News Business Sports Entertainment Life Obituaries Opinion
Jobs Homes Cars Classifieds Shopping
Local Bloggers Cheap Tech Eco-Confessions Faceoff Furst Draft Heard on the Street Med City Movie Guy Pulse on Health Political Party

Search PB Blogs

Loading

Categories

415 posts categorized "Hockey"

April 19, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins rally to win Game 1

Posted by: Feldman

It looks like the Bismarck Bobcats and Austin Bruins got the memo from the NHL: Make sure Game 1 of your playoff series is entertaining and goes to overtime.

Austin's 5-4 OT victory on Friday in Game 1 of the North American Hockey League Central Division Finals series wasn't always entertaining for the coaches, but it was for the fans. 

Two of the top 4-5 goalies in the league, two teams that played good defense in their last three playoff games and two teams that are generally responsible in their defensive zone first. Naturally, they're going to combine for seven first-period goals.

Austin was not good for the first six minutes of the game and it fell behind 3-0. It was similar to Game 1 of the Minot series, except the Bruins were at least scoring in that game. It's as poor a stretch as I've seen this team have. Luckily, head coach Chris Tok called his timeout 5:50 into the game and that was the kick in the rear end the Bs needed. They scored twice in the next 2:20 to pull within 3-2 and make it a different game. 

It was 4-3 Bismarck by the end of the first, and it stayed that way until Niko Hildenbrand tied the score :39 into the third period.

That set the stage for Sam Kauppila -- in his first game back after a three-week injury absence -- to score the game winner on a backhand shot in OT. (For the record, Tok said they had someone ready to run to the grocery store for bananas and oranges for the players, had the game gone to a second OT. They did that last week in a 3-OT win at Minot).

Game 2 is at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Riverside Arena. 

Game 1 coverage:

Post-Bulletin

Bismarck Tribune

KXMB-TV (Bismarck)

KAAL-TV

Game notes and quotes:

* Austin's second-leading scorer, F Guillaume Leclerc, did not play because of a family emergency. He flew back to his home in Franois, France, on Friday. No timetable is known for his return. Thoughts and prayers out to him and his family.

* Bismarck's leading scorer, D Nate Repensky, also didn't play. He's out for the season with a broken leg. 

* Bruins F Jay Dickman was the only player on either team with more than one point. He had two assists.

* Bruins forwards Kauppila and Brian Bachnak tied for a game-high with six shots on goal.

* Austin controlled overtime, outshooting Bismarck 7-1. The Bobcats buzzed on their first two shifts, but Lehr squared up to Stanislav Dzakhov and made a routine save on a hard wrist shot on the first shift of OT, the only shot of the period for the Cats.

* No one in Bismarck's lineup had more than three shots on goal.

* The Bobcats players and coaches were visibly upset and frustrated that Dzakhov wasn't awarded a penalty shot in the second period when he was hauled down on a breakaway. Instead, Bruins defenseman Lucas Kohls was given a two-minute minor for tripping and the Bruins killed the power play. Austin goalie Nick Lehr also made a nice pad save on another breakaway by Dzakhov in the second.

* Kauppila hit a pipe on an odd-man rush just seconds before scoring the winner. The goal judge actually flipped the red light on briefly and the crowd at Riverside Arena reacted to that, thinking a goal had been scored.

QUOTES, QUOTES, QUOTES...

Bruins F Trey Dodd:

* On the OT game-winning goal: "Just needed a shot on net, that's all it took. Have to have bodies in front. I couldn't see the play happen."

* On facing an early 3-0 deficit: "That slow start definitely hurt us. The timeout coach called got our heads back into the game. We needed it, for sure. We came out, got two goals right away and got right back into the game."

* What does rallying mean to both teams: "It's going to give us the momentum going into Game 2. Have to follow it up and not let them do it tomorrow."

* What his line (with Easton Viitala & Alex Pettersson) does well: "We try to get bodies to the net. That's part of our job, to make sure the other team doesn't have time with the puck ... get into corners, get the puck out, get shots on net."

* On Nick Lehr's play after the Bobcats' 3-0 start: "He took an earful, but he got himself back into it. That's what makes him the goalie he is and that's why he is where he is today."

* On possibly going up 2-0: "It'd be huge. I wouldn't say we'd relax at all, but it'd give us the feeling that we can do anything."

* Thoughts on tomorrow's game: "The biggest thing to our game tonight was having fun. We have to carry that over to tomorrow, have fun and not be satisfied (with this win)."

Bruins F Sam Kauppila:

* Thoughts on being back in a game after a three-week injury layoff: "A little tired, but fought through it. Boys were supportive. It's tough to watch the team play and not be out there, but I'm glad we could get it done tonight."

* Could you see where you were shooting on the game-winning goal?: "It was just kind of a reaction, just kind of a blind shot."

* What was it like when down 3-0: "We kept it positive. We knew we could battle back and we did."

* Did you send a message to Bismarck that you guys won't go away?: "The first game is huge, it sets the tempo for the whole series and we felt like we did that tonight."

* On possibly going up 2-0: "That would be huge. That's our goal. Rest up tonight, be ready tomorrow."

Bruins head coach Chris Tok:

* What did you say when you took timeout 5:50 into the game: "That this is a series, it's not a game. We have to play right now. We talk about it all the time; what's important right now? We can't change the first five minutes of that period, so let's start playing hockey and see what happens. Fortunately we got a goal right after it, but basically we just started skating."

* The job G Nick Lehr did after getting down 3-0: "I'd say I had the trigger ready to pull here because of the way the last series started (an 8-6 loss to Minot in Game 1 of the division semis). We took a different approach to him one-on-one and this time he snapped out of it.
"That's what he has to be able to do. Against Minot he wasn't able to do it, tonight he did it in a big way. He made some big saves, but more than that, he didn't give up rebounds. Any time they got some pressure, he kept the puck. That's big for us. It stops their momentum, allows us to change. That was just as big as the saves he made."

* How nice was it to have Kauppila back in: "It's great to have his energy back. I don't think he played the greatest game for what he's capable of doing, but he did have fresh legs and a lot of energy. He had a smile on his face all night. Even when things weren't going well tonight, he still had energy.
"He was the one guy I could see on his face, he kind of had this wry smile the entire game."

* How big is it to win Game 1 in a series vs a rival: "It's really crucial. They were playing a short bench. They weren't rolling all their guys. They got that 3-0 lead and had a lot of positive vibes going. You could see it in how they were skating and carrying themselves. For us to take this one, basically steal it away from them, it's really gonna hit them.
"We have to come out tomorrow night right out of the gate and play well. They're not going to quit. Bismarck never quits, but this definitely was a good body blow and makes them breathe a little harder."

AROUND THE NAHL

* South division runner-up Topeka edged division champ Amarillo 3-2 in Game 1 of their division finals series. 

* In Game 1 of the North Division finals, Port Huron and Michigan made a run at breaking the 6-day-old record for longest game played in NAHL history. Austin and Minot went 116 minutes, 57 seconds last Saturday. On Friday, Michigan's Colin Larkin scored 5:37 into the third OT for a 1-0 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

* In Game 1 of the Midwest Division Finals, Wenatchee (Wash.) shut out Fairbanks 4-0. Wenatchee had won 29 games all season, while Fairbanks led the NAHL with 91 points. Wenatchee held the Ice Dogs scoreless on seven power-play attempts.

