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16 posts categorized "Farmington"

February 25, 2015

High School Hockey Today | Feb. 25, 2015 (The Section Finals edition)

Posted by: Feldman

A week ago, there were 16 teams remaining in Section 1 boys hockey, eight each in Class A and AA. We're down to four, and those four will be cut to two about 36 hours from now.

The Section 1 finals are upon us, with a pair of 1 vs. 3 matchups on tap over the next two nights at the Rochester Recreation Center.

It starts at 7 p.m. tonight (game is still on, as of now -- 12:40 p.m.) with the Section 1A championship game between top-seeded New Prague (19-8-0) and No. 3 seed Northfield (16-9-2). New Prague edged Northfield 3-2 when they met in the regular season, wayyyyyy back on Nov. 29. New Prague had to score twice in the final six minutes of that game to win it.

That seems typical of Section 1A teams this season; you never know what the outcome will be on a given night. 

Section 1AA seems more clear-cut, but we've seen stranger things happen than, say, No. 3-seeded Farmington (19-7-1) pulling an upset of No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Lakeville North (27-0-0). Not many stranger things, but a few. Farmington and North are set to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rec Center in a rematch of last year's section final, which North won 6-0.

North is a machine. It can put six D-I players on the ice at once. The most impressive of that group to me on Saturday was junior goalie Ryan Edquist, a Gophers recruit. I can't judge a goalie's play to save my Rec Center pretzel and cheese, but I don't feel too bad about it, because many coaches I talk to can't either. I guess it's kind of like watching TV -- I can't tell you how to make a good television show, but I know one when I see it.

The same goes for Edquist. In North's 10-0 win against Rochester Century on Saturday, he kept the game scoreless while Century pressured for the first nine minutes -- really the only time all game Century was able to sustain pressure. Edquist made a pair of great saves, one on a Riese Zmolek shot and another on a tip by Erik Thorvilson. Edquist has the look of a D-I goalie -- the way he played the puck, the way he kept himself in the game, very impressive. On one Century power play, he basically played catch with Century goalie Cole Walter. Century put a couple of hard shots in on goal from outside the blue line. Edquist gloved them, dropped them and fired them all the way down the ice in one fluid motion. 

I got some comments about Edquist from North coach Trent Eigner after the game that I'm saving for next week's state tournament preview, if North makes it. Eigner called Edquist the team's hardest worker.

Let's take a look at this week's Section 1 title games:

SECTION 1A
No. 3 Northfield (16-9-2) vs. No. 1 New Prague (19-8-0)
7 p.m. tonight, Rochester Recreation Center

Faribault hung with New Prague for half the game because it played a trap and didn't give the Trojans' talented skaters any open ice to use. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Once Faribault decided ditch its trap, the game turned into a track meet and New Prague dominated in that case, scoring four times in the second period and four more in the third.

I've only seen Faribault and Northfield twice each, but it seems to me that Northfield could play that trap pretty effectively and make tonight's game into a close one all the way through. Northfield has multiple lines that can control the puck and generate offense.

That said, the Raiders went toe-to-toe with No. 2 seed Mankato West in the semifinals on Saturday without mucking things up. The Northfield-West game was wide open and, quite honestly, Northfield looked like it wore West down a bit late in the game.

New Prague is looking for its second consecutive trip -- and second ever -- to the Class A state tournament. It placed third last season.

Northfield has never been to the state hockey tournament. The Raiders have never had a better opportunity. That's not a knock on New Prague, but more a commentary on how even this section has been all season.

I'll go back to what I said wrote last week when I was making predictions for this section tournament: It's so wide open that I won't be surprised no matter who wins it.

Here's what I wrote last week, when I predicted Northfield and New Prague would meet in the title game: Why do I think this is Northfield's year to get to state? I just feel like, in a wide-open section like this, someone other than the top seed will come out of it. The Raiders have lost five games since the start of January. Three of those came against Class AA teams. The other two -- against Mankato West and Faribault -- both came by one goal. I think the Raiders flip those two one-goal games in the playoffs and advance to state. Plus, when these teams met in the regular season, New Prague had to score twice in the third period to rally from a 2-1 deficit to win. Northfield hangs on this time.

The call: Northfield 2, New Prague 1.

* * * * * 

SECTION 1AA
No. 3 Farmington (19-7-1) vs. No. 1 Lakeville North (27-0-0)
7 p.m. Thursday, Rochester Recreation Center

Nick, Jack, Ryan Poehling. Jack McNeely and Jack Sadek. Ryan Edquist. They'll all be playing D-I hockey in a few years. They'll all be on the ice for one team again Thursday night, hoping to lead Lakeville North back to state and back to the state title game, where it lost last year to Edina.

Standing in North's path is Farmington, which surprisingly blew out No. 2 seed Lakeville South 5-1 on Saturday in a section semifinal game. It was 3-0 Farmington after one and South -- despite outshooting the Tigers 38-26 -- never seriously threatened. 

Give much of the credit for that to Farmington goalie Gage Overby. At the start of the playoffs, we said Overby is one of a handful of guys in this section who could be a game changer. If Farmington wants to get to the Class AA state tournament for the first time ever, he'll have to be the star of the game tomorrow.

Overby's playoff numbers are outstanding -- 2-0, 1.50 goals-against avg., .941 save pct. -- as are his full-season numbers (15-6-1, 2.28, .905, 5 shutouts). However, he's going up against a goalie who's been perfect in the postseason. Edquist is 2-0 with 2 shutouts as North has outscored its opponents by a combined 24-0.

North is so deep and talented, though, that it's difficult to see this game going any way other than the Panthers lifting the section title trophy. In addition to those six D-I players, the Panthers also have junior F Max Johnson, who has 7 points in two playoff games. He was drafted last summer by Sioux Falls of the USHL. Johnson, sophomore Henry Enebak (18-21--39) and junior Taylor Schneider (15-20--35) are often overlooked because of what the St. Cloud State-bound Poehling brothers do, but that's a mistake. Watch for North's second-liners to make a big impact on Thursday's game.

Oh, yeah, North can play some D, too. McNeely (Nebraska-Omaha) and Sadek (Gophers) lead a defensive corps that has limited the Panthers' two playoff opponents to a total of 23 shots on goal.

As for a pick, I originally had North vs. South in the title game, so I was off the mark on that one. I wasn't surprised that Farmington beat South, but was definitely surprised that they did so in such convincing fashion.

But beating North is an entirely different challenge, and one that no team has accomplished this season.

The call: North 5, Farmington 1.

* * * * * *

AROUND THE STATE

We're down to the championship games in almost every section, so every game now is a good one. I'll pick out a few to keep an eye on (the numbers in front of team names indicate state rankings, not section seeds):

SECTION 2A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 4 Breck vs. No. 7 Delano/Rockford (7 p.m. Thursday, Parade Ice Garden, Minneapolis)
: Breck has put up 21 goals in its first two playoff games. Delano has had to squeak out a pair of one-goal victories to get to the section final. Breck beat Delano 6-1 in their regular-season meeting, but that was the season opener, back on Nov. 25.

SECTION 6A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 10 St. Cloud Apollo vs. No. 19 St. Cloud Cathedral (7 p.m. Thursday, M.A.C., St. Cloud): An all-St. Cloud title game, set up by fourth-seeded Apollo knocking off No. 1-seeded and No. 5-ranked Alexandria 4-2 in the section semis. These teams met once in the regular season, Cathedral winning 2-1 on Dec. 9.

