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4 posts from August 2012

August 31, 2012

High School Football Picks | Week 1

We're both short on time this morning, Phersy, so let's get right to it. The traveling trophy for the High School Picks winner is still buried on my desk -- where it belongs -- under mountains of notes about our area teams. I think the lost intern from four years ago is probably still buried under there, too. Maybe one day he'll be rescued. Here we go, the seven games we'll pick in Week 1 (How about the big showdown in the Three Rivers to open the season ... wish I could be at that one!). Phersy, I don't know about you, but I'd be happy if we both are a game over .500 after this week.

I'll pick the games this week, Phersy gets to make his picks first:

NON-CONFERENCE
Austin at Red Wing
Rochester Mayo at Farmington 

HIAWATHA VALLEY LEAGUE
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Stewartville
Goodhue at Pine island

THREE RIVERS CONFERENCE
Plainview-Elgin-Millville at Caledonia
Rushford-Peterson at Lewiston-Altura

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE
Mabel-Canton at Spring Grove

•••

PHERSY: Ohhh Feldy ... you win the trophy one year and you get a big head? See all the times "PHERSY" is etched on that trophy? Yeah, enough said.

Anyway, you're right. We're short on time. Getting off to a good start is key, though. It's going to be a tall order with this slate of games.

NON-CONFERENCE

Austin 21, Red Wing 6: Brett Vesel takes over at Austin, and he's going to run the spread. Sean Coffey will be at QB, but I want to see Ryan Synoground, too. The offense will struggle early in the season for sure. But Austin's defense is legit. They will give Big Nine teams trouble this season. Meanwhile, Red Wing lost almost everyone on defense, and on offense they lost three-year starter Joel Newman. So, there's work to do. That said, they have some great receivers, everyone back on the o-line and a great runner in Mr. Page. I'll go with the Pack, but it will be close.

Rochester Mayo 27, Farmington 23: Feldy, you know how I feel about Alex Proell. To me, when he's healthy, he's the best running back in SE Minnesota. The kid has great vision, he's shifty and he's smooth. I love his running style. That said, he has to stay strong because there are a couple guys waiting to take his carries. PS, Tommy Fjelsted...he's going to knock some heads off this year. Farmington, well, I don't know much. But they don't play in a great conference, so we'll give the Spartans the nod.

HIAWATHA VALLEY LEAGUE

Zumbrota-Mazeppa 13, Stewartville 12: I'll call this a mild upset, but the Cougars bring back 20 letter-winners off a team that came together at the end of last season. Nate Bennett is a beast on both sides of the ball for ZM, and I have a hunch Nate Rauen will have a big year for the Cougs. Stewartville has a few nice skill-position players back, but they also lost loads to graduation. I'd be shocked if it was more than a one-score game either way.

Goodhue 32, Pine Island 20: Pine Island is still in rebuilding mode. I think they have a good coaching staff in place now, and things will start turning around. But they still need time and athletes. Goodhue has some beef up front with guys like Tyson Dicke and Ryan Tipcke. They'll score some points behind that power running attack.

THREE RIVERS CONFERENCE

Caledonia 28, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 21: Whoa, two powerhouse teams in the same boat ... both are rebuilding after graduating massive senior classes. PEM lost all but two starters, and Caledonia is without the bulk of last year's top skill players. I'll take the Warriors, at home, though. They have a few more pieces in place right now.

Lewiston-Altura 30, Rushford-Peterson 19: L-A is coming off a solid 5-5 season. Meanwhile, R-P was winless in the conference last year. R-P returns several skill players, but they were on a team that didn't score many points, so it's tough to tell until they hit the field. L-A quarterback Nate Reps is a player to watch this season. If he improved in the offseason, he could be one of the area's best. He tossed 12 TDs last year.

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Spring Grove 54, Mabel-Canton 24: Come on Feldy. Spring Grove is loaded again, with skill players like three-year starting QB Blaine Storlie and 1,000-yard rusher Josh Olerud, not to mention key pieces back on their line. Spring Grove and Grand Meadow will be chasing each other for that SEC title this year. Meanwhile, numbers are down at M-C. They can be competitive, but they must stay healthy.

•••

FELDY: It's Week 1. We don't know much about most of these teams yet, so I'm relying on the guys who wrote our Pigskin Preview stories. That may not be a good thing to do.