* With the new setup of the Robertson Cup playoffs, Bruins fans should be rooting for Wenatchee. If Austin and Wenatchee both win their division finals, the Bruins would get a best-of-3 home series in the national semis. If all the high seeds win their division finals series, Austin would go to Amarillo for a best-of-3 national semifinal series.

April 18, 2014

Junior Hockey | Scouting the NAHL Central Division Finals

Posted by: Feldman

We're just more than 3 hours from faceoff of Game 1 of the North American Hockey League Central Division Finals, the No. 1-seeded Austin Bruins (43-20-1) vs. the No. 3 Bismarck Bobcats (34-24-5).

First, some links to read if you want to kill the time between now and puck drop:

* My story from Thursday's P-B on Bruins D/F Lucas Kohls, the team's "Mr. Versatility"

* My story from Thursday's P-B on the Bruins needing to bounce back quickly, physically and mentally, from a tough series against Minot.

* A blog post from late last night on how the Bruins won the longest game in NAHL history last weekend.

* Feature story on Bismarck's Evan Giesler, who scored six goals in the Bobcats' three-game sweep of Aberdeen in the division semifinals.

* Bismarck Tribune story on the Bruins-Bobcats rivalry, with some good quotes from Bruins coach Chris Tok.

* Bismarck Tribune feature on Bobcats defenseman Ryan Callahan, who is playing well after recovering from a broken back.

* If you're interested in following the series from a Bobcats' perspective, I strongly recommend following Bismarck Tribune sports editor Lou Babiarz on Twitter (@LouBabiarz). I've known Lou for about 12 years; he blankets the Bobcats and has some good insight on their play as a team and their individuals.

* Short preview capsules of each of the four NAHL division finals series, all beginning tonight.

How often do we look at a series and think a top seed is an underdog? I won't go as far as to call the Bruins an underdog in this series, but it's about as close as you'll come. 

These teams split 10 games during the regular season, with Austin winning 3 out of 4 over the final two weekends against Bismarck to clinch the regular season division title.

Bismarck is the only team that has come to Riverside Arena this season and pushed the Bruins around. The Bruins are an incredible 26-4-0 at home this season (actually 24-4-0 at Riverside, as two of the games listed as "home" occurred at the season-opening NAHL Showcase in Blaine). Still, 24-4-0 on home ice is darn impressive.

Consider this, though: Bismarck handed Austin three of those four losses at Riverside. The Bobcats were the only team to sweep a weekend series in Austin, winning 4-2 on Jan. 31 and 7-0 on Feb. 1. 

That's not to say Austin won't win this weekend, but it is to say that Bismarck has confidence and knows it can win here.

All that said, let's break down the Central Division Finals.

THE SERIES

Game 1: Tonight, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
Game 2: Saturday, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
Game 3: Friday, April 25, 8 p.m., at Bismarck
x-Game 4: Saturday, April 26, 8 p.m., at Bismarck
x-Game 5: Monday, April 28, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
x -- if necessary

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Records: Austin 43-20-1, Bismarck 34-24-5
Season series
: Bismarck, 5-4-1
Goals for: Bruins 203, Bobcats 190
Goals against: Bruins 158, Bobcats 160
Power-play goals: Bruins 34, Bobcats 46
Shorthanded goals: Bruins 12, Bobcats 9
Penalty minutes: Bruins 1227, Bobcats 1199

SCOUTING THE BOBCATS

Key players

* G Aaron Nelson: The veteran goalie is among the best in the NAHL and has been outstanding against Austin throughout his career. The MSU Mankato recruit is 32-18-3 this season, including a 5-3-0 mark against the Bruins, with a 1.50 goals-against average in those games. He has played in an incredible 20 career playoff games, backstopping the 'Cats to the Robertson Cup each of the past two seasons.

* F Stanislav Dzakhov: The speedy forward had just two points (both assists) in the Bobcats' division semifinal series victory against Aberdeen, but he was the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season (25-23--48) and the only Bobcat to top 20 goals. The Moscow, Russia, native is committed to Niagara University. He played in only six of the 10 games against Austin this season, putting up five points (three goals).

* F Evan Giesler: The 'Cats third-leading scorer during the regular season (16-26--42) picked up the slack against Aberdeen where some of the team's other top players struggled to score. Giesler scored six goals and added one assist, for seven points in three games against the Wings. He is the only Bobcat to play in all 63 of their games this season. He had a 3-3--6 line in 10 games vs. Austin this season. His line, with fellow 15-goal scorers Huba Sekesi and Cullen Willox, will be one to watch in the series. 

Watch out for...

* F Zach Yon: The 2014 Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist and University of North Dakota commit joined the Bobcats after his high school season in Roseau ended. He had three assists in six regular-season games, then scored three goals in three games during the division semifinal series against Aberdeen. He had 59 points in 22 games at Roseau. He is tendered with Bismarck for next season, but it would be surprising if he's not playing in the USHL.

* F Filip Starzynski: The Warsaw, Poland, native is an Alabama-Huntsville commit. He had 37 points in just 43 regular season games this year and had one goal in the Bobcats' first-round playoff series victory. At 5-10, 185, he can be a dynamic playmaker and goal-scorer. With the depth the 'Cats have, Starzynski might be a greater threat as a setup man in this series, and someone the Bruins will have to keep an eye on at all times when Bismarck is on a power play. Austin has held him in check well this season, though, allowing him just one assist in eight games.

Injury factor

This one is huge for both teams. Bismarck's leading scorer in the regular season, Yale-bound defenseman Nate Repensky (12-38--50), suffered a season-ending leg injury during the Bobcats game against the Bruins in the regular season finale. Repensky was attempting to pull a Bruins player away from a scrum when he fell backward, pulling the Bruin down on top of him. At the same time, he felt his right leg snap. The good news is that the recovery time for Repensky isn't like an ACL tear; he expects to be able to train and skate this summer, in as little as 7-8 weeks, and he's still on track to start his college career at Yale in the fall. Repensky's loss thins out the Bobcats defensive corps, though. They can't afford another injury on the blue line, with just six healthy d-men on the roster.

Intangibles

NAHL rosters, by their nature, turn over quite a bit from year to year, but the Bobcats are always built for the postseason. Judging by their relatively simple sweep of Aberdeen in the opening round -- the Cats outscored the Wings 14-3 over three games -- Bismarck is again primed for a postseason run. In other words, Bismarck has the experience of being in the division finals and knowing how to win at this time of year. And it just seems like, no matter the situation, when Bismarck sets foot in Riverside Arena, everyone -- players, coaches, the 1,200-plus in the bleachers -- tighten up a bit and the tension level rises. You can bet coach Layne Sedevie will remind his players of that before they step on the ice tonight.

SCOUTING THE BRUINS

Key players

* F Jay Dickman: The 6-6, 225-pound Bemidji State recruit finished the season as the second-leading scorer in the entire NAHL (28-36--64). He is a load, as his size indicates, and is as tough as anyone in the league to bump off the puck. He has improved his speed, footwork, hands and strength since last season and has become a complete player. He skates well for a big man, too, and limiting his chances will be a tough task for the 'Cats defensive corps, which is minus its best player, Repensky.

* G Nick Lehr: The University of Minnesota recruit has improved so much skill-wise during his three years as a Bruin. He also has grown mentally. His mental toughness is outstanding, as shown in the division semifinals. He had his worst night as a Bruin in the series opener, allowing seven goals in an 8-6 loss to Minot. He wasn't sharp and he knew it. BUT, Lehr shook it off and was tremendous over the final three games, allowing a total of five goals over the final 11-plus periods. He led the NAHL in wins (35) this season, was fifth in goals-against average (1.84) and save percentage (.932).