SECTION 7A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 1 Hermantown vs. No. 6 Duluth Marshall (7 p.m. Tonight, Amsoil Arena, Duluth): Could this be the year that Hermantown finally wins that elusive state championship? After five consecutive state title-game losses, that's the question that's been asked all season. But just to get to state will be a challenge for the Hilltoppers. Duluth Marshall stands in their way tonight. Hermantown hasn't lost to a Class A school this season and has two wins against Marshall (6-2 and 5-2).

SECTION 8A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 3 East Grand Forks vs. No. 12 Thief River Falls (7 p.m. Thursday, The Gardens, Warroad): Last season, East Grand Forks had both its boys and girls team reach the Class A state championship games. The EGF boys won, while the girls lost. Thief River Falls' girls won the state championship last week. Can the boys follow suit and return to state for the first time since 2012? The Gardens in Warroad will be packed, for sure.

SECTION 2AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 Edina vs. No. 15 Burnsville (6:30 p.m. tonight, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis): Edina hasn't lost since Dec. 4, a 3-1 setback to No. 1 Lakeville North. The Hornets are 23-1-2, including a 3-0 shutout of Burnsville on Dec. 27, and they've won their last six games by a combined score of 32-7. 

SECTION 6AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 5 Eden Prairie vs. No. 14 Minnetonka (8:30 p.m. tonight, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis): The second half of an outstanding boys hockey doubleheader features a top-seeded E.P. team that will be short-handed because of this brawl after its 1-0 victory against Benilde-St. Margaret's last Saturday in a section semifinal game. E.P. will be without a first-line forward, a second-line forward and a top-four D-man for tonight's section final. It all makes this THE game to watch tonight in the state.

SECTION 8AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 12 Bemidji vs. No. 17 Moorhead (7 p.m. tonight, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Thief River Falls): Moorhead has been to state three times in the past four years. It's been almost 30 years since Bemidji played at the state tournament. The Lumberjacks are seeking their first trip to state since 1986 and, as the top seed in the section, they feel they have the team to break that dryspell. Bemidji beat Moorhead twice during the regular season (4-2 and 3-0) and it has not allowed a goal in two playoff games.

February 21, 2015

High School Hockey Today | Feb. 21, 2015 (The Section Semifinal Saturday edition)

Posted by: Feldman

One of the best days of the high school hockey season is upon us, Section Semifinal Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center. It will be a little odd this year with just one Rochester team involved, but there are still four good hockey games on tap.

It starts at 11:30 a.m. with Rochester Century against undefeated and No. 1-ranked Lakeville North. That's followed by what should be a very good one between Farmington and Lakeville South.

Both of the games in the evening session should be entertaining, too. No. 4 seed Faribault and No. 1 seed New Prague face off at 5:30 p.m., with No. 3 Northfield and No. 2 Mankato West to follow.

I've watched two playoff games over the past four days and we can only hope that Saturday's games match the same level of intensity and excitement.

Tuesday, I watched Rochester Lourdes rally from a 2-0 deficit in the final five minutes of the third period to force OT, where Tucker Chapman scored the game-winner just 39 seconds in. Two nights later, Rochester Century's Connor Davies scored the game-winning goal with 3:30 left in the third period to cap the Panthers' three-goal third period for a 4-3 win against Rochester Mayo.

Let's look at the four games we'll see at the Rec today (by the way, you can follow me on Twitter -- @PBFeldy -- for updates from all of the Section 1 games). 

* * * *

TODAY'S GAMES

SECTION 1AA

No. 5 ROCHESTER CENTURY vs. No. 1 LAKEVILLE NORTH
Rochester Rec Center, 11:30 a.m.

Records: Century 16-7-3, No. 1-ranked North 26-0-0
Head coaches: Century, Josh Klingfus (4th season, 53-45-7 overall); North, Trent Eigner (4th season, 76-37-2 overall)
Last meeting: North beat Century 12-0 on Jan. 9, 2014, at the Rochester Rec Center
Last game: North beat Dodge County 14-0 in a Section 1AA quarterfinal. Ryan Poehling had a goal and six assists; Century beat Mayo 4-3 in a section quarterfinal. Riese Zmolek had a goal and an assist and Connor Davies scored the game winner with 3:30 left.
Leaders: CENT -- Sr. F Jake Roth (19-25--44); Sr. D Riese Zmolek (20-21--41); Sr. D Ryan Sherden (7-13--20); So. F Eric St. Marie (7-11--18); Fr. G Cole Walter (9-2-1, 2.33 GAA, .890 save pct.). NORTH -- Sr. F Jack Poehling (28-36--64); Sr. F Nick Poehling (30-29--59); So. F Ryan Poehling (15-33--48); Jr. F Max Johnson (16-26--42); Sr. D Jack Sadek (6-20--26); Jr. G Ryan Edquist (23-0-0, 1.37 GAA, .939 save pct., 7 SO).

-----

* No. 3 Farmington (18-7-1) vs. No. 2 Lakeville South (15-10-1), 2 p.m.: The Tigers and Cougars have already met twice this season, with South winning both times (7-4 on Dec. 18, 4-2 on Jan. 29). ... Farmington is led by senior F Austin Martinsen (25-24--49) and junior F John Siebenaler (18-27--45), as well as senior G Gage Overby (14-6-1, 2.34 GAA, .899 save pct., 5 SO). ... South's statistical leaders are junior F Nick Swaney, a Minn.-Duluth commit (29-32--61) and senior F Nick Oelrich (19-24--43). The Cougars have two goalies who have shared time, senior Daniel Swail (9-7-1, 2.64, .893) and junior Kyle McKinney (6-3-0, 1.80, .923). ... South advanced by beating Farmington 7-0 on Thursday. Farmington advanced with a 5-2 victory against Rochester John Marshall. ... South is 8-3-0 in its past 11 games. ... Farmington is ranked No. 18 in the state. South is unranked.

* * * * * * * * *

SECTION 1A

* No. 4 Faribault (19-7-1) vs. No. 1 New Prague (18-8-0), 5:30 p.m.: These teams did not meet in the regular season. ... Faribault has played two one-goal playoff games to get here, while New Prague also won a one-goal game against No. 8 seed Rochester Lourdes on Thursday. ... New Prague is led by F Alex Gregor (28-22--50) and senior F Ben Witt (12-28--40). Trojans senior G Conner Wagner is 17-8-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. ... Faribault stat leaders include F Christan Von Ruden (26-30--56) and F Tyler Becker (20-35--55). Goalies Adam Johannsen (12-4-0, 2.35, .924) and Chase Batchelder (7-3-1, 2.94, .887) have split playing time, though Johannsen has started and finished both playoff games so far.

- - - - - - - - - -

* No. 3 Northfield (15-9-2) vs. No. 2 Mankato West (18-6-2), 8 p.m.: These teams couldn't have been much more even in the regular season. They played to a 3-3 tie in their first meeting, Dec. 9 in Mankato, then West edged the Raiders 3-2 on Jan. 19 at Northfield. ... West's Christian Klemme had two goals and an assist in the victory on Jan. 19, so the Raiders will have to keep him in check today. That's easier said than done. Klemme is West's second-leading scorer (15-27--42), trailing only fellow senior F Austin Langworthy (31-20--51). ... West goalie Conor Wollenzien could be another key factor today. The senior is 17-6-2 with a 2.24 GAA and a .921 save pct. He is 11-1-1 since the beginning of January, the only loss a 5-2 setback to Red Wing. ... West, the Big Nine Conference champion, has put up an impressive record in the second half of the season, but it hasn't done so in dominant fashion. The Scarlets have found ways to win some close games, including one-goal wins against Austin, Northfield, Rochester Mayo, Albert Lea, Faribault and St. Cloud Cathedral. I haven't seen Northfield play this season, but I'm told they can play a defensive style very well, which could keep this game close throughout. West had to go to double-OT to beat Albert Lea in the section quarterfinals. Another OT game here seems quite possible.

