High School Hockey | Lourdes hits tough home stretch
Posted by: Feldman
Rochester Lourdes has traditionally played a difficult schedule to prepare itself for the intensity of the section and -- if it happens to get so far -- state tournaments. This season is no exception.
The Eagles, ranked No. 10 in the latest Class A state poll, are two-thirds of the way through their schedule. They're 12-5-0 with eight games to go. While they're not the same type of team they were a year ago, they should be pleased with their record and ranking at this point of the season.
Consider: (1) Lourdes came into this season with question marks at goalie and on defense. Senior Jesse Neumann has improved in goal as the season's gone on, and he's played against enough top-end opponents now to be able to hold his own in the postseason, when the nerves and intensity are ratcheted up; and (2) the Eagles lost defensemen Rory Vesel, Alec Brandrup and Sam Slightam (as well as standout goalie Nick Heimer) to graduation. You put those three back in the rotation and Lourdes goalies are probably facing 6-8 less shots per game.
That said, the Eagles are doing what the coaching staff hoped for at the start of the season: They're developing some young defensemen as the season goes along and getting solid play and leadership out of the veterans they have on the blue line. That group is led by junior Karl Krecke, a third-year varsity regular, who is a solid two-way defenseman and has taken over nicely for Vesel, running the point on the power play.
Senior Justin Dewitz, who moved to D from forward at the start of the season, has given the Eagles more stability and point production on the blue line than I'm sure the coaching staff had dared to hope for when they asked him to make the transition. He's the team's fourth-leading scorer.
Senior Robby Campbell has been solid, too, and young d-men such as Lee Brandrup (junior), Lars Anderson (soph.) and Griff Slightam (freshman) are being counted on to play a good amount of ice time on a regular basis. They'll continue to be tested over the final three-plus weeks of the regular season.
Lourdes will face five ranked opponents over its final eight games, while also facing Section 1A rivals Albert Lea and New Prague. N.P. was ranked for several weeks in the state polls earlier this season. The only "breather" for Lourdes down the stretch appears to be Monticello (3-14), which the Eagles face next Tuesday.
Lourdes run against ranked foes begins Saturday at No. 13 Delano/Rockford. The Eagles also have games coming at No. 2 Breck (Feb. 4); at No. 11 Blake (Feb. 7); home vs. No. 15 Rogers (Feb. 9); and home against No. 7 Totino-Grace (Feb. 18), in the regular season finale.
While playing well against those ranked opponents would boost the Eagles confidence, if they can pull out wins against Albert Lea and New Prague, those would be more important at this stage. Those games matter greatly when it comes time to seed the Section 1A tournament, and Lourdes has shown that getting that No. 1 seed can matter greatly.
Lourdes has already beaten New Prague once this year, and, I'm not positive, but I think if the Eagles sweep the regular season meetings with the Trojans, then, thanks to wins against Red Wing, Northfield and Chanhassen, Lourdes is the Missota Conference champion. :-) ... take it easy Missota fans, I only kid.