* D Josh Bretner: The veteran d-man earned the "C" on his sweater this season. He's the team's third-leading scorer in the regular season (7-33--40) and had two assists and was a plus-4 in the opening-round series win against Minot. He plays in every situation and runs the point effectively on the power play. Bretner has a good shot, too, and he's not afraid to let it fly. He is one of two Bruins, along with F/D Lucas Kohls, to play in all 64 games this year.

* F Guillaume Leclerc: The diminutive speedster from Franois, France, is a game-changer when he has time and space. He was second on the team in scoring (21-25--46) during the regular season, despite missing six games. He had a goal and an assist in the playoff opening series against Minot. Leclerc, a UMass-Lowell recruit, is just 18. He had five power-play goals and eight game-winning goals this year. He has a goal and four assists in eight games against Bismarck this year.

Watch out for...

* F Drew Anderson: The Rochester Century grad has made a living over the past two years by scoring the gritty goals in front of the net. He has 10 goals and 21 assists in 62 games this season. This series could come down to the goalies. Both Austin's Lehr and Bismarck's Nelson are stingy. They'll make the first save a vast majority of the time, so it's likely to come down to who can get the greasy goals. Anderson has excelled at that. He nearly had the game-winner midway through the 3rd OT against Minot last week, only to be robbed by Tauros goalie Brandon Wildung (sorry, Drew, I said I wouldn't mention it again). If he gets a chance against the 'Cats, Anderson won't miss.

* F Luke Dietsch: Perhaps no player on either team is as hot as Dietsch right now, with the possible exception of Bismarck's Evan Giesler. Dietsch was one of Austin's most consistent forwards in the regular season, putting up a 16-19--35 line in 58 games. In the four-game series against Minot in the division semifinals, Dietsch had four goals and seven points. If he can replicate that effort against Bismarck, that's a huge plus for the Bruins.

Injury factor

For the Bruins, forward Sam Kauppila has been among their biggest injury concerns in recent weeks. An upper-body injury has sidelined the 6-1, 170-pounder, who doesn't turn 18 for another month. He has 16 points in 42 games this season, but has played just once since Feb. 21. There was thought that he might return last weekend at Minot, but he was kept out of the lineup with his upper-body injury. He has practiced the past couple weeks, though. As of Tuesday, he was still in an orange non-contact practice jersey. His return to the lineup would boost a forward corps that has other key players such as Niko Hildenbrand, Scott Nelson and Joe Schuldt battling injuries, too.

Intangibles

The Bruins know how to win. They're back-to-back regular season division champions. And even though they've had fits with Bismarck in the playoffs the past two years, this is a different group. Most of these guys weren't around for last year's playoff series. And, as head coach Chris Tok said, this team has been through a four-game playoff series against Bismarck. They had the division title and home-ice advantage hanging in the balance during the final two weeks of the regular season, when Austin won three of four games against the Bobcats -- including a two-game sweep on the last weekend of the season at Bismarck -- to clinch the regular season title. If Austin can play the same game it played that weekend, it will make its first Robertson Cup appearance.

THE PICK

Bismarck enters this series with a lot of confidence after a dominant three-game sweep of Aberdeen, while Austin really only had a couple of practices to recover from that marathon Game 4 at Minot. Still, it's the playoffs and Bismarck is in the opposing locker room at Riverside. If that's not enough to get the Bruins' adrenaline flowing, nothing will be. Tok and the Bruins assistants won't have to say much in their pre-game speech. This won't be easy, but I think the Bruins are finally ready to take the next step. They'll need lots of ice packs and rest in between games, but it's time they elevate their game against Bismarck during the playoffs. Austin worked all season for home-ice advantage throughout the first two rounds of the postseason, and the Bruins will need it.

The pick: Austin in 5 games.

Junior Hockey | How the Austin Bruins ended the longest game in NAHL history

Posted by: Feldman

This is a few days late, but let's put a wrap on the longest game in North American Hockey League history. The Bruins won it last Saturday, when Lucas Kohls scored with 3:03 to go in the third OT to beat Minot 4-3 at Minot and win a NAHL Central Division semifinal series 3-1.

I'll have a post later today breaking down the Central Division finals series against Bismarck, which begins at 7:05 tonight at Riverside Arena, but let's wrap up the Bruins-Minotauros semifinals series first. 

Here is a link to a 38-second video of the winning goal posted on YouTube by Bruins radio play-by-play man John Peterson. The video is a little grainy, but you can see the play develop. (I'm also going to attempt to imbed the video at the bottom of this post, but we've run into issues trying to do that in the past, so I apologize if it doesn't work).

I'm a little late in getting this posted, but I talked to a few Bruins players and coaches earlier this week about the 3-OT game and Kohls' winning goal, so I wanted to make sure I posted the breakdown of the goal, as well as their comments.

Here's the anatomy of the goal that ended the longest game in NAHL history at 116 minutes, 57 seconds:

1. As the video starts, at about the 2-2 1/2 second mark, you see the puck hit Minot's Jadin Martin and deflect all the way across the ice to Kohls, a defenseman, who beats a Minot forechecker to it at the Bruins' blue line. Kohls makes an instant decision to push the puck up to Niko Hildenbrand rather than skate it across the center line and dump it in.

2. Hildenbrand was about to go off for a shift change, but stayed on when he saw the puck slide to Kohls. Hildenbrand carried it into the Minot zone, with Kohls and Easton Viitala crossing the blue line shortly after him. 

3. Hildenbrand, knowing a Minot defender is directly in his shooting lane, decides to let a slap shot fly from just inside the Tauros blue line. As he does, Kohls and Viitala both go to the net and nearly collide with one another.

4. Hildenbrand's shot hits the Minot defender and trickles through his skates (if it's a clean shot-block, the puck probably goes harmlessly into the corner or over to the halfwall and the game goes on). Viitala alertly picks it up and keeps going to the net. At this point, we see it's essentially a 3-on-2 for Austin, with one Minot defender watching Hildenbrand and attempting to block his shot and one Minot defender keeping an eye on both Kohls and Viitala. 

5. Viitala does what the Bruins coaches have been instructing their players to do since the first OT -- put shots on net. Don't just throw a puck toward the goal, put a good shot on net. As he does this, the Minot defender who blocked Hildenbrand's shot is too late turning around and can't get a body or stick on Viitala. The other Tauros defender also reacts too late to break up Viitala's shot attempt. From Minot's perspective, it's not the end of the world because goalie Brandon Wildung is square to Viitala and in perfect position to make the first save. 

6. The problem for Minot is that the defenseman who reacted too late to break up Viitala's shot -- the one who initially was watching both Viitala and Kohls -- drops to his knees and attempts to stick-check Viitala's shot and take away his passing lane. That leaves Kohls unattended as Minot's third man back is well behind the play. 

7. Kohls knows he has to act fast as that third Tauros defender is coming. He sees the puck sitting right in front of Wildung's pad and he pulls it away quickly and calmly, then flips it over Wildung's outstretched leg as that third Minot defender finally realizes what's happening and dives to break up Kohls' shot. It doesn't work, though, and Kohls scores to send the Bruins to the division finals for a third straight year. Had Viitala held the puck a couple seconds longer and attempted to make the cross-crease pass to Kohls, a Minot defender likely would've been able to break up the play. 