* * * * * * * * *

AROUND THE STATE

SECTION 2AA
Semifinal, No. 3 Burnsville (14-10-2) vs. No. 2 Prior Lake (17-8-1), 3:30 p.m., Bloomington Ice Garden: A matchup of top-15 teams as No. 15 Burnsville and No. 13 Prior Lake meet for a third time this season. The Lakers won the first two matchups, but only by a combined three goals. The winner is likely looking at a section title game matchup against Edina.

SECTION 6AA
Semifinal, No. 4 Benilde-St. Margaret's (15-9-2) vs. No. 1 Eden Prairie (16-9-0), Braemar, 4 p.m.: In one of the state's toughest sections, No. 5-ranked E.P. gets No. 11-ranked B-SM in a semifinal matchup. These teams split two games during the regular season, with Benilde winning 2-1 early in the year and E.P. winning 5-0 on Feb. 3.

SECTION 7AA
Semifinal, No. 3 Duluth East (12-10-4) vs. No. 2 Grand Rapids (14-10-2), 2 p.m., Amsoil Arena, Duluth: Grand Rapids rolled to a 5-1 win in the regular season matchup against East, but East is playing well, having lost just once in its past six games.

---

SECTION 7A
Semifinal, No. 3 Duluth Denfeld (19-7-0) vs. No. 2 Duluth Marshall (18-5-3), 8 p.m., Amsoil Arena, Duluth: In a section that features three of the top eight-ranked teams in the state, we knew we'd get a marquee matchup in the semifinals. This is it, as two intra-city rivals don't have to leave Duluth to battle for a spot in the section final, likely against perennial power Hermantown. No. 8-ranked Denfeld lost 4-2 to No. 6-ranked Marshall when the met in the regular season as Marshall scored twice in the final nine minutes.

SECTION 8A
Semifinal, No. 4 Detroit Lakes (19-5-2) vs. No. 1 East Grand Forks (21-4-0), 6 p.m., The Gardens in Warroad: Detroit Lakes has 19 victories and is ranked No. 18 in the state. Its reward for winning its first playoff game: A matchup with the defending state champion and No. 3-ranked East Grand Forks.

 

 

February 19, 2015

High School Hockey Today: The Section 1 tournaments roll on

Posted by: Feldman

After a wild opening night in the Section One, Class A boys hockey tournament, what should we expect tonight? More of the same, most likely. I sound like a broken record, but nothing that happens in the Section 1A tournament from this point on will be a surprise. Three of the five games played Tuesday were decided by a goal, one in double overtime and another in OT.

No. 4 seed Faribault avoided a major upset when it scored a power-play goal with 3:30 left in the third period to eke out a 2-1 win against No. 13 seed Austin, which won just three games all year. Austin competed well against the best teams in the section, though. The Packers played No. 2 seed Mankato West and Faribault to one-goal games this season, tied No. 6 seed Red Wing, and also played one-goal games against section opponents Winona and Waseca.

The Section 1AA tournament gets going tonight, with undefeated and No. 1-ranked Lakeville North (25-0-0) the clear-cut favorite.

The game to watch tonight in 1AA is right here in Rochester, as No. 4 seed Mayo plays host to No. 5 seed Century in the third meeting this season and 51st overall between the long-time rivals. The teams split a pair of 4-3 games during the regular season, with Century edging Mayo last Saturday in the regular-season finale. Both of those regular-season matchups were played with the intensity cranked up to 11. My guess is both teams will take that even higher tonight; if one of them doesn't, its season will be over.

That said, tonight's game will come down to which team plays smart hockey, makes the simple plays, executes its systems the best and STAYS OUT OF THE BOX. We could say that about pretty much every postseason game at any level of hockey, but it's true, stupid penalties are killers this time of year. They dang near cost Rochester Lourdes on Tuesday in a 3-2, overtime, first-round Section 1A victory against Mankato East.

So let's get to tonight's Section 1 games; I'll cover 'em all in two sentences each. Since I posted Section 1A predictions on Tuesday, I should do the same for 1AA (you'll never ever guess who I pick to win it) today. After looking at each of today's games, I'll post some more thoughts about Lourdes' dramatic win on Tuesday, then my Section 1AA predictions.

* * *

TONIGHT'S GAMES

SECTION 1AA QUARTERFINALS
All games at 7 p.m., at higher seed

* No. 8 Dodge County (7-17-0) at No. 1 Lakeville North (25-0-0), Ames Arena, Lakeville: North has 3 Mr. Hockey finalists, 5 Division I commits (so far) and the No. 1 ranking in the state. To say it's an uphill battle for D.C. is like saying "I think I'll take a little stroll to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro today."

* No. 5 Rochester Century (15-7-3) at No. 4 Rochester Mayo (16-8-1), Graham Arena I: Juding by their regular-season meetings, this should be the game of the night in 1AA. Storyline to watch: A confident senior in goal for Mayo (Chris Wileman) vs. a confident freshman in goal for Century (Cole Walter).

* No. 6 Rochester John Marshall (13-12-0) at No. 3 Farmington (17-7-1), Schmitz-Maki Ice Arena, Farmington: Farmington has ended JM's season two of the past three years, but I haven't seen the Rockets look intimidated against anyone this season. For JM to win this one, junior goalie Brady Meyers has to be lights-out and JM's scoring depth has to show through.

* No. 7 Owatonna (11-12-2) at No. 2 Lakeville South (14-10-1), Hasse Arena, Lakeville: Owatonna is playing well, going 4-1-1 in its final six regular-season games. However, the Huskies have only beaten two teams with winning records all season.

* * * * *

SECTION 1A QUARTERFINALS
All games at 7 p.m., at higher seed

* No. 8 Rochester Lourdes (6-18-2) at No. 1 New Prague (17-8-0), New Prague Community Center: Lourdes has a lot of confidence and momentum on its side after finally getting a one-goal victory, rallying from two down to beat Mankato East in Tuesday's first round. New Prague, the defending section champion, probably isn't thrilled to see Lourdes come to town for the Trojans' first playoff game this season.

* No. 5 LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter/TCU/Cleveland (19-7-0) at No. 4 Faribault (18-7-1), Faribault Ice Arena: Faribault is not playing its best hockey right now and just suffered a 4-1 loss against LH/SP/TCU/C only nine days ago. The Falcons need to find their scoring touch again and can't get into a track meet against L-H/SP and the state's top scorer, Sam Wenner.

* No. 6 Red Wing (8-17-1) at No. 3 Northfield (14-9-2), Northfield Ice Arena: Northfield beat Red Wing twice during the regular season, both times by three goals. Guessing this one will be closer, but does Red Wing have enough energy left for another tight game after going to double-OT on Tuesday?

