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February 22, 2012

Boys Hockey | Breaking down the Section 1 playoffs

Posted by: Feldman

Who's ready for some playoff hockey? Yeah, I know, it started Tuesday night, but we get our first dose of it in Rochester on Thursday night, with all four Rochester teams playing in town.

Ready for me to ramble on about those Rochester teams? Take a deep breath if you're going to read this whole thing.

Before we get into who needs to do what to win their games (did that even make sense?), here are some links to my previews that ran in Wednesday's P-B Sports section:

Section 1A quarterfinal capsules

Section 1AA quarterfinal capsules

Feature story on John Marshall goalie Jacob Garvey, who has been very good over the past month. Garvey is 5-0-1 since his last loss, which occurred on Jan. 21, against the team JM will face in Thursday's quarterfinals — intra-city rival Rochester Mayo. In those six games, Garvey has a 0.67 goals-against average and a .972 save percentage. For the season, he is 8-6-2, with a 2.23 GAA and a .901 save pct/ In his six-game unbeaten streak, Garvey has stopped 138 of 142 shots.

SECTION 1AA: No. 4 Mayo (16-9-0) vs. No. 5 JM (13-10-2)

While Garvey's overall record this season looks just OK, goal support has been an issue. In Garvey's eight non-victories this season (six losses, two ties): JM scored a total of eight goals (one per game). In his six losses, the Rockets totalled five goals. So, while JM's offensive production is getting better, the Rockets will have to get scoring from throughout the lineup if they hope to knock off Mayo.

Mayo beat JM in two of their three meetings during the regular season, though all three games were close well into the third period. Mayo beat the Rockets 4-1 on Jan. 21, but the Spartans scored an empty-net goal in the closing minutes to make that a three-goal difference. The first two meetings this season were decided by one goal (JM, 4-3, on Dec. 10; Mayo, 3-2, on Dec. 30 in the Kiwanis Festival).

In other words, this game could very well come down to the goalies. We've already mentioned JM's Garvey. At the opposite end of the ice will be another junior, Mayo's Case Hansen. He brings a 12-8-0 record, a 2.91 GAA and a .902 save pct. into tonight's game.

Like Garvey, Hansen has made a habit of keeping the Spartans in just about every game they've played. Mayo is 6-4-0 in its last 10 games, but three of those losses were by one goal, including a 2-1 overtime loss to South St. Paul on Jan. 26. Not counting a 12-1 loss at Lakeville South, Hansen and the Spartans have surrendered less than two goals per game over nine of their past 10 games (17 goals allowed in nine games).

The big key to this one will be special teams. These teams know each other so well, that there won't be many surprises. I'm sure both teams will tweak some of the things they do, but the personnel on both sides is the same as it's been all season. That means taking advantage of power-play time will be critical. And, not taking the 5-minute majors will be just as critical. One of those could flip the game in a big way.

That also leads to another interesting question: Will officials continue to call those major penalties as tightly as they have? That will be something to keep an eye on as the playoffs rolls along. The deeper we get into the postseason, the more a five-minute major could change the course of a team's season.

• • •

SECTION 1AA: No. 6 Owatonna (14-8-3) at No. 3 Century (17-6-2)

Seeing Owatonna come to town as a No. 6 seed probably isn't the most comforting feeling for coach Josh Klingfus and Rochester Century. The Panthers hold a win and a tie against Owatonna this season, but Century has outscored the Huskies by a total of 5-4 in those two meetings.

Owatonna has lost two of its last three coming into the postseason, but that came on the heels of an 11-game unbeaten streak (9-0-2), that ran from Dec. 27-Feb. 2).

Owatonna may not be able to match Century's depth, but the Huskies will come close. Seven Owatonna players have 15 or more points; Century has 10 players with 11 or more points.

Still, though the Huskies may be able to send out three lines consistently, they'll have to find a way to solve a stingy Panthers defense. Century is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games. In that span, the Panthers have allowed a total of 15 goals, including six in a 6-3 loss to Roseville in the regular season finale. That was the only game in that 10-game stretch when an opponent scored more than two goals. In other words, if Century gets to three goals, it's a pretty good bet the Panthers will live to play on Saturday.

The thing to really like about this Century team is that it has embraced what the coaching staff has preached. They've used the regular season to slowly improve and be playing well in late February. The senior class is a great group of leaders, including captains Nick Jacobs, Brandon Kautz and Blake Heroff. Those guys have all bought in to what the coaches have asked them to do — Jacobs is the team's top scorer, Kautz has put up nearly 30 points from the blue line and is a big, physical presence in the defensive zone; and Heroff will do just about anything asked of him — play on the penalty kill, drop to block shots, check the opposing team's top line, and even chip in a little scoring (he has 12 points this season).

The big key for Century is, it will have to match Owatonna's emotion. The Huskies haven't advanced to the section semifinals since 2008, and they clearly feel like they have a team capable of doing so this season.

• • •

SECTION 1A: No. 8 Faribault (8-17-0) at No. 1 Lourdes (17-8-0)

Let's face it: Faribault can't match Lourdes' depth. Not many teams in Section 1A can. But the Falcons are bringing the right attitude into this quarterfinal game at Graham Arena IV. Take it a shift at a time, a period at a time, limit their mistakes and try to pull off an upset.

Faribault is led by senior forward Caleb Sevier, a Virginia native who originally moved to Faribault to play at Shattuck St. Mary's. Financial issues caught up with his family, and Sevier ended up playing for Faribault High School; Falcons coach Brad Ryan is happy to have him.

As the home team, the Eagles will have the last line change, so coach Josh Spaniol may choose to match up his top line of Jason Samuelson, Alex Funk and Landon Farrell against Sevier's line. It will be tough for Sevier's line to generate scoring chances if they're in their own end more often than not.

I wouldn't be surprised if the lower seed wins any of the three other Section 1A quarterfinal games, but a Falcons win at Graham IV tonight would be a bit of a shocker. Lourdes needs to guard against overconfidence in a situation like this; that might be the thing that could trip them up the most. The Eagles have been through this before, though. They know that a game like this needs to be a statement game — let the rest of the section know they're the no. 1 seed for a reason.

Lourdes did exactly that in the Kiwanis Festival at Christmastime, winning three tournament games by a combined score of 28-2. I don't expect them to be 26 goals better than three opponents in the section playoffs — if they make it to three games — but they will be tough to stop if they play with the swagger of a three-time defending section champion.


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