8. The Bruins players are so exhausted, they can't even sprint over to hogpile on Kohls. We can see Josh Bretner and Hildenbrand, two of the other players on the ice when the goal was scored, glide over to the far wall to embrace Kohls and Viitala. In fact, it looks like backup goalie Dillon Kelley is the only one to leave his feet and jump into the pile. 

9. Losing a game like that is a lonely feeling; none of the Tauros players skated over to console Wildung after the goal. I'm not drawing any sort of conclusions from that; I don't know the inner workings of Minot's team well enough. I just know that it seems like every time Nick Lehr has given up a big goal this year, there are two or three Bruins players tapping him on the pads or putting an arm around him.

10. Bruins coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf breathe a sigh of relief that 1) they don't have a to play a Game 5 on Monday in Austin and 2) they get to change clothes and make the long bus ride back to Austin with a positive feeling (and they finally get to get some rest).

NOTES ON THE GOAL AND THE MARATHON GAME

* Hildenbrand was very close to not even being in the game in the third OT, much less in position to set up the winning goal. He was injured in the first period (upper body; not a concussion) and played a few shifts in the second period. He was obviously hurting and Tok told him to take his pads off and ice the injury.

"I was in the locker room icing and watching with the guys who were scratched that night," Hildenbrand said. "I iced through the third period, first overtime and second overtime and then I said 'coach it's feeling better, let me get out there,' and he said 'it's your call' so I went back and, I've never got dressed that fast before."

Hildenbrand made it to the bench about 3-4 minutes into the third OT, as the coaches were actually feeding players bananas and oranges ON THE BENCH. 

"I'm not saying that did it for us, but it sure helped," Tok said. "Niko actually wanted to change (on the winning goal). He shot the puck and stood there after he shot it, just to watch. You can see on video, he kinda took a step toward the bench like he was going to finish his change, then he watched and it went in the back of the net and he looked like 'OK, I don't need to change.'"

* Kohls made a heads-up play to jump into the attack, though he said he just did it instinctively (the benefit of being a defenseman who converted from forward) and didn't realize the Minot defenders weren't hustling back into their zone. 

"You want your defensemen doing that and we did quite a few drills throughout the week leading up to it, where the defensemen were jumping into the play," Tok said.

* Hildenbrand on playing in the longest game in the NAHL: "Never been in anything like that. We were just thinking, move the puck, get it on net, everybody's tired, the goalie's tired, so shoot the puck as much as possible and hopefully you get something to go in."

* Kohls on the feeling as the game went on and on: "We knew it was going to be a really gritty goal (to win it). We just thought 'keep getting pucks on net.' The goalies were playing great, glove saves everywhere. It wasn't going to be pretty. We knew it'd take a second or third chance. It wasn't going to be pretty."

* Tok, on what coaches were doing as the game went on: "The guys were playing as hard as they could, you could tell. Some fatigue was setting in, but it was basically be a cheerleader as much as we could and be a nutritionist."

Again, check back later today for a post on the Central Division Finals, which begin with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Saturday at 7:05 in Riverside Arena in Austin. 

And here's an attempt to put the video in here; if this doesn't work, click on the link at the top of this post to see Kohls' game-winning goal from last Saturday.

 

April 05, 2014

Junior Hockey | Wild playoff opener for Austin, Minot

Posted by: Feldman

First off, there's no need to panic if you an Austin Bruins fan. 

Yes, the Bs are down 1-0 in a best-of-5 NAHL Central Division semifinal playoff series against Minot after an 8-6 loss at Riverside Arena on Friday. 

Here's the game story that is in Saturday's Post-Bulletin.

Yes, it was less-than-pretty hockey.

But, remember, this Bruins team won 40 games in the regular season and a second consecutive division title. Teams don't do that if they're not mentally tough. This Bruins team is mentally tough, though we certainly saw that toughness tested tonight by a number of Tauros players who were doing their best to get under the Bruins' skin. 

This game was such an aberration for both teams for a number of reasons:

* Minot had scored more than four goals in a game just once during the 60-game regular season. It scored four in the first 16:07 on Friday.

* Austin won all four regular-season meetings this season at home against Minot. The Tauros hadn't won a game at Riverside since April 13, 2013, which was Game 2 of a Central Division semifinal series.

* Austin goalie Nick Lehr wasn't sharp. He let in at least two that he'd like to have back, I'm sure, but he also received very little help in front of him. On at least three Minot goals, the goal-scorer was allowed to walk into close range without being touched or covered. In other words, seven of Minot's eight goals (not counting the empty-netter at the end) were full-team breakdowns on Austin's part. 

* Lehr gave up four goals in the first period. He gave up four goals just four times in 49 regular-season appearances. He had never given up more than five in a game during his three seasons with the Bruins. Minot scored five in the first 26 minutes.

* Minot was 3-for-5 on the power play. That was completely out of character for a Bruins penalty kill that was outstanding in the regular season, ranking No. 2 in the league with a 90.5 percent kill rate. "Both of their first two power plays, we had an opportunity to cut cycles off and clear pucks and we didn't do it," Tok said. "They got second opportunities that ended up in the back of the net. So, losing battles because we were stick-checking. It gave them more opportunities to score and they capitalized."

That probably sounds like I'm hanging the loss on Lehr, which is not the case. That's not fair to him, considering it wasn't a good game in any facet for the Bruins. Even when they went up 3-1, coach Chris Tok wasn't happy with how they were playing. 

Tok said he felt like the Bruins were playing a preseason game.

To me, it felt like a good team that was coming off four emotionally and physically draining games against its biggest rival. Austin never got in a rhtyhm. It led 3-1, then gave up three goals in less than six minutes to fall behind 4-3 with 3:53 to go in the first. Austin tied the score three times, but never took the lead back.

It felt somewhat like the WCHA Final Five championship game a couple years ago, when a very good Minnesota team led North Dakota 3-0, then gave up six unanswered goals -- five in the third period -- to lose 6-3. That night, everything North Dakota threw at the net was going in. That's how things felt Friday night at Riverside. Everything Minot threw at the net was going in.

In 2012, Minnesota came back the following week and took it to North Dakota, 5-1, in the West Regional championship game to earn a berth in the Frozen Four. I have a feeling that's how this Austin team will respond, by going out and playing the way it has the past two weeks. We'll see, I guess, what this team is made of.

"We were playing pretty badly to be up 3-1," Tok said. "Then, what happened, we're playing bad, get up 3-1, then we were worse and we saw what happened after that."

Tok said the Bruins had a good week of practice, but he was a bit concerned that after taking three of four from Bismarck over the previous two weeks, to win the division by a point, Austin might not be sharp.

"My biggest fear that I had coming in was that it was going to be a letdown because of the drive that we had to win the title and how intense those four games were against Bismarck," Tok said. "I was worried that guys were battered and bruised, so guys would go out and protect themselves, and looking at all the stick checks, that's what we did. I don't if there's anybody in our room that needs an ice back after tonight's game. Last week, every guy on the team was using ice bags because of blocking shots and running into guys and sticking their nose in there and competing. Tonight I didn't see too many guys use ice bags and I don't think we needed many."

Yes, the Bruins lost, but they scored six goals and put 39 shots on net.

