Oh, Lourdes | Looking back on the Eagles season
FELDY: This was a season that Rochester Lourdes had been looking forward to for three years. An impressive senior class lived up to its own expectations in the regular season, finishing with 21-3-1 record.
The Eagles' run to a third consecutive section championship wasn't easy, with Red Wing and New Prague putting up tough fights before Lourdes ultimately prevailed. And Lourdes' third consecutive trip to state started on a tough note -- a 4-0 loss to HIbbing on Wednesday -- and ended on a tough note today, with a 7-4 loss to Breck.
The toughest part of today clearly wasn't the result on the scoreboard, it was the fact that eight seniors won't suit up for the Eagles again. Lourdes, which finished its season 25-5-1, will see its biggest losses on defense and in goal.
Seniors Sam Slightam, Rory Vesel and Alec Brandrup leave big skates to fill on the blue line, and Nick Heimer will be tough to replace in goal. Heimer set a school record that will not be broken anytime soon -- he won 25 games this season, the most of any goalie in the state.
Slightam, Vesel and Brandrup all brought years of experience, as well as a physical presence. Oh yeah, they could score a bit, too.
Vesel was named to the all-tournament team. He has signed a tender to play with BIsmarck (N.D.) of the North American Hockey League, but could be drafted by a USHL team. Either way, he will play at a high level of junior hockey next season.
Slightam told me after the game today that he thinks he's done playing competitive hockey, which is too bad, and which is another reason why this season coming to an end was so painful.
And Brandrup, his offensive production this season was incredible. He finished with 10 goals and 17 assists, averaging nearly a point per game. His decision-making on the power play was very good and he was a key penalty killer for the Eagles, too.
Up front, Brian Wasz and Andy Benner are the big losses. Lourdes will miss Wasz's size in front of the net. He could set up shop and bang around with defensemen to create some havoc. He scored a rebound goal today by simply holding his ground in front of the goal.
Benner was probably my favorite player in Rochester to watch over the second half of the season, once he returned from an injury. He finished the year with 16 points in less than 20 games, but he brought a lot of grit and hard work to the ice. It's hard to quantify hard work, but he did a lot of the dirty work that gets overlooked.
* * *
Looking ahead to next season, the cupboard is far from bare. Lourdes will have to find a new goalie, but this year's backup, Jesse Neumann, and junior-to-be Andrew Ellingson give the Eagles two good options. It will just take some time to get them comfortable at the varsity level.
On defense, Karl Krecke will be a junior, but already has two full seasons of varsity experience. Nathan Roth, who will be a junior, and Griff Slightam, who will be just a freshman, also have been through big-game situations, and have practiced against Lourdes best players every day.
Up front, the top three scorers return. That group will be led by juniors-to-be Jason Samuelson (who finished with 47 points this season) and Alex Funk (41 points). Landon Farrell, who will be a senior, finished this season with 35 points.
Of course, Ryan Nicolay, Connor Nellans and Ben Weir will return. All of those guys saw consistent ice time as part of one of the top three lines. And Robby Campbell, who played sparingly on the varsity throughout the season, will also return.
So, Lourdes finishes 25-5-1 and sixth in the state. The Eagles didn't achieve all of their goals, but still put together one of the best seasons in school history and another trip to state. And, just to note, Lourdes has been to state seven times in school history, and has placed every time it's been here.