NON-CONFERENCE

Red Wing 28, Austin 21: The Wingers lost a lot of players to graduation. Austin has lost a lot of games in a row (19). I like the Packers new head coach, Brett Vesel, and I think he'll turn things around in SpamTown, but it'll take time. I'll take the Wingers at home.

Mayo 22, Farmington 21: Just because Mayo will be a different team offensively this season, doesn't mean they'll be a worse team. Like you said, Phersy, Alex Proell can be an outstanding back if he can stay healthy. Mayo will need to control the clock with its ground game and keep Farmington's third-year starting QB, Darren Beenken, off the field.

HVL

Stewartville 26, Z-M 23: Tigers coach Aaron Meyer seems to get the best out of his team each year. Yes, they lost some key players to graduation, but the returning kids remember the feeling of being a win away from a trip to state last year. That's pretty powerful motivation.

Goodhue 24, Pine Island 18: Gotta agree with Phersy here. Dicke and Tipcke will be to tough to contain, though I think this game will be closer than some may think. P.I.'s new head coach, John Stapleton, was an assistant at Goodhue last year. Think he wants to get his tenure at P.I. off to a nice start? 

TRC

P-E-M 19, Caledonia 16: Both of these teams lost a lot of starters and are in as much of a rebuilding mode as these programs can be. P-E-M beat the Warriors in the season opener last year -- something Caledonia surely remembers. I like the 'Dogs here because of the beef they have up front, led by 6-4, 265-pound tackle Nolan Folkert.

L-A 34, R-P 23: L-A has 14 starters back and 30 upperclassmen (juniors, seniors). That's a good recipe for success. I'll take the Cards by two scores.

SEC

Spring Grove 43, Mabel-Canton 27: A third-year starting QB (Blaine Storlie) and a returning 1,000-yard running back (Josh Olerud) make Spring Grove not only a favorite in the SEC, but one of the favorites to return to the state tournament.

August 18, 2012

Junior Hockey | Vesel ready for Year 2 in NAHL

Posted by: Feldman

The North American Hockey League season gets underway in about three weeks, and former Rochester Lourdes standout defenseman Rory Vesel is ready for his second season with the Bismarck (N.D.) Bobcats. Vesel, a 2010-11 Second Team All-State defenseman at Lourdes, had some ups and downs in his first season in Bismarck, including being laid up at home for two months while recovering from a broken jaw.

Earlier this week, Vesel was the subject of a player profile written by Paul Teeple, the Bobcats' Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations. (By the way, if you're a hockey fan and you're on Twitter, follow Paul at @pcteeple -- he's a great follow for all hockey fans). Paul was kind enough to pass on the profile on Vesel, which you can read below.

You can find the NAHL website here, and you can find the Bobcats' website here.

Here's the piece on Vesel, which includes some comments about how he's becoming a good all-around defenseman, blocking shots and playing as hard in the Bobcats' end as he is in their offensive end.

* * *

KNOW YOUR BOBCAT: RORY VESEL

Throuhgout the month of August, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats' Training Camp roster.

Today's installment covers Bobcats second-year veteran defenseman Rory Vesel.

Name: Rory Vesel
Position: Defenseman
Hometown: Rochester, MN
2011-12 Team: Bismarck Bobcats
2011-12 Stats: 28 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, 22 PIM
Favorite Pro Sports Team: Minnesota Twins
Favorite Food: Chicken Alfredo
Highlight of 2011-12: "Beating Aberdeen 4-2 on the last night of the season in front of our fans and all their fans that made the trip; that game gave us a big boost heading into the playoffs."

BLOCK PARTY

When Rory Vesel took the ice for the Bismarck Bobcats in 2011-12, there was never a question what his defensive hallmark was: blocking shots.

"To me, playing defense is just as important as playing offense and scoring goals," explained Vesel, an alumnus of Lourdes High School in Rochester. "So it's important to get down and block shots and do whatever you can to help your team."

Though blocked shots are not an official stat in the NAHL, Vesel had more than one weekend in which unofficial totals credited him with more than 10 blocks, including 11 in a pivotal three-game sweep of Austin and Alexandria in late January that saw the Bobcats seize control of the Central Division.

"If you want to win at the junior level, you've got to be ready to pay the price," stressed Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. "Rory understands that and is willing to sacrifice his body to get in front of shots by anyone."

Despite the fact that shot-blocking isn't exactly a glamour profession in the world of hockey, it suits the soft-spoken blueliner just fine. In fact, when asked if he'd rather block a good scoring chance or lay a big hit, Vesel still picked the block.