My guess is we see a lineup change or two for tonight's Game 2, but I'd bet my next paycheck that Lehr -- unless he slips in the parking lot and breaks his leg or something -- will start in goal. He's going to want to backstop this team to three wins in the next four games and he has certainly earned that right. 

Don't be shocked if No. 31 -- and the defensive corps in front of him -- has a big game in Game 2. 

AROUND THE NAHL

* In the other NAHL Central Divison semifinal series, Bismarck went on the road and beat Aberdeen 4-2, thanks to a hat trick from Evan Giesler and 29 saves from Aaron Nelson. The Bobcats' victory means both lower-seeded teams in the division went on the road and won their playoff openers. That's something that Tok has said all season -- anyone in this division can beat anyone on a given night. 

* No. 3-seeded Wenatchee (Wash.) beat the No. 2 seed Minnesota Wilderness 3-0 in Game 1 of a Midwest Division semifinal series. Wenatchee was the only other lower-seeded team in the NAHL to win on Friday. 

* Port Huron, the regular season North Division champ, already has a 2-0 lead in its best-of-5 division semifinal series against Johnstown. Port Huron has won a pair of one-goal games -- including a 4-3 victory in OT on Friday -- to take control of that series.

* No. 2 Michigan beat No. 3 Janesville 4-2 in Game 1 of the other North Division semifinal series.

* In the South Division semifinals, top-seeded Amarillo beat Wichita Falls 4-2 and No. 2 Topeka beat No. 3 Rio Grande Valley 3-1 in the first games of their best-of-5 series.

 

April 03, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins primed for postseason push; Folin receives praise

Posted by: Feldman

Here's a lesson for young hockey players — young athletes in any sport — everywhere: Listen to your coaches. They usually know what they're talking about.

Back in September, Austin Bruins head coach Chris Tok and assistant Jamie Huffman insisted to me that the 2013-14 Bruins would be a good team, even though they turned over more than half of their roster from last season's division title team. They weren't going to blow anyone out, they weren't going to be able to flip a switch and blow away an opponent like last year's team could. But, the coaches said, there is talent here. It won't be easy, but they'll be a good team by the end of the season.

I wasn't sure. Not because I didn't believe the Bruins could do it; I figured, with the teams that Bismarck and Aberdeen had constructed, and the fact that all five teams in the Central seem to play one another tough, it would be difficult for Austin to earn enough points in the first half of the season (while players were still learning roles and what is expected of them) to be in position for another division title in March.

Guess what? It's the end of the regular season. It wasn't easy. The Bruins have talent. They've become a very good team. And they're the NAHL Central Division champions for a second consecutive season.

Austin is also playing as well as it has all season. I talked to two coaches and four players earlier this week before a practice and you could sense something different in them after sweeping two games at Bismarck last weekend.

Bismarck has been a pain in the backside for this Bruins team over the past couple years. It hasn't seemed to matter how well either team is playing or where they're playing, the Bobcats flat-out give the Bruins fits.

But something clicked last weekend — the Bruins coaches urged the players to go out and take the division title, don't count on Aberdeen losing at Wenatchee and handing the Bs the title (Aberdeen swept at Wenatchee, so, yes, the Bruins certainly earned it).

Tok referred to some of the great battles Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders had in the 1980s. The Islanders swept the Oilers in 1983 to win their fourth consecutive Cup. The following year, the Oilers had learned their lesson. They turned things around and took it to the Islanders, winning the Cup in five games.

No one is predicting the Bruins will take it to the Bobcats if the teams meet in the playoffs this year — Austin isn't looking past a pesky Minot team in the first round, while Bismarck is the No. 3 seed and will have its hands more than full against No. 2 Aberdeen — but the message is clear from the coaching staff: This Bruins team needs to not worry about anything other than itself. It needs to play its game, pay the price physically and take the postseason division championship.

I casually asked a couple of veteran players, off the record, about their plans for next season. They weren't having any of that question. It's all about now, about beating Minot and advancing in the postseason.

"The Islanders beat the Oilers the first time they met," Tok said. "The next time, after the ('84 finals), Gretzky looked around the Oilers locker room and every guy had two or three ice bags on. They took it. They earned it. You could take a picture of that locker room and see the guys, they'd earned it, just by the dedication and the pain that they've suffered to win.
"Our guys understand that. We told them after the game last Saturday, there are no more rookies in here. You've been here, you've played a 60-game schedule. We all understand, the guy next to you, he's not a rookie. We're all guys who understand what it takes to win and that's what we're going to do."

LOTS OF CLOSE ONES

Here's a stat that says a lot about this Bruins team: It has played in 35 games — more than half of its 60-game schedule — decided by one or two goals. They are 23-11-1 in those games (and 40-19-1 overall).

In other words, the Bs don't get rattled if the game is tight late in the third period.

"We had a lot of those close games, we're used to it, we know what we need to do in those situations," second-year Bruins defenseman Jake Arroyo said. "We know, every period counts, every shift counts in the playoffs, so it's good that we know how to play in those close situations."

Tok has seen this team develop patience and poise as the season has gone on. And the Bruins have battled so many injuries, that you won't see anyone look around and wonder what the heck they're supposed to do if they're not on the ice with their usual linemates or defensive partner. Actually, with all the injuries this team has had, there's really no such thing as "usual linemates or defensive partners."

"Our guys, we don't panic," Tok said. "We believe in what we have to do on the ice. We talk about the process to get where we want to go. A great example was Friday night in Bismarck. We played a great first period, outshot them 15-5 and we're down 1-0. We walked in the (locker) room, talked about one adjustment — not really even an adjustment, just a reminder — sure enough, came out in the second, got more pucks on the net and took the lead.
"That's the way it is. It was like 'just stick to it here, let's get it done,' and they did."

HIGH PRAISE FOR FOLIN

The Bruins coaching staff, players (current and former) and fans were quite thrilled on Monday to see that former Bs defenseman and two-year UMass-Lowell standout Christian Folin had signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild.

To show that Folin enjoyed his time in Austin, he told Wild.com that he always had an idea that he'd like to return to Minnesota to play.

• Here is a story I wrote for Tuesday's paper that includes reaction on Twitter from some of Folin's former Bruins teammates. (Notice that current Bruin Austin Nelson is among them; kinda crazy to think that Folin was a Bruin two years ago today, and today he skated in Chicago with the Wild).

• Here is NAHL.com's story on the Folin signing.

• Here is the Minnesota Wild's "Pondcast" interview with Folin.

I asked coach Tok what qualities pro teams saw in Folin that made them believe he can play at the NHL level. His answer boiled down to one thing: work ethic.

"He's a guy who was always out there trying to improve his game," Tok said. "He wasn't always playing a rebound game with the goalies or something. He was always working on his shot, working on picking up pucks in transition, always working to get better.
"It's the same with (current Bruin) Guillaume Leclerc (who, coincidentally is committed to UMass-Lowell). You watch after practice, he's always by himself working on his individual skills to make himself better.
"I go back to a kid that we coached (in the USHL) who's playing in the NHL, Joe Pavelski. It was the same thing every practice with him: 'coach, can we do this,' or 'coach, can we do this.' It was always 'coach, coach, coach...' when they're asking to do it, as a coach, it's like, yeah, no problem."

NEW FORMAT FOR ROBERTSON CUP

In recent seasons, NAHL teams that won their first two playoff series advanced to the Robertson Cup, the NAHL's equivalent of the Frozen Four.