* No. 7 Albert Lea at No. 2 Mankato West, All Seasons Arena, Mankato: Albert Lea was the only Section 1 team that didn't have to sweat out a close first-round game on Tuesday, beating La Crescent 7-1. As for West, wouldn't it be something if, after all of the talented seniors it lost from last season, the Scarlets end up going to state this year?

* * * * *

Lourdes is playing with confidence

Some might say that, if we're being honest, Rochester Lourdes probably shouldn't be playing tonight. But that's really not the case. Sure, the Eagles got a fluke goal to start their rally late in the third period of a 3-2 overtime victory against Mankato East on Tuesday.

The Eagles outplayed East for a majority of the game, they just couldn't get anything past Cougars goalie Jack Cusey. That changed once Lourdes senior D Griff Slightam lofted a puck toward the goal from the blue line; it landed behind Cusey and went into the net to pull Lourdes within 2-1 with less than five minutes to go. Slightam scored again two minutes later to force OT, then fed Tucker Chapman seconds into OT for the game winner.

Lourdes has been through so many close games -- 11 1-goal losses, 17 losses by 2 or less -- this season that the hockey gods were bound to give them one sooner or later. The question is: Can Lourdes get another one?

The Eagles have their work cut out for them tonight, facing defending section champion and No. 1 seed New Prague.

Lourdes is playing with confidence, though. And it knows it can hang with New Prague. The teams played a pair of one-goal games in the regular season, with the Trojans winning both times (New Prague went 6-0-0 against section opponents). As always, Lourdes needs senior goalie Jack Burkel to be sharp and they'll have to have a more defense-first mindset tonight. East got behind the Eagles' defensemen a handful of times on Tuesday. My guess is Lourdes won't get away with allowing a bunch of odd-man rushes tonight.

* * * * *

Now, some Section 1AA predicitions, and I really go out on a limb here, so brace yourself...

QUARTERFINALS
Lakeville North 13, Dodge County 1: D.C. gets a late goal to spoil the shutout.
Lakeville South 9, Owatonna 3: South scores early, often to advance to semis.
Farmington 5, Rochester JM 3: Rockets push til the end before an empty-netter seals the Tigers' win.
Mayo 4, Century 3: The coin says heads; Mayo wins by the same score as the other two Mayo-Century games had this season.

SEMIFINALS
North 7, Mayo 2: What can we say? North is the best team in the state.
South 3, Farmington 2, OT: Maybe the best game of the tournament, South finds a way to beat Gage Overby and the Tigers.

CHAMPIONSHIP
North 8, South 2: North wants to send a message to the teams it'll face at state. It does that against its top rival.

February 05, 2014

Boys Hockey | Looking at potential Section 1A, 1AA matchups

Posted by: Feldman

There are still 10 days left in the boys hockey regular season, and a couple of key games remain that will impact the seeding process in both Section 1A and 1AA, but since I start thinking about this stuff the minute the Kiwanis Holiday Tournament finishes, I thought we'd try to map out some of the possible seeding scenarios.

I do this with one big asterisk: * I can't figure out how or why some Section 1 coaches vote certain ways each year (there always seems to be a vote or two cast for purely selfish or political reasons). And I haven't seen all of these teams play, so I'm going by records, stats, wins over quality opponents, etc.

Let's start with 1AA.

SECTION 1AA

I started digging into stats and numbers and trends for 1AA teams, but, let's face it, this section goes through the No. 1-ranked team in the state, Lakeville North. I honestly don't know when the last time a Section 1 (A or AA) team was ranked No. 1 in the state. 

This North team is the best team to come through the section since the 2006-07 Century team that placed third at the state tournament. If I had a time machine, it wouldn't be the first thing I'd do, but I'd certainly go back, load that whole 06-07 Century team into the machine and zap it into 2013-14 to watch it play against this year's North team. I could write a whole blog post just about that fantasy matchup, and maybe I will at some point during the playoffs...

The most intriguing battle for playoff positioning in 1AA lies among three Big Nine Conference teams: Century, Mayo and Owatonna. Those three teams are fighting for the 4-5-6 seeds. There's a chance that all three of Rochester's 1AA teams -- Mayo, Century, JM -- may have to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs. I don't ever recall that happening, but we'll get to those teams in a bit. Let's start at the top:

No. 1 seed: Lakeville North. It's clear North is the No. 1 seed. It's 18-3-1 and the top-ranked team in the state. It has played three games against section opponents, outscoring them by a combined 25-2. The Panthers battled injuries early in the year and started the season 2-3-0. They haven't lost since Dec. 7, going unbeaten (18-0-1) in their last 19 games. They hold wins against No. 3 Hill-Murray and two over No. 5-ranked Burnsville. They tied No. 6 Blaine, 3-3, on Dec. 27. They've won 11 consecutive games since that tie, outscoring those 11 opponents 58-13. Their depth is their strength; they have 12 players with 11 or more points.

No. 2 seed: Farmington. The Tigers schedule isn't as difficult as Lakeville South's, but it's really hard not to give the 18-3-1 Tigers the nod for the No. 2 seed ahead of a South team that is 7-14-0. Farmington hasn't lost since Dec. 17, going 13-0-1 since. It outscores its opponents by an average of more than 3 goals per game (5.32-2.14). 

No. 3 seed: Lakeville South. The Cougars (7-14-0) get the No. 3 seed because of their 6-3 victory over Rochester Mayo. South has lost twice to North this season. South has a couple of the top players in the section, sophomore F Nick Swaney (12-28--40) and senior F Patrick Lauderdale (15-25--40).

Nos. 4, 5, 6: Owatonna, Mayo, Century. These seeds may not be clear until the final day of the regular season, Feb. 15, when Mayo and Century play for a second time this season. For Century (11-10-0) to have a shot at the No. 4 seed, it will have to beat Mayo and it might have to win its other three remaining games (at JM, vs. Albert Lea, at Mankato West). Of the three teams battling for the No. 4 seed (which means home-ice advantage in the section quarterfinals) Mayo likely controls its destiny. If the Spartans beat Owatonna (Feb. 11) and Century (Feb. 15), they should be in line for the No. 4 seed. Owatonna's next three games are against opponents with a combined 48 losses, so the Huskies should be 13-8-2 by the time they face Mayo. So, if Owatonna wins that game, it'll be 2-0 this season against Mayo and 1-1 vs. Century. That will likely be enough to give it the No. 4 seed and send all three Rochester teams in 1AA on the road for the opening round of section play.

No. 7 seed: Rochester John Marshall. The Rockets (5-15-1) are playing better than they were a month ago, but they're still struggling to finish scoring chances. That said, if the seeds play out the way I have them here, a JM at Farmington quarterfinal game would be really intriguing to watch. JM lost its season opener at Farmington by just one goal, 4-3, on Nov. 21.

No. 8 seed: Dodge County. The Wildcats (9-9-3) will, unfortunately, have their work cut out for them again in the opening round. They'll have to face Lakeville North in the opening round of the postseason.


SECTION 1A

The top two seeds in 1A are obvious, but after that, arguments can be made among two or more teams for seeds 3-13. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during the seeding meeting. 

No. 1 seed: New Prague. The No. 6-ranked Trojans are 15-4-3 with three games remaining. Their losses are to Eagan, ranked No. 18 in Class AA; Farmington, an 18-win Class AA team; Hermantown, the No. 1-ranked team in Class A; and St. Cloud Cathedal, No. 10 in Class A. The Trojans get the nod for the top seed because of their 2-1 win at Mankato West on Jan. 4.