"Well, yeah, making a big hit will fire up the crowd and fire up the team," he admitted, "but you could be taking a goal off the board for the other team if you get that block. And what if the goalie wasn't going to get it? Or if we go right back down the ice and score?"

JAW SESSION

Just as Vesel was beginning to come into his own on the blue line for the Bobcats early in 2011-12, his season was interrupted by a broken jaw during a particularly heated game at Minot two days after Thanksgiving -- and exactly a week after his first goal at the junior level.

Sidelined for two months while his jaw healed at his family's home in Rochester, Vesel did what he could to stay in shape and follow the team. In the team's last weekend before Christmas, he made the short trip from Rochester to Austin to lend emotional support to his teammates as the Cats split a two-game series with the Bruins at Riverside Arena.

Though he wouldn't play until late in the month, Vesel returned to Bismarck to train and practice with the Bobcats in January. During his on-ice rehab, he had concerns that the time off had affected him.

"Guys were telling me I looked as skinny as a scarecrow when I got back," he recalled, "so I had to work hard off the ice at Healthways to make sure I got back in shape."

Vesel got the green light to return for the Jan. 27 contest at Austin and wasted no time in announcing his return, blocking four shots -- including a memorable block on hard-shooting Bruins defenseman Christian Folin -- and posting a plus-2 rating in a decisive 6-1 road win.

"I knew that when I got back in, I had to play my best game ever to show the coaches I was ready for the rest of the season," Vesel said.

IDENTITY

One of the most surprising aspects of Vesel's defense-first style during the 2011-12 campaign is that in high school he was more offensively oriented, averaging nearly a point per game in 2010-11 for Lourdes.

"My senior year I guess you could say I had a pretty high number of points for a defenseman," submitted Vesel, who had 10 goals and 13 assists for the Eagles, "but that was in high school. When you play juniors, you need to play the best style that fits the team.
"When you have defensemen on your team like we did last year in Donald Olivieri and Danny Ray and Bryce Anderson, who like to jump into the rush and create chances, it makes you want to stay at home a bit more to make sure we're still covered defensively." 

That said, Vesel hasn't completely closed off the possibility of providing an offensive spark in 2012-13.

"I've been on the ice at least three times a week during the offseason, and one thing I've been working on is mental awareness and seeing opportunities," said Vesel, "because if what I saw at main camp plays out, we'll be a more defensive team this year than last year. If we are more defensively sound, that will give me more confidence to jump up into the play without worrying about hanging our goalies out to dry."

His offensive refinements were evident during the Bobcats' late-July Main Camp, in which he registered four assists in four games -- matching his assist total in 28 regular season games last season.

"Whatever helps the team is what I want to do," Vesel said. "I'm still all about the defense, but if the team needs points, I want to be able to contribute there, too."

August 16, 2012

ICE HAWKS ARE BACK, BABY!!!!

PHERSY: Holy goodness ... yeah, it's been way too long! I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to text Feldy today (that in and of itself is embarrassing) to ask the username for this blog. How sad is that?

Well, don't hate me too much ... I'm back in action now.

Your favorite local hockey club is hitting the ice this weekend for training camp. That's right, the Rochester Ice Hawks are back in town.

And after talking with several members of the coaching staff, the Ice Hawks are looking great this season. They have a handful of players who should be lights-out, and they are still waiting on one or two more guys, regarding NA tryouts.

But for the most part, the team you see on the ice this weekend at the Rochester Recreation Center will open the season with the Ice Hawks. There really aren't many spots up for grabs, and even the few tryout players will have to go nuts to earn a spot.

I spoke with coach Nick Fatis yesterday, and he's quite pleased with the group he has coming in. The team also has a good number of veterans back. They even have a couple of guys back who most definitely should be on NA rosters ... but not all NA coaches are smart, so yeah, they're back in Rochester, and I expect them to tear up the MnJHL this season.

After this weekend's camp and scrimmages, I'll talk more about the players themselves. But for now, here are the open scrimmage times and other news and notes from the Hawks.

I have to say ... even though it's August, I'm ready to drop the puck! It will be great to be back at the rink with the Hawks!

Training camp officially begins Friday morning, with tons of off-ice activities and interviews with the players. Coach Fatis will select his team by Sunday, though as stated above, there really aren't many spots up for grabs, so everyone will have to work hard to make sure they stay on the roster.

There are four sessions open to the public this weekend.