The four postseason division winners would play three days of round-robin play, then the two teams with the best records would advance to the national championship game on the fourth day of the Cup finals.

This season, the round robin play has been eliminated, as has the neutral-ice setting.

The last four teams remaining in the NAHL playoffs will be re-seeded based on the league's regular season standings (so, if all four regular-season division champs advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs, Austin would be the No. 3 seed.)

The No. 4 seed will play at the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, both in best 2-out of-3 series, with all three games (if necessary) being played on the higher seed's home ice.

The same goes for the Robertson Cup finals. The team with the highest seed will play host to a best 2-out of-3 series for the national championship.

BRUINS-TAUROS, HEAD-TO-HEAD

Let's take a look at the Austin-Minot first-round matchup:

GOALIES
Minot
: Brandon Wildung (14-7-3, 2.44 GAA, .918 save pct.) and Merrick Madsen (10-16-0, 2.75, .904). Neither Wildung, a Mercyhurst commit, or Madsen, who is headed to Harvard, have played in an NAHL playoff game. That lack of playoff experience could be a factor. The Tauros also have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, ranking No. 19 at 81.8 percent.
Austin: Nick Lehr (35-13-1, 1.84, .932) is in his third season with the Bs and his third trip to the postseason. He was 4-2-0 with a 1.90 GAA and a .942 save pct. in last year's playoffs. The Minnesota recruit has been clutch in close games this year and never panics.
Advantage: Bruins.

FORWARDS
Minot: The Tauros beefed up their scoring ability greatly in early February when they traded for Michael Louria, a UMass-Lowell commit who finished 10th in the league in scoring with 52 points. But beyond Louria, no Tauros player averages even a half-point per game. In fact, their second leading scorer is defenseman Jon Lizotte and another blue-liner, Scott Dornbrock, is tied for third on the team. If the Tauros are going to have a chance, they'll have to keep the score low and get some production from their blue line.
Austin: The Bruins have the second-leading scorer in the NAHL on their team and, somehow, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Jay Dickman seems to go about his business quietly. The Bemidji State recruit isn't flashy, but he has a great, hard shot that has produced 28 goals (to go along with his 36 assists, for 64 points) this season. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Guillaume Leclerc, the Bs second-leading scorer (21-25—46 in 54 games), a 5-8, 165-pound waterbug from France. Opposing teams seem to be more preoccupied with knocking him down than stopping him from scoring. Leclerc gets up every time — and he has taken some clean, hard hits this season — and usually makes the opponent pay. Add in guys like Luke Dietsch, Drew Anderson and Niko Hildenbrand ... I could go down the line to every forward on the roster. They all know their roles and embrace them.
Advantage: Austin.

DEFENSEMEN
Minot: As mentioned, Lizotte and Dornbrock are solid contributors offensively, but the Tauros struggle mightily on the penalty kill. It'll be crucial for them to stay out of the box. The addition of Grand Rapids native Jordan Stejskal in a trade in late January gave the Tauros a bit more grit or "nasty" on the blue line; he has 86 penalty minutes this season, in addition to 11 points. The Tauros' blue-liners will have to find a way to chip in offensively while not doing too much on the offensive end.
Austin: This may be the position group that has improved the most as a whole since the start of the season. Veterans Josh Bretner, Jake Arroyo and Kody Reuter have anchored the group, while newcomers Cory Dunn and Charlie Manley have settled into their roles nicely. The addition of Lucas Kohls — at 6-3, 195 — has given the Bs some more size and physicality on the back-end, too. Kohls moved back to defense when Eli May moved up to a forward spot and it's a switch the coaching staff seems to love.
Advantage: Austin.

THE PREDICTION
Austin has earned the No. 1 seed and is playing some of its best hockey of the season. That said, Minot isn't an easy team to play against, especially up there. I think either Wildung or Madsen steals one from them, but they won't steal three. Bruins in 4.

March 27, 2014

Austin Bruins getting healthy at right time

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins have two games remaining in their regular season and eight days until the North American Hockey League playoffs begin.

Now is a good time for a team that has battled injuries all year to get healthy.

It's been weeks -- months, maybe -- since the Bs have had their full 23-man roster available on game day. I'm guessing coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf would probably share their meals with Bruiser the bear for a month if they could make three healthy scratches per night this weekend at Bismarck, where Austin will close its regular season (7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

There have been times this season when the Bruins haven't been able to dress a full 20-player lineup. That shouldn't be the case this weekend, though the Bs will likely only have 21 of their 23 men avaialable. Tok said a couple of players sustained injuries last weekend against Bismarck during a split at Riverside Arena, and have tried to skate this week, but haven't been able to go full-speed.

Ideally, this would be the time of year where some Bruins players could sit out a game or two and be more rested for the start of the postseason. The Bruins wrapped up the regular season division title with a few weeks to go in the regular season last year and were able to do that with players such as A.J. Reid, Brandon Wahlin and Cody Dixon.

Austin doesn't have the luxury of resting guys this season, as it will likely battle with Aberdeen down to the final night for the division title. The Bruins have a one-point lead in the standings (77-76), so an Austin win on Friday, coupled with an Aberdeen loss at Wenatchee (Wash.) would give the Bruins the title.

Still, though, like I said before, the Bruins will likely only have 21 players available this weekend, and that's because they will get Sam Kauppila, Trey Dodd and Austin Nelson back from injuries.

Those three guys will be a big shot in the arm to Austin's offense.

Dodd has 17 points in 43 games, but has only played in four games since Valentine's Day.

Kauppila, who played for the NAHL U18 team at the Top Prospects Tournament, has 15 points in 41 games, but has been hasn't played since a 2-1 victory against Aberdeen on Feb. 21.

NELSON HAS PERSEVERED

As for Nelson, it's nice to see him back in the lineup and I know the Bruins' coaching staff is happy for him personally and happy for themselves that he's returning. Nelson has 15 points in 38 games this season, but he has sat out the last two weekends after he thought his Bruins career might be over.

Nelson, a third-year Bruin, missed 48 games last season after tearing the labrum in his right hip (Rochester hockey fans may remember this is the same injury that essentially ended Century grad Alex Kangas' college career with the Gophers).

During the Bruins' game at Minot on March 7, Nelson thought he had suffered the same injury to his other hip. He spent a long day-and-a-half thinking his time with the Bruins might be done. On Monday, March 9 -- his 21st birthday -- Nelson saw a doctor and, this time, received good news: He didn't suffer a torn labrum.

It was not only a relief for Nelson, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward from Hastings, but it was a relief for the Bruins coaching staff (and probably fans, too). Nelson will now get to end his junior hockey career on the ice, instead of in the stands.

"Austin has had some difficult times over the past couple of years, but he has really stuck with it," Tok said.

I was somewhat surprised to see that Nelson was back this season, not because I didn't think he could play at this level, but because it would be easy to understand why someone with his injury history would want to call it a career.

"I was a little surprised (at the start of the season) when he said he wanted to come back," Tok said. "I said 'great, we'd love to have you.' He's a great kid, on and off the ice."

Nelson has played in 103 games as a Bruin, with 20 goals and 21 assists.

FRONT-TO-BACK, BACK-TO-FRONT

With all of the injuries the Bruins have battled this season, the coaching staff has had to juggle forward lines and defensive pairs more than they would have liked. 

Sometimes those changes stick, sometimes they don't.