No. 2 seed: Mankato West. It's tough to think a team that sits 20-2-0 and is unbeaten in the Big Nine right now won't get the top seed, but, to me, West's head-to-head loss to New Prague trumps the differential in number of victories. That said, West and New Prague appear to be on a collision course that ends on Feb. 26 at the Rochester Recreation Center. 

No. 3 seed: Albert Lea. The Tigers (11-7-1) are playing very good hockey right now, having won five in a row and six of their past seven. Four of those six wins are against Class AA teams (Owatonna, Rochester Century, Rochester JM and Rochester Mayo), all by at least two goals. The other two victories came against section foes Faribault and Austin. A.L. also has one of the top goalies in the section, junior Garrett Matz (11-7-1, 2.49 goals-against average, .923 save percentage).

No. 4 seed: Rochester Lourdes. Yes, the Eagles are just 5-14-1, and, yes, you need more than one hand to count the number of key players they've lost to injuries this season. But Lourdes has played a tough schedule (as usual) and it's younger players/guys who are new to varsity continue to improve. Now, can Lourdes find enough scoring to keep up with the top three seeds? That's going to be difficult. If the Eagles are going to beat some of the top teams in the section, they'll have to win close, low-scoring games. That means they'll need junior goalie Jack Burkel to steal a win or two for them in the postseason. Lourdes could make an argument for the No. 3 seed if it beats Albert Lea on Thursday.

No. 5 seed: Northfield. Northfield (9-12-1) has four losses to section opponents, but those are all to the four teams listed ahead of it here. The Raiders have played better over the past two weeks, following a six-game losing skid by winning three out of four. That one loss in the last four games was  3-2 setback to Farmington, a Class AA team that is 18-3-1.

No. 6 seed: Faribault. I'll make an argument for the 7-10-2 Falcons here, even though there are teams in the section with more wins (LeSueur-Henderson/SP has 11, La Crescent 13, but we'll get to those teams soon). I'd give Faribault the 6 seed because it has five wins against section opponents and a tie against Northfield. The Falcons four section losses have all come against teams with double-digit victory totals (two losses to Mankato West, one to Albert Lea, one to L-H/SP). The Falcons also have defeated Albert Lea once this season, which is another checkmark in their favor to get this seed.

No. 7: La Crescent. The Lancers (13-5-4) get the nod here ahead of LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter because of their victory over L-H/SP. La Crescent plays most of its game against Wisconsin opponents, so it's tough to guage exactly where it falls in this section, but aside from beating L-H/SP, its section wins are against Mankato East, Waseca and Faribault, all teams with losing records. The Lancers also tied a 3-win Winona team.

No. 8: LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter/TCU/Cleveland. The Bulldogs (11-7-2) are 4-3-0 against section opponents, including a win against Faribault. They also suffered a loss to Austin,which has just three wins. The Bulldogs are playing well over the past two weeks, going 4-1-1 in their past six games, and they won't be an easy opponent for anyone in the section.

No. 9: Mankato East. The Cougars (7-15-0) have wins over three of the four teams seeded below them.

No. 10: Red Wing. The Wingers (3-19-0) have lost to Northfield, New Prague and Lourdes. They beat Winona in a regular season game and also scored a big win earlier this season against Academy of Holy Angels. 

No. 11: Austin. The Packers (3-16-1) are 1-1-1 against the other two teams remaining, Winona and Waseca. Austin has split with Winona and tied Waseca. Austin also holds a victory over L-H/SP.

No. 12: Winona. The Winhawks (3-15-2) holds wins over Austin and Mankato East, and a tie against La Crescent.

No. 13: Waseca. The Bluejays (4-13-1) are just 1-5-1 against section opponents this season.

We'll have a much better idea a week from now of where all these teams will land. So keep a close on games the rest of this week and next week because there are still a handful of games remaining that will have an impact on these seedings.

January 27, 2014

Boys Hockey: JM-Mayo Round 3, A look at the Section 1AA playoff race

Posted by: Feldman

We're just more than 24 hours past the third meeting of the season between Rochester Mayo and Rochester John Marshall and things are beginning to clear up a bit in both the chase for the Big Nine Conference championship and seeding in the Section 1AA playoffs.

Mayo's 6-3 victory against JM on Saturday gave it a sweep of the three-game season series, barring another matchup in the playoffs, which is a reasonable possibility, depending upon how both teams fare over the next three weeks as the regular season draws to a close.

Two things stick out to me in a big-picture view after Saturday's game:

No. 1, John Marshall is a much-improved team from the last time it met Mayo, on Dec. 28 in the seventh-place game of the Kiwanis Festival. Mayo beat JM by a combined total of 16-3 in their first two meetings this season. Mayo may have won Saturday's game by three goals, but it felt more like a one-goal game.

JM was much more competitive on both ends of the ice. I thought Rockets senior forward Sam Broman was the best player on the ice, for either team, for most of the game. He scored two goals, hit the crossbar twice and just made things happen when he had the puck and even when he didn't. He made a huge play at a tipping point in the game. With JM down 3-0 and time running down in the second period, Broman beat a Mayo defender into the Spartans zone, cut hard to the net and got off a high backhand shot before Mayo goalie Eric Gibson could get a poke-check.

That goal pulled JM within 3-1 after two and brought some life back to the Rockets bench. They struck for two more in the first four minutes of the third to tie the score and they had Mayo reeling. JM's skaters did a tremendous job of taking away space from Mayo's speedy forwards, something that killed the Rockets in the first two games against Mayo this season.

JM dictated play for a good portion of the third, until it took a couple of penalties in the final five minutes and Mayo cashed in with power-play goals from Tommy Hanson and Logan Haskins.

The Rockets are getting better, without question. If they continue to improve, particularly in getting the puck to the net on the power play, they'll be a tough out in the section playoffs.

No. 2, I really, really want to see how good this Mayo team can be if it plays its hardest and its best for 51 minutes. The Spartans completely controlled the game in stretches, holding the puck in JM's zone for minutes at a time. Mayo's power play was off-kilter early on, but they scored on three of their last four power-play chances and finished the game 3-for-6 on the power play.

It hurt the Spartans somewhat that two of their top six forwards are out with injuries, Matt Rogers and Nick Newman. With those two guys back in the lineup, Mayo instantly has three solid lines that they can roll against the top teams in the conference and section. The Max Billings-Anthony Oliveto-Austyn Renn line can score and play defense. They played with a lot of confidence for most of last night's game. Jordan Korte also looks like a top-six forward, while Justin Rein also looked comfortable playing a lot of minutes.

Along with the top line of Tommy Hanson, Logan Haskins and Justyn Sweet, potentially Mayo is looking at 11 solid forwards that could take the ice at almost any time. That kind of depth is invaluable at playoff time.

Spartans senior goalie Eric Gibson appears to have seized the starting job. His numbers continue to get better and better, too, with his goals-against average settling down below 3.00.

As for the Mayo-JM rivalry, Mayo now holds a 55-53-1 lead in the all-time series. It has won eight in a row against JM and nine of the past 10. The longest winning streak in the rivalry is 14 in a row by Mayo from 1996-97 through 2001-02. The teams have played 101 times in the regular season and are tied 50-50-1 in those games. Also, for stat junkies, Mayo has outscored JM 364-341 in their 109 games.