On Friday, the team's first open scrimmage is at 3:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the open scrimmage is at 2 p.m. Finally, on Sunday, there are two open scrimmages. The first is at 8:30 a.m. and the second is at 11:30 a.m.

Oh yeah, and the good stuff ... the team's opener is Sept. 9 at the Twin Cities Northern Lights in Bloomington!! That's not so far away, is it??!!

According to the team's press release, a couple of returning players won't be on the ice this weekend due to injuries. Defenseman Brad Nolan and forward Nick Gorino both return to the team, but they'll sit out after having offseason surgery. A timetable for their return was not released.

Oh yeah, and the good stuff ... the team's opener is Sept. 9 at the Twin Cities Northern Lights in Bloomington!! That's not so far away, is it??!!

---

Last but not least, I wanted to give a quick shout-out to assistant coach Todd McIlrath.

For the last few months, Mack has been beating me up at the Rochester Athletic Club (dear RAC, a sponsorship would be oustanding ... shameless plug ... thank you). I haven't touched a weight since high school (and even then, it was minimal), but Mack agreed to be my personal trainer this summer. He made sure to embarrass me on a daily basis. But my gains have been fantastic, and I am certain I have a phenomenal trainer. Mack's a great assistant, and I thank him for what he's done and is doing with me. ... Also, watch for the JM/Lourdes girls hockey team to take a giant step forward this season. The Rockets have lofty goals, and after putting in the work with coach Mack in the offseason, I have little doubt they will be one of Minnesota's most improved teams this season.

August 01, 2012

H.S. Hockey | Lourdes takes third at Duluth's Summer Classic

Posted by: Feldman

Rochester Lourdes finished its summer hockey schedule this past weekend, placing third at the Lakeview Summer Classic in Duluth.

The Eagles beat East Grand Forks (9-4), lost to host Duluth Marshall (8-5) in the semifinals, then beat Mahtomedi (7-5) for third place. While not every team was at full strength (injuries, baseball, summer vacations all took players away), this was still an encouraging finish for the Eagles, who have their sights set on a fifth consecutive Section 1A championship and another trip to the state tournament.

Lourdes played without top defenseman Karl Krecke, who sat out becasue of an injury; and star forward Jason Samuelson missed the third-place game because of a previoiusly-scheduled commitment. Forward Ben Weir -- a leading contender to play alongside Samuelson and Alex Funk on the top line -- also was absent becasue of a prior commitment, coach Josh Spaniol said.

Funk, Krecke and Samuelson will all play in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall, which should only help them improve. Funk and Samuelson each had 70 points last season as juniors. Can they match or improve on those numbers as seniors? Spaniol thinks so.

"They're both quicker, stronger, more mature," Spaniol said. "They know what it takes to move the puck and how to get to the open spaces."

Spaniol said he was also pleased with the play of junior forward Griffen Buck and twins Kane and McKay Carstens, who will be juniors this fall. Their brother Mason, who will be just a freshman, was also impressive, Spaniol said, showing off his speed and playmaking ability. Buck improved steadily as last season went along and was one of the team's best "energy" players in the postseason. He worked his breezers off at both ends of the ice and gave the Eagles some of the best shifts any of their players had in the state tournament.

Spaniol said he also liked what he saw from a number of defensemen, including sophomore-to-be Griff Slightam, who recently returned from participating in the USA Hockey Select 16 Festival in Rochester, N.Y. I hope to get in touch with Griff this week to talk about his experience out there.

"He's getting better and better as he's on the ice more," Spaniol said of Slightam. "He's reading plays well and he's a big, strong presence out there. He's not afraid to play the body."

Nick Roth, Nathan Roth and Dakota Street were among the other defensemen who played well in Duluth, Spaniol said.

Senior-to-be Andrew Ellingson and Jack Burkel, a transfer from Red Wing who will be a sophomore, split time in goal. I'd expect them to do the same early in the season, and continue to do so unless or until one of the two sets himself apart. With Lourdes' tough schedule, the Eagles will need their goalies to steal a win at times.

Spaniol said the Eagles were solid in all phases against EGF and Mahtomedi, but broke down defensively a few times against Marshall, allowing four breakaways.

In all, though, it was a good way to end the summer workouts, Spaniol said.

Boys hockey practice opens Nov. 12. That's 104 days, if you're counting. Ha.

"It was just a good weekend for us to get away, bond and do some things together," Spaniol said.