At least a couple of those changes have worked out quite well -- the move of Eli May from defense to forward, and the move of Lucas Kohls from forward to defense. May gives the Bruins another gritty forward who will get in the corners on the forecheck and win puck battles. He can also shift back to the point on the power play, as well as play on the penalty kill. Kohls has 33 points this season, but he gives Austin a big body on the blue line (he's 6-3, 195) who has a lot of offensive skill.

"Eli brings a lot to the table up front," Tok said. "He gets in there and creates turnovers. We had him in more of a defensive/checking-line role, but he created so many turnovers that we put him up with some other guys."

Tok said he anticipates May and Kohls staying in their current roles throughout the playoffs.

THIS WEEKEND

Austin (38-19-1, 77 pts.) at Bismarck (31-22-5, 67 pts.) -- Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m., VFW Sports Center, Bismarck

Bruins notes: Austin's power play has struggled all season. The Bruins are ranked No. 22 in the NAHL, converting at an 11.3 percent clip. ... The Bruins, however, have one of the top penalty-kills in the league. They are ranked No. 2 in the NAHL, killing 90.5 percent of their penalties. ... Austin has played 58 games this season and 17 have been decided by just one goal. The Bruins, though, have gone to OT just five times this year. They have two OT wins and are 2-1 in shootouts.

Bobcats notes: Bismarck is locked into the No. 3 spot in the Central Division playoffs and will face either Austin or Aberdeen in the opening round. ... The Bobcats are in the middle of the pack in the NAHL in both power-play (14.3 pct., No. 15 overall) and penalty kill (85.0 pct., No. 11 overall). ... Bismarck G Aaron Nelson, a MSU Mankato commit, has three shutouts this season, all against Austin (including a 1-0 blanking last Saturday in Austin). ... D Nate Repensky is the team's leading scorer with 49 points. He is committed to Yale.

Path to No. 1: There are many ways Austin could win its second consecutive division title. The simplest would be to beat Bismarck twice this weekend. NAHL teams get two points for a win, one for a tie. Four points are up for grabs this weekend for first-place Austin and second-place Aberdeen (which plays at Wenatchee at 9:05 p.m. CDT Friday and Saturday). The Bruins need to earn one more point than Aberdeen this weekend to win the division title outright.

March 05, 2014

Boys hockey | The Tourney: Breaking down the Class A field

Posted by: Feldman

Everyone is off of work and school the rest of the week, right? After all, it's holiday time, so call in sick today. And Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday, if you work Saturdays. And turn on channel 6.2 or 386 if you have Charter cable, pop some popcorn, get some peanuts, make a pizza or, if you're me, go grab some Chipotle and get settled into the recliner by 11:17 (I believe that's the time that the first game will actually begin) and become a high school hockey zombie for four days.

It's the best time of the year, The Tourney, the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.

(According to the P-B's Paul Christian, The Tourney will also air locally on channels 10 and 13).

It all gets going today with the Class A state quarterfinals. We won't have an extensive preview in our print edition since we don't have an area team in the tournament. So I'll do one here for both classes.

Just a reminder that, for an eighth consecutive year, the tournament is seeded. The top 5 teams were seeded, the remaining three placed in the bracket by random draw.

No more wasting time, let's get to the Class A tourney.

THE MATCHUPS

11 a.m. — No. 2 Hermantown (22-4-2) vs. Luverne (27-0-1)

Overview: This is an intriguing matchup to open The Tourney. Everyone is picking Hermantown, and rightfully so. The Hawks are at state for a fifth consecutive season. They finished as the state runner-up in each of the past four, including a bitter 5-4 loss to St. Thomas Academy last year in which the Hawks held leads of 3-1 and 4-2, only to lose on a power play goal (after an awful sequence of bad calls and no calls, including an STA player not being called for a hold while having a Hawks player in a headlock) with 6.1 seconds to go. STA isn't in The Tourney this year, though, after moving up to Class AA and losing in the Section 3 tournament. Luverne is making its state-tournament debut. It is the last unbeaten team in the state, though the No. 17-ranked Cardinals have played just one team ranked in the top 20 — No. 20 Bloomington Kennedy (a 3-1 Luverne win on Dec. 28). Hermantown is ranked No. 2 in the state.

Hermantown leaders: Jr. F Ryan Kero (21-28—49); Jr. F Nate Pionk (22-26—48); Sr. F Scott Wasbotten (23-23—46); Sr. F Kori Ochs (15-17—32); So. F Cole Koepke (18-13—31); Sr. G Jace Thomas (10-1-2, 1.55 GAA, .926 save pct.); Sr. G Adam Smith (12-3-0, 2.50, .901).

Luverne leaders: So. F Chaz Smedsrud (38-49—87); Sr. F Logan Norman (22-49—71); 8th F Jaxon Nelson (30-40—70); Jr. D Toby Sengvongxay (20-32—52); Sr. G Kendall Meyer (21-0-1, 1.16 GAA, .949 save pct.); Jr. G Connor Crabtree (6-0-0, 1.26, .896)

Notes: You may notice Hermantown players all have the name "TIM" stickered onto their helmets. It's in honor of Tim Ellingson, an outdoor rink manager for many years, who died on Jan. 2 while skating at an outdoor rink. One of the Hermantown players found him. ... The Hawks have scored five shorthanded goals this season. ... Gunnar Olson set Luverne's career points record this season. ... Jaxon Nelson has more than 70 points as an eighth-grader.

The pick: Give me the experienced team that has a chip on its shoulder after last year's state title game. Hermantown won't overlook anyone in The Tourney: HERMANTOWN 5, LUVERNE 1.

• • •

1 p.m. — No. 3 New Prague (21-4-3) vs. Chisago Lakes Area (20-8-0)

Overview: New Prague is in the state tournament for the first time, finally breaking through in the Section 1A championship game after some close, heartbreaking losses in the section semifinals and final in recent seasons. Junior goalie Conner Wagner stood on his head for much of the Trojans' 3-2 victory against Mankato West in the Section 1A title game. At one point, New Prague led 2-0 but was being outshot 22-8. Wagner showed the poise necessary to win at state. His teammates will have to provide the offense. Chisago Lakes is at state for a second time, but the first time since 1995. Chisago Lakes was the top seed in the Section 5, Class A tournament. It beat Princeton 5-4 in the section final, scoring three times in the third period to win. Blake Lizotte scored with 2:09 to go in the third for the winning goal.

New Prague leaders: Sr. F Augie Isaacson (23-30--53); Sr. F Seth Kriha (11-35--46); So. F Alex Gregor (19-22--41); Sr. F Austin Kilian (21-12--33); Jr. G Conner Wagner (21-4-3, 2.28 GAA, .903 save pct.).

Chisago Lakes leaders: Sr. F Brandon Gillespie (25-26--51); So. F Blake Lizotte (14-34--48); Sr. F Trevor Lushanko (23-24--47); So. F Landon Lushanko (10-18--28); Sr. F Ryan Chambers (13-15--28); Jr. G Jacob Dubose (13-6-0, 1.95 GAA, .916 save pct.); Jr. G Bryce Thompson (7-2-0, 2.34, .906).

Notes: New Prague is ranked No. 6 in the state. Chisago Lakes is unranked. ... Chisago Lakes allowed just eight power play goals all season. ... Chisago Lakes went 14-0-0 at home this season, 5-8-0 on the road and 1-3-0 on neutral ice. ... New Prague is one of three teams in the Class A tournament that has not been shut out this season. Hermantown and Luverne are the others. ... New Prague assistant coach Nick Bowe played for Austin in the 2001 Class AA state tournament. ... The Trojans 21 wins are a single-season school record.