As for the Section 1AA playoffs, a lot will clear up after Tuesday's Mayo at Lakeville South game.

It's clear that Lakeville North will be the No. 1 seed. I won't call it a Miracle On Ice situation, but it will take a monumental effort for any other Section 1AA team to knock North off. Whether it's South, Farmington, Mayo, Century, whoever, they'll have to play the game of their lives to beat North, ranked No. 3 in the state in the most recent AP state poll.

A South victory against Mayo on Tuesday will leave it and Farmington to claim the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds. Farmington already has victories over Mayo, Century, Owatonna and John Marshall.

A Mayo victory at South on Tuesday will muddy the seeding process a bit.

Farmington is 15-3-1 right now. The Tigers have a realistic shot at finishing the regular season with 19 or 20 victories. Lakeville South is 6-12-0 right now and will likely finish with 8 or 9 victories. It's tough to vote South ahead of Farmington.

So if Mayo beats South and can manage to beat Century and Owatonna down the stretch, the Spartans should be the No. 3 seed. That would also mean South and Century would likely be the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in some order. That would mean there would be no shot of another all-Lakeville section final.

Whew. (and by "whew" I mean "whew" as in, that was a lot of scenarios to ramble through, and I hope I didn't put you to sleep; not "whew" as in, "whew" we won't have to see another all-Lakeville section final.)

In other words, everything is clear as mud, but that mud will start to dilute quite a bit after Tuesday's game in Lakeville.

June 27, 2012

Hockey | Notes, notes, notes

Posted by: Feldman

Hockey notes in June? Why the heck not?

* High school hockey teams around the state are into their summer practice/scrimmage schedules. I'll try to get out to the Rochester teams practices and post some updates. They can practice the rest of this week, then have a mandatory week off for the Independence Day holiday, then practice again the following week.

* Former Roseau and Warroad high school boys hockey coach Bruce Olson died Tuesday in Rochester after a battle with liver cancer that spread quickly. Olson was just 55 years old. He led Roseau to the Class AA state championship in 1999. He also coached the Bemidji State women's hockey team for three-plus seasons. He played college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth, graduating from the school in 1979. He had 93 points in 137 career games.

* The P-B's Scott Kolb broke the news a couple of weeks ago that Austin has a new boys hockey coach. Erik LaRock, who played college hockey at St. Mary's in Winona and has coached in Austin Youth Hockey for three years, will be the Packers' new head coach. LaRock has also coached the Austin girls golf team the past two seasons. He replaces Tim Peterson, who was the Packers head coach for three seasons.

* Another Big Nine Conference and Section 1A team, Faribault, will also have a new head coach. Dean Weasler will replace Brad Ryan as the boys hockey head man. Weasler was the head JV coach at Farmington the past two seasons. He has also coached at Burnsville, Eastview and with the St. Cloud State women's team.

* The Star Tribune reported today that four standout high school players have decided to leave their teams early to play in the USHL. Among them is center John Wiitala of defending Section 1AA champion Lakeville South. Wiitala, who had been voted a team captain for this coming season, will now play for Waterloo of the USHL. That's good news for the rest of the section; bad news for high school hockey that these guys are leaving. I don't blame these guys for moving on to the USHL, I just hate to see good high school players leave their teams, especially teams that have a shot at getting to the state tournament.

The other three leaving their schools are Maple Grove defenseman Jordan Gross (USNTDP or Green Bay), Hill-Murray forward Jake Guentzel, son of Gophers' assistant Mike Guentzel (Sioux City) and Duluth East forward Connor Valesano (Sioux Falls).

* I'd like to tell you that I was told at the Wild Road Tour on Monday that it's a lock that Zach Parise will sign with our favorite NHL club on Sunday when free agency opens. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't. Like the rest of you, though, I've read/heard that the Wild is going to throw Craig Leipold's checkbook at him at 11:00:01 a.m. Sunday. I wouldn't be shocked if the Wild offer Parise $9-$10 million/year over an 8-to-10-year deal.That's not a huge deal in the NBA, NFL or MLB, but it's as big of annual salary as you'll see in the NHL. Parise may not sign with the Wild, but they won't be outbid. I could see him winding up in Pittsburgh. I could see him winding up in Detroit. New Jersey seems like more of a long shot to me, only because, if he absolutely wanted to stay there, he would've worked it out already.

As for defense, my fellow Faceoff writer, Phersy, is convinced the Wild needs to take the bank to Ryan Suter's 110-plus acre ranch. Personally, where defense is concerned, I'd rather see the Wild make a strong push for someone like Florida's Jason Garrison (now that Washington's Dennis Wideman has had his rights traded to Calgary, and signed a 5-year deal with the Flames). Garrison is a strong two-way player who'll command a big salary, but not in the range of Suter's.

TSN -- Canada's version of ESPN -- has a great free agency tracker that you can check out here.

February 17, 2012

Boys Hockey | Looking at Section 1AA

Posted by: Feldman

The boys hockey regular season comes to a close on Saturday and it doesn't look like much can happen in Saturday's games to alter the way teams will be seeded in next week's Section 1A and 1AA tournaments.

Section 1AA appears pretty clear cut, aside from the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds.

Before my long-winded theory on those two seeds, here's how the section should shake out (explanations shouldn't be necessary, aside from the 5-6 seeds): 1. Lakeville South, 2. Lakeville North, 3. Rochester Century, 4. Rochester Mayo, 5. Rochester John Marshall, 6. Owatonna, 7. Farmington, 8. Winona, 9. Dodge County.

The actual seeds will be determined Sunday afternoon. JM should be the No. 5 seed and Owatonna should be No. 6. For the past few weeks, it looked like it should fall the other way around, but a few games in the past week have changed things.

First, JM went to Owatonna last Saturday and shut out the Huskies, 2-0. That gave the teams a split of the season series, with Owatonna having beaten JM, 2-1 in OT, when the teams played in Rochester on Jan. 10.

Second and third, JM beat Austin on Thursday night, while Owatonna lost to Mankato West.

In my mind, those results sealed JM as the 5 seed for a couple of reasons. One, JM will now finish above the Huskies in the Big Nine Conference standings by at least one point. Two, JM is playing better hockey right now, having won four in a row, and the teams' records are nearly identical (JM is 12-5-0 in the Big Nine, 13-10-2 overall; Owatonna is 10-5-1, 13-8-3).

JM is done with its regular season, while Owatonna plays  host to Austin on Saturday, an almost certain victory.

Of course, coaches are human and emotion often plays a part in the seeding process when it really doesn't need to. We saw that a couple years ago in Section 1A when Faribault coach Brad Ryan seeded Rochester Lourdes No. 4, when all reasonable logic said the Eagles should have been no worse than No. 2 on every ballot. (In the end, Faribault got the top seed, but was knocked off by Red Wing in the section semifinals).

And though JM's record is just slightly worse than Owatonna's, that shouldn't really be a factor. Last season, Mayo was awarded the No. 3 seed ahead of JM, despite JM having beaten Mayo two out of three times in the regular season and having three more wins than the Spartans. Mayo had defeated JM in their final regular season meeting and, in all fairness, the Spartans were playing better than any team in the Big Nine when the regular season ended.

The seedings didn't work out for either team. Mayo lost to No. 6 seed Century in the quarterfinals, while JM lost at home to No. 5 Farmington.

