Posted by: Feldman
I have to start today with a mea culpa.
I'm not pround of this, but I scheduled a dentist appointment for 11:20 this morning. The Tourney '15 begins at 11 a.m.
*currently hanging my head in shame*
Thankfully, DVRs exist, and The Tourney can be found on KAAL 6.2 or Charter Cable 192 in Rochester. It's also available for $5/day on Prep45.com. So I'll be having my gums poked while New Ulm and Mahtomedi are opening tournament play this morning.
I haven't seen Mahtomedi play this season, but it's the team I'm most looking forward to watching in the Class A field. The Zephyrs are the No. 2 seed, with a 24-2-2 record, and hold some impressive victories this season (Cretin, Breck, STA, Hill-Murray). They also have one of the top scorers in the tournament -- junior F Jack Becker, who has 25 goals and 60 total points this year.
Mahtomedi hasn't lost to a Class A school -- just like top seed Hermantown -- and hasn't lost since Jan. 8. It also has avenged its only two losses this season (Hill and STA). I wouldn't be shocked if the Zephyrs are lifting the big trophy on Saturday afternoon.
Oops, did I give away a prediction already? No, of course not. Or did I? Who knows. I'm not even sure, because I change my mind every minute and my pick to win will change six times before this post is done. Keep reading and I'll make my picks at the end of this post.
Before we get into the matchups, here is the state tournament preview that ran in the Post-Bulletin print edition on Tuesday. It includes a story on Lakeville North junior goalie Ryan Edquist, a Gophers commit who has been dominant this season.
As I wrote in a previous blog, I'm not great at breaking down goalie play, but I know a good one when I see one. Edquist is most definitely one. He not only is always in the right spot to make a save, but he is incredibly adept at playing and passing the puck.
Tomorrow, we'll break down the AA tourney and on Saturday we'll have our annual P-B Faceoff Blog All-Area Boys Hockey Team and Player of the Year.
Before we get to the matchups, here are some links to previews and stories about The Tourney from around the state:
* Again, my tournament preview, including a story on North's Ryan Edquist, and a little bit on New Prague's first-round matchup, plus tournament TV and ticket info, and a "By the Numbers" bit with a fact on each of the teams in The Tourney.
* A great piece from the Star Tribune's David LaVaque on Duluth East and tourney legend Dave Spehar, who put together perhaps the single-most impressive performance by an individual in the history of The Tourney.
* Mahtomedi's confidence soared after beating Hill-Murray and STA in a two-week span (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
* As I mentioned in my preview, Breck goalie Stephen Headrick has been outstanding this season, allowing less than 1.4 goals per game. (MNHockeyHub.com)
* Kevin Hartzell at Let's Play Hockey fittingly calls this week Homecoming Week in Minnesota
* The Duluth News Tribune asks the same question we've been asking for almost a decade: Is this finally Hermantown's year?
* The defending state champions from East Grand Forks are back at The Tourney, but without four star defensemen who anchored the team last season (Grand Forks Herald)
I'm running out of time before puck drop for the opener (I believe it's officially set for 11:17 a.m.), so let's get to the matchups:
CLASS A STATE QUARTERFINALS
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
11 a.m. — New Ulm (18-8-2) vs. No. 2 seed Mahtomedi (24-2-2)
Overview: Give New Ulm credit. Everyone just assumed the Section 3 champ would be Luverne. Many of us put that not in pencil, but in ink, leading up to the postseason. But New Ulm figured out a way to outscore Luverne and win the section title game 7-5 to get back to state. The Eagles have three 25-plus goal scorers, and one 30-goal scorer, Ethan Kraus (33-19--52). Mahtomedi can't overlook those guys or they'll pay for it. Mahtomedi is at state for the first time since 2010 and has its top eight scorers back from last season. The Zephyrs feature four players with 34 or more points and they haven't lost since Jan. 8.
N.U. leaders: Sr. Colin Huffman (26-36--62); Sr. Brandon Helget (26-36--62); Jr. Ethan Kraus (33-19--52); Sr. goalie Senior Matt Berkner (17-6-2, 2.31 GAA, .907 save pct.)
Mahtomedi leaders: Jr. Jack Becker (25-35--60); Sr. Kellen Campbell (17-23--40); Jr. Jack Heinsch (19-19--38); Jr. goalie Will Swanson (24-2-2, 2.24, .910)
The pick: This Mahtomedi team is deep and balanced, and it's playing with a load of confidence right now after some big wins over top Class AA schools (state tourney entrants Hill-Murray and STA) in the second half of the season: Mahtomedi 6, New Ulm 1.
