks to both my heart (I grew up right across the Red River in Grand Forks) and my head (the Green Wave have great depth and maybe 4-5 D-1 players), BUT, this Hermantown team feels like it's not going to be stopped. If I can't get their bitter, crushing loss in last year's state title game out of my head, I can't imagine how the Hawks have felt for the past 360 days. After four straight years as the runner-up, Hermantown gets to bring home a state championship trophy for the second time in school history, and first since 2007: HERMANTOWN 5, EAST GRAND FORKS 3 (empty-net goal).

March 04, 2014

Boys hockey | Grosso to enter MHCA Hall of Fame

Posted by: Feldman

This is my eighth year of covering boys hockey for The Post-Bulletin. At the end of my first season, 2006-07, I asked Mayo coach Lorne Grosso if he planned to retire after the season. He laughed and said, "after I tell my wife, you'll be the first to know."

I told him that day that I wouldn't ask him again if he planned to retire. I kept my word for about seven years. I figured I'm allowed a one-day grace period when I'm writing a story about a still-active coach going into a Hall of Fame.

Grosso will be honored on Thursday, between sessions at the Class AA state tournament, by being one of five coaches in the Class of 2014 for the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame.

Here's a link to the article that will appear in Wednesday's Post-Bulletin.

I talked to Grosso, Mayo assistant coach Todd Huyber and Mayo acitivites director Jeff Whitney, who also served as an assistant to Grosso for many years. Grosso will be inducted along with two of his former college teammates at the University of Minnesota, Albert Lea coach Roy Nystrom and former Mound coach Pat Furlong.

Here are some of comments from Grosso, Huyber and Whitney didn't make it into the article:

LORNE GROSSO

On what being inducted into the MHCA HoF means to him:

"I think back on all the coaches I've known for so long. When I first started, I wondered if I would be able to do some of the things they were doing (in terms of longevity and success). We all spend a lot of time working with kids because we enjoy it, and we get to know so many coaches. To be with this group is very meaningful to me."

On what he's enjoyed about coaching:

"One of the most fun parts of coaching, for me, is being involved with all the great coaches you meet. You want to beat them and they want to beat you, but you can still go home feeling good."

TODD HUYBER

On Grosso's longevity:

"No. 1, coaching is teaching and he was a teacher, so that helps. He realizes that all kids are different when it comes to their personalities. He's so even-keeled all the time."

On Grosso's calm demeanor and competitive spirit:

"He definitely has that competitive fire. He gets that across at certain times during the year. He gets it across at certain times when he needs to. He doesn't wear kids out with that stuff all the time because it can get old with kids and start going in one ear and out the other."

JEFF WHITNEY

On Grosso being inducted along with former teammates:

"It's special to him to go in with some friends. I know how important the comaraderie of coaching is to him. He's very well-liked and respected."

On what Grosso enjoys most about coaching:

"I think what he drives home to the kids is doing things with class, working hard, being a good teammate ... so many of those life lessons. Because of the way he coaches, the kids enjoy what they're doing and they're successful. That's probably why he doesn't need to talk about (his wins)."

• • •

Here is the bio on Grosso from the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association:

With 677 career wins at the end of the 2013-14 regular season, Rochester Mayo head coach Lorne Grosso, who has been the school’s head coach for 47 years, is the winningest coach in Minnesota boys high school hockey history, having passed the legendary Willard Ikola for the state’s top spot during the 2010-11 season.

A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Grosso grew up playing with the likes of Lou Nanne and Phil and Tony Esposito before coming to Minnesota to play for the Gophers and John Mariucci. While at Minnesota, Grosso was paired on a line with fellow 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Roy Nystrom, of Albert Lea, whom he coaches against and leads by seven career coaching victories.

Although he has been successful at winning hockey games, Grosso’s approach, at times, is philosophical.

“At times, I have more fun losing than winning because I see that the kids are playing up to their ability,” Grosso said. “If we play our best and happen to lose, I am fine with that.”

As the years have passed by and the wins piled up, Grosso has noticed the game change but his fundamentals of coaching have stayed the same.

“The equipment is better, the kids are bigger, and the game is faster,” he noted. “But you try
to teach them the same things that will make them successful. You try to get them to improve and develop. As far as the coaching aspect, it’s pretty much the same game.”

Grosso attended St. Basil’s Novitiate for the priesthood before moving on to the University of Minnesota, from where he graduated in 1966. He took over as the head hockey coach at Mayo upon his graduation and taught Latin and Italian at the school from 1966-99. In 1999, he accepted a position at Rochester Lourdes, teaching religion along with Latin and Italian before retiring in 2007.

In 2009, Grosso was inducted into the Rochester Quarterbacks Club Hall of Fame and, last year, the American Hockey Coaches Association honored him with its Mariucci Award, a national award for a high school hockey coach.

Grosso and his wife, Joannie, are the parents of three children; daughters Laura and Marisa, and son Jim; have seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. When not coaching, he enjoys playing the guitar and piano, walking the couple’s two dogs, cutting fire wood and travelling to Italy and Florida. He also sang and played guitar at mass for 22 years, has been a hospital visitor for St. John’s Catholic Church, brings communion to the homebound and serves as a Eucharistic minister.