The twist if JM gets the No. 5 seed ahead of Owatonna: it sets up a fourth meeting of the season between Mayo and JM. Mayo won two of the previous three. A fourth meeting would be a tossup. There's not much, at this point, these two teams don't know about each other. I could be wrong, but I bet both teams would be OK with not playing a fourth game against its oldest rival this year. The fans may want it, the players and coaches may get jacked up for it, but it also probably would cause coaches on both sides some restless nights next week.

From an unbiased perspective, I'd love to see JM and Mayo play again. There's nothing much better than rivals facing off with their seasons on the line. Of course, we will have an intra-city showdown if JM ends up as the 6 seed, too. The Rockets would stay on their home ice and face No. 3 Century in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Thursday can't get here soon enough!

December 02, 2011

High School Hockey | Thursday Night Playback

Posted by: Feldman

Thursday night treated Rochester high school hockey teams much better than Tuesday. Mayo, Century and JM went a combined 0-2-1 on Tuesday night. Thursday, Lourdes, JM and Century combined to go 3-0-0. They won by a combined 18 goals and a combined score of 21-3.

Here are links to the stories (click on the scores to take you to the P-B stories):

Lourdes 8, Red Wing 0: The No. 5-ranked Eagles were fast out of the gate and never let the Wingers have much hope. Lourdes led 4-0 after one. Red Wing put a bit of a flurry together in the first six minutes of the second, but Lourdes popped in a couple quick goals after that, and it was over at that point. Lourdes just had too much speed for the Wingers, up and down the lineup. As Wingers coach Mike Belisle said, "Speed kills."

It was a very good performance by Lourdes, a great way to start the season. The good news for the coaching staff is that there are still things to work on. The Eagles were 1-for-5 on the power play and struggled early to keep the puck in the zone with a man advantage. Red Wing also missed a couple of chances that faster teams might capitalize on.

But that's being nitpicky after an 8-0 win. One thing that I can't remember if I put in my game story was a comment about the play of junior forward Ben Weir. He played a very strong, aggressive game in both ends. He was more physical than I remember him being a year ago. That line -- with Ryan Nicolay centering Weir and Connor Nellans -- was really good throughout the night. I believe it ended up with only two points (a goal and an assist from Nicolay), but they did a great job of keeping the Wingers top line neutralized.

---

JM 7, Bloomington Kennedy 1: Five Rockets had three points each as they earned their first win of the season, and the first under new head coach Jay Ness. 

Ness had good things to say about JM's lineup, up and down, from starting goalie Jimmy Casazza earning his first win of the year, to the strong play of the entire defensive group (limiting Kennedy to 19 shots).

As far as the offensive outburst, Ness was very pleased with the Rockets' balance. Yes, five guys had three points (Alex McGinn, Nick Paulson, Hunter Heightland, Alex Lovett and Jared Bromberg), but a total of eight players got on the scoresheet.

JM plays host to St. Paul Johnson on Saturday and I'm just guessing here, but I'd imagine we'll see junior Jacob Garvey back in goal for the Rockets. Again, just guessing, but I'd suspect Garvey and Casazza will rotate until one of them really siezes the job. If they both continue to perform at a high level, that's a bonus for the Rockets. One of the things Ness told me prior to the season was, a team cannot get through a season with just one goalie. It looks like the Rockets might have two to choose from. 

---

Century 6, Farmington 2: Like JM, Century earned its first victory of the season and the first under new head coach Josh Klingfus

The Panthers veterans really stepped up tonight and produced. Nick Jacobs, a senior co-captain, had four points. Brandon Kautz, another senior co-captain, had three assists. For a second consecutive game, forwards Isaac St. Marie and Dalton Travis had two goals each. Sophomore Hayden Ashworth netted his first varsity goal, and freshman Jake Roth had an assist (as did junior D Matt Sturchio).

Century peppered the Tigers net, outshooting Farmington 43-21. 

It was a nice bounce-back win for Century, after facing two very good opponents (No. 16 White Bear Lake and defending section champ Lakeville North) to start the season.

Century now has a week to prepare for its Big Nine Conference opener, next Thursday against Faribault at the Rec Center.

---

AROUND THE AREA: Either Mankato East has improved defensively, or Mankato West really did lose a majority of its talent from a year ago. West beat East by a score of just 4-0 on Thursday. ... In a matchup of Section 1A teams, Northfield proved it's a team to watch. The Trojans went to Albert Lea City Arena -- not an easy place to play -- and thumped the Tigers, 7-2. Tyler Grave had a hat trick for Northfield. ... Skyler Grossell and Ryan Grant each had two goals and an assist for Winona in a 5-0 win against La Crosse Logan. Winona will take a 2-0-0 record into its Big Nine Conference opener against Mankato West on Saturday.

November 29, 2011

High school hockey tonight | Nov. 29, 2011

Rochester teams get going in full force (well, 3/4 force, as Lourdes doesn't open until Thursday) tonight. There are two games in town -- Mayo and Century are both at home -- and JM travels to Section 1AA foe Farmington. Here's a quick look at tonight's three games:
JOHN MARSHALL at FARMINGTON
When: 7:15 p.m.
Where: Schmitz-Maki Arena, Farmington
Records: JM 0-0, Farmington 0-0
Coaches: JM, Jay Ness; Farmington, Keith Revels
About the Rockets: JM opens its season -- the first under new head coach Jay Ness -- against the team that ended its season a year ago. Farmington beat JM, 6-1, in a Section 1AA quarterfinal game at the Rec Center back in late February. JM is a much different team since then, with eight players lost to graduation. ... The Rockets I'm interested to watch early this season are the three juniors who make up the team's top line -- Gavin SandwickHunter Heightland and Alex Lovett. Those three combined for 49 points last season (including 29 by Sandwick), yet they'll be asked to play an even more prominent role this year.
About the Tigers: The Tigers went 14-13-0 last season, losing to Lakeville South, 7-0, in the Section 1AA semifinals. ... Three of the team's top four scorers last season are gone, including forward Tyler Grubb, who finished with 52 points, including 27 goals. ... Farmington still has some firepower. Senior F Andrew Peterson, last year's second-leading scorer (36 points) is back, as is junior F Grant Hauswirth (19 points). The Tigers also have their top goalie back from last season, senior Victor Simones. He went 11-8-0 with an .893 save pct. ... The Tigers open their season with six consecutive games against Section 1AA opponents. Five of those six are against Big Nine Conference teams.
RED WING at MAYO
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Graham Arena I
Records: Red Wing 0-0, Mayo 0-0
Coaches: RW, Mike Belisle; Mayo, Lorne Grosso.
About the Wingers: The big area of interest for the Wingers is in goal. How do they replace three-year starter Sam Amendolar? They have two goalies on the varsity roster -- junior Preston Blaney and sophomore Jack Burkle. Blaney is the only goalie with varsity experience, and that is limited. He played one game last season, allowing four goals on 26 shots in a loss against Shakopee. If we've come to learn anything about Red Wing, though, it's that what you see in November isn't going to be what you see in late February. Whether they start off well or not so well, this is a team that will improve as the season goes along. ... This is the first of two trips to Rochester this week for the Wingers; they face Lourdes on Thursday at Graham I. 
About the Spartans: The Mayo bench will be an odd site. For what is believed to be only the third or fourth time in program history, Lorne Grosso will not be on the bench as the team's head coach (Grosso also took a one-year sabbatical in the late 1980s). Grosso underwent quadruple bypass surgery on Monday and will be out for a month or more. The Spartans are in good hands, though, with assistants Bob Haskins and Todd Huyber taking over. I'm guessing senior Michael DeBusman will start in goal. After playing sparingly behind Alex VanGalder last season, it's now DeBusman's turn to show if he can seize the starting job. Junior Case Hanson and sophomore Chase Utley will likely get their chances as well, but I'm guessing DeBusman gets the first shot.
LAKEVILLE NORTH at CENTURY
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rochester Rec Center
Records: North 0-0, Century 0-1.
Coaches: North, Trent Eigner; Century, Josh Klingfus.
The matchup: Something tells me this isn't the last time these teams will meet this season. They've met on an almost annual basis in the postseason for nearly a decade. And one of the two has represented Section 1AA at state every year but one since 2002 (Lakeville High School went in 2002, 03 and 04, before it split into North and South). 
About the North Panthers: Both of these teams are under first-year head coaches. Eigner takes over for Randy Schmitz, who was forced out because of parent pressure over the summer. Eigner inherits some talented players, but one who is not back is goalie Charlie Lindgren, who nearly single-handedly carried North to a fifth-place finish at the Class AA state tournament last spring. North's players to watch are forwards Blake Winiecki and Charlie Hayes. They were the team's top two scorers a year ago (with 52 and 29 points, respectively). 
About the Century Panthers: Century did a lot of good things in a season opening 6-2 loss to No. 18 White Bear Lake on Saturday. But one brief stretch late in the second period turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-1 deficit. If the Panthers can learn from that, they'll be fine against North. ... Century's top two lines generated a number of scoring chances against WBL that they did not convert. Both of Century's goals in the loss came from defensemen. If they can get those top two forward lines off to a strong start tonight, that will give those forwards some confidence. They're going to need a lot of points out of those lines this season to be successful.