• • •
1 p.m. — New Prague (20-8-0) vs. No. 3 East Grand Forks (23-4-0)
Overview: New Prague returns to state for a second consecutive season and second time overall. The Trojans had a couple of tough games in the Section 1 tourney, surviving a 2-1 game against eighth-seeded Rochester Lourdes in the quarterfinals, then outlasting Northfield 2-1 in the title game. Likewise, defending state champ EGF had to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to force OT and beat Thief River Falls 4-3 to get back to state. New Prague will have to find some scoring depth if it hopes to advance. EGF senior F Dixon Bowen (56 pts) is a Mr. Hockey finalist and one point from setting the program's single season scoring record.
N.P. leaders: Jr. Alex Gregor (31-24--55); Sr. Ben Witt (13-31--44); Jr. Zach Davis (16-24--40); Sr. goalie Conner Wagner (19-8-0, 2.13 GAA, .912 save pct.)
EGF leaders: Sr. Dixon Bowen (25-31-56); Jr. Tanner Tweten (19-23-42); Jr. Grant Loven (11-17-28); goalie Josh Weber (16-3-0, 1.51, .925); goalie Garrett Lieberg (7-1-0, 1.80, .920)
The pick: EGF lost some talented players from last season, but the Green Wave play a tough schedule and they still have a lot of guys back from last season, including senior forward and Mr. Hockey finalist Dixon Bowen: EGF 4, New Prague 2.
• • •
6 p.m. — Spring Lake Park (16-11-1) vs. No. 1 Hermantown (25-2-1)
Overview: SLP is making its first-ever state tournament appearance and, as the luck of the draw went, it got matched up with top-seeded and ticked-off Hermantown. H'town has lost in the past five state championship games, including a 7-3 loss to East Grand Forks last year. SLP is a defensive-minded team, as evidenced by its 5-0 shutout victory against Chisago Lake in its section championship game.
SLP leaders: Sr. Jacob Nystrom (28-28--56); Sr. Deven Sunell (23-31--54); Jr. Zach Benson (4-18--22); Jr. goalie Aaron Furlano (16-10-1, 2.98 GAA, .903 save pct).
Hermantown leaders: Sr. Ryan Kero (29-37--66); Sr. Nate Pionk (31-32--63); Jr. Cole Koepke (20-22--42); Jr. goalie Luke Olson (21-1-1, 1.51, .932).
The pick: This is a game Hermantown should win. And the Hawks generally don't lose games they're supposed to win. Nothing different here: Hermantown 7, SLP 1.
• • •
8 p.m. — No. 5 St. Cloud Apollo (22-4-2) vs. No. 4 Breck (21-7-0)
Overview: This should be the best matchup of the opening round, and, of course, the latest-starting. Generally the "8 p.m." game actually sees the puck drop about 8:45 p.m. Remember waiting all day for a couple of these games, Lourdes fans? It's hard to say what the long day and wait will do to the players, who have to keep their minds and bodies busy for a full day, but don't want to wear themselves down. Watch for this game to come down to goaltending. Breck's Stephen Headrick (1.29 GAA) and SCA's Nick Althaus (1.47 GAA) have been almost unbeatable this season.
SCA leaders: Jr. D Tanner Breidenbach (10-25--35); Sr. Jason Omann (18-15--33); Jr. Gino Lucia (17-15--32); Jr. Tyler Scott (18-15--33); Jr. goalie Nick Althaus (20-4--2, 1.47 GAA, .917 save pct.).
Breck leaders: Jr. Chase Ellingson (25-21-46); Jr. Will Blake (12-21--33); Sr. goalie Stephen Headrick (21-7-0, 1.29 GAA, .931 save pct.).
The pick: Breck's goaltender, Stephen Headrick, has been outstanding all season, allowing 38 goals in 28 games. That means Apollo will have to keep this close to have a chance. They'll do it, and they'll get the break they need in extra time to advance to the semis: St. Cloud Apollo 2, Breck 1, OT.
• • •
• Mahotomedi vs. East Grand Forks: EGF has a bunch of talented players, including a Mr. Hockey finalist in Dixon Bowen. The Green Wave lost four really talented defensemen from last season, though (two in the USHL, two in the NAHL) and that will show here: Mahtomedi 5, EGF 3.
• Hermantown vs. St. Cloud Apollo: Hermantown coach Bruce Plante told the Duluth News Tribune that his team has been very even-keeled this season, not a lot of ups and downs. That poise and experience will show this week: Hermantown 5, SCA 2.
• • •
Hermantown vs. Mahtomedi: I haven't gone out on much of a limb with these picks, I know, but history has shown that coaches know what they're doing when it comes to seeding teams in The Tourney, especially in the first round. It gets a little more even after the first day, and a little more difficult to pick winners. Count me in the group of Tourney watchers who would love to see Bruce Plante and Hermantown snap their streak of losses in the title game. BUT, Mahtomedi has been outstanding all season, too, and their wins in the second half of the season have been quite impressive. The Zephyrs are deep and led by one of the tourney's top scorers, junior F Jack Becker (25-35--60). They'll make the most of their first tourney appearance since 2010: Mahtomedi 4, Hermantown 3.