February 27, 2011

H.S. Hockey | Section Semifinal Saturday rewind

Good Sunday afternoon, all.

Thanks to those of you who joined me for the live blogs from Section Semifinal Saturday at the Rec Center yesterday. If you would like to read a replay of any of the live blogs from yesterday, they can all be found here.

If you can't make it to Thursday's Section 1A final between Lourdes and New Prague, I'll be back on the live blog at 6:45 p.m. Just log on to PostBulletin.com and click the link on the homepage. Or, you can go to the link I provide above.

* * *

After three-and-a-half months of hockey, the Section 1A and 1AA tournaments are down to the teams that we thought would be here.

In 1AA, we'll have a rematch of last year's all-Lakeville section title game. A year ago, North upset top-seeded South to get to the state tournament. Can the Panthers do it again? They've lost to South twice already this season, by three goals each time. Second-seeded North's best shot at a second consecutive upset of No. 1 seed South is to stop the high-powered scoring trio of Justin Kloos, Drew Brevig and Alex Harvey.

North and South are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Friday at the Rochester Rec Center for the section championship. ... Maybe later this week we'll get into the whole issue of two Lakeville schools having to come to Rochester to play in a section final.

In 1A, No. 3-ranked and top-seeded Rochester Lourdes is back in position to go to state for a third consecutive season. Standing in their way: third-seeded New Prague.

The Eagles will make their fourth consecutive appearance in the section title game. They lost three years ago to Mankato West and beat Red Wing each of the past two years. The Eagles advanced to this year's section final by ending the Wingers season for a third straight year, 4-2, on Saturday. New Prague advanced to the tite game with a 4-1 win against Albert Lea.

Lourdes and New Prague will play at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rec Center. If New Prague plays like it did in the first period on Saturday, it will give Lourdes all it can handle. These teams have some history, too, which we'll get into more as the week goes on. Lourdes has knocked New Prague out of the playoffs each of the past three years, and each time in the section semifinal round.

* But, back to Saturday's games at the Rec. It's usually one of the most entertaining days of the hockey season around here, but none of the four games on Saturday provided much drama or excitement. The building was never more than half full, either, and there wasn't a single band there all day. The atmosphere was flat and that, I believe, had an impact on several teams.

Both of the Section 1AA games were effectively over after the first period. North led Century 4-0 after one period, scoring twice in the final 2 minutes of the period to zap any momentum Century had gained. South led Farmington 3-0 after one and outshot the Tigers 25-2 in the first 17 minutes. Both games resulted in 7-0 final scores.

Century players said they had a good practice on Friday, after an emotional victory Thursday night against rival Mayo. Century actually had good energy right off the bat, but the Panthers had some miscues they couldn't afford.

First, they took four penalties in the first period. North only scored on one power play, but it kept many of Century's top players on the ice in penalty killing situations. It was energy Century couldn't afford to use. Second, Century gave up too many odd-man rushes. I counted five in the first period alone, and at least three of those were the direct result of North forwards blocking shots by Century d-men near the blue line.

A number of Century players were visibly hurting (emotionally) after the game, especially several underclassmen, who had a strong bond with this group of seniors. It was a tough year for Century, with so many players battling injuries and illnesses.

Senior Matt Mills unfortunately had injuries cost him a good portion of the season, including the playoffs. Junior Blake Heroff was in and out of the lineup all season with a nasty hip injury. He rested and iced it as much as he could; he'll have surgery about a month from now. I've been told it's the same injury that cost former Century goalie Alex Kangas his season with the Gophers this year.

The gratifying part of this season for the Century coaching staff has been the past couple of weeks, watching how some seniors were playing their best hockey (coach Bruce Frutiger gave a big nod to d-man Joe Canakes, who had a huge goal in the first period of the Mayo game). We sure can't forget d-man Nick Raehsler or goalie Cam Sellnow. Those guys have been a big part of the program for three years; both played in the state tourney as sophomores and were there game-in, game-out this season, doing what the coaches asked.

* OK, on to the Section 1A side.

The Lourdes-Red Wing game was close for a couple of periods, but with the way Lourdes was playing defense, I never got the feeling that the Eagles were in jeopardy.

Coach Josh Spaniol could sense the Eagles were a bit flat when he entered the locker room before warmups, but, he said, they were able to fight through it. Jason Samuelson had two goals, one set up nicely by Alex Funk. Senior D Rory Vesel also had a nice individual effort on his unassisted goal in the second period. And Andy Benner got Lourdes on the board with a nice play while forechecking at the end of a penalty kill. He took the puck away from a Wingers player, skated in and beat Red Wing goalie Sam Amendolar five-hole.

In the other 1A final, New Prague jumped on Albert Lea early and the Big Nine Conference-champion Tigers never really recovered. The Trojans scored twice in the first five minutes of the game, then Curt Brezina scored twice in a five-minute span early in the second for a 4-0 lead.

Albert Lea had some good chances, and actually tied New Prague with 34 shots on goal in the game, but either the Tigers shot the puck high or wide, or Trojans goalie Joe Morris robbed them.

Morris could be the great equalizer in Thursday's section final. He was outstanding in the first period against Albert Lea. Had he not been at his best, that could have been a 2-2 game after one; then who knows what happens.

When the teams met in the regular season, Lourdes beat New Prague, 3-1, at Graham Arena, back on Dec. 7. Lourdes scored twice in the final 4:12 of the first period that day, both on the power play, and never trailed. Both teams put 21 shots on goal in that game. Both teams are obviously playing better now than they were at that time, but based on what we saw Saturday, I'd expect another close game on Thursday.