The pick: While New Prague's skaters didn't always look poised and calm during the Section 1A title game victory against Mankato West, their goalie did. This team will go as Wagner goes at state, and that's into the semifinals: NEW PRAGUE 4, CHISAGO LAKES 3.

• • •

6 p.m. — No. 1 East Grand Forks (25-2-1) vs. Orono (19-8-1)

Overview: East Grand Forks, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, is at state for a second consecutive season and a ninth time in school history. The Green Wave have never won a state title. EGF is the favorite for a reason; they have talented players up and down the lineup and most of them played at state last year, when EGF placed fourth. EGF has outscored its opponents 117-33 this season and has allowed just one short-handed goal all year. Orono is at state for the first time since 2007 and the eighth time in school history. Orono is ranked No. 11 in the state; it upset No. 4-ranked Breck in the Section 2A championship game, 2-1, to advance to state, though Breck outshot Orono 47-20. The Spartans gave up a total of four goals in three section tournament victories.

EGF leaders: Jr. F Reed Corbid (16-26--42); Jr. F Dixon Bowen (17-20--37); So. F Grant Loven (14-21--35); So. F Tanner Tweten (15-13--28); Sr. F Brandon Loven (14-11--25); Jr. Josh Weber (20-1-1, 1.22 GAA, .922 save pct.); Jr. Garrett Lieberg (5-1-0, 1.00, .898).

Orono leaders: Jr. F Joey Luedtke (12-22--34); Sr. D Jacob Flemmer (14-17--31); Sr. F Sam Challgren (6-18--24); So. F David McCuskey (11-9--20); Jr. G Jon Flakne (18-7-1, 1.95 GAA, .918); Sr. G Grant Mathiason (1-1-0, 2.50, .898).

Notes: EGF senior defenseman Eddie Eades' sister, Erika, played in the girls hockey state tournament two weeks ago, when EGF finished second. ... The Eades' dad, Cary, is the head coach of the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. ... The Green Wave have eight players with 22 or more points. ... Orono is 20 miles west of Minneapolis. ... Orono head coach Kasey Yoder played for Duluth Marshall in the 2001 state tournament, the first one held at the Xcel Energy Center.

The pick: East Grand Forks has been ranked No. 1 in the state for some time now for a reason. The Green Wave are the total package and they've been here before, so they know how to deal with the pressure: EGF 4, ORONO 1.

• • •

8 p.m. — No. 4 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7-1) vs. No. 5 Totino-Grace (17-10-1)

Overview: The only two private schools to make the 16 team field at The Tourney meet in the opening round, so anti-private school fans will be down to just one after the opening day. T-G last won a state title in 2002 and last appeared at state in 2005. The Eagles went just 4-3-0 in their final seven regular season games with lopsided losses to Hermantown (6-1) and Wayzata (9-0). T-G is used to playing under pressure, though. It came back from down 4-2 to beat Mahtomedi 5-4 in OT in the Section 4A championship. Cathedral is at state for the sixth time and the first since 2009. The Crusaders lost to the tournament's top two seeds during the regular season, East Grand Forks (3-1) and Hermantown (6-0), tied Orono and beat No. 3 seed New Prague (5-4, OT) and Totino-Grace (5-4). 

Cathedral leaders: Sr. F Will Hammer (23-30--53); Jr. F Matt Fritz (15-23--38); Sr. D Daniel Bailey (7-31--38); So. F Logan Neu (18-17--35); Jr. Zach Fritz (19-7-1, 2.17 GAA, .916 save pct.)

T-G leaders: Sr. F Nick Tandeski (15-16--31); Sr. F Kai Barber (19-11--30); Sr. F Brandon Hilliard (7-17--24); Jr. D Jason Krych (6-17--23); Jr. F Blake Vagle (7-16--23); Sr. G Dominic Wippler (15-8-1, 2.55 GAA, .904 save pct.); Jr. G Jack Lux (2-2-0, 3.38, .862).

Notes: Cathedral is No. 10 in the state, Totino-Grace is No. 8. ... Cathedral has produced some talented players in recent seasons. Former Gophers and current Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt played at Cathedral. So did U.S. Olympian Anne Schleper. ... Hammer has 172 career points, a Cathedral program record. ... T-G only has two players -- Tandeski and Barber -- with more than 10 goals. 

The pick: This one's a coin flip and I think the last game of the day is the best game of the day: CATHEDRAL 3, TOTINO-GRACE 2, OT.

• • •

STATE SEMIFINALS

The picks: As much as I'd love to see a Section 1 team in the state championship, Hermantown just appears to be a team on a mission. It blew out three good programs -- International Falls, Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Marshall -- in the Section 7 tournament by a combined score of 21-3: HERMANTOWN 5, NEW PRAGUE 2.

East Grand Forks' depth shines through in the other semifinal. The Green Wave are a poised group, having had to go to double-OT to beat Warroad in the Section 8A championship game last week. Goalie Josh Weber played an incredible game that night, and he'll do it again Friday afternoon at The X: EAST GRAND FORKS 4, ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL 1.

• • •

CHAMPIONSHIP

The pick: It's really hard for me to pick against East Grand Forks, thanks to both my heart (I grew up right across the Red River in Grand Forks) and my head (the Green Wave have great depth and maybe 4-5 D-1 players), BUT, this Hermantown team feels like it's not going to be stopped. If I can't get their bitter, crushing loss in last year's state title game out of my head, I can't imagine how the Hawks have felt for the past 360 days. After four straight years as the runner-up, Hermantown gets to bring home a state championship trophy for the second time in school history, and first since 2007: HERMANTOWN 5, EAST GRAND FORKS 3 (empty-net goal).

March 04, 2014

Boys hockey | Grosso to enter MHCA Hall of Fame

Posted by: Feldman

This is my eighth year of covering boys hockey for The Post-Bulletin. At the end of my first season, 2006-07, I asked Mayo coach Lorne Grosso if he planned to retire after the season. He laughed and said, "after I tell my wife, you'll be the first to know."

I told him that day that I wouldn't ask him again if he planned to retire. I kept my word for about seven years. I figured I'm allowed a one-day grace period when I'm writing a story about a still-active coach going into a Hall of Fame.

Grosso will be honored on Thursday, between sessions at the Class AA state tournament, by being one of five coaches in the Class of 2014 for the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame.

Here's a link to the article that will appear in Wednesday's Post-Bulletin.

I talked to Grosso, Mayo assistant coach Todd Huyber and Mayo acitivites director Jeff Whitney, who also served as an assistant to Grosso for many years. Grosso will be inducted along with two of his former college teammates at the University of Minnesota, Albert Lea coach Roy Nystrom and former Mound coach Pat Furlong.

Here are some of comments from Grosso, Huyber and Whitney didn't make it into the article:

LORNE GROSSO

On what being inducted into the MHCA HoF means to him:

"I think back on all the coaches I've known for so long. When I first started, I wondered if I would be able to do some of the things they were doing (in terms of longevity and success). We all spend a lot of time working with kids because we enjoy it, and we get to know so many coaches. To be with this group is very meaningful to me."

On what he's enjoyed about coaching:

"One of the most fun parts of coaching, for me, is being involved with all the great coaches you meet. You want to beat them and they want to beat you, but you can still go home feeling good."

TODD HUYBER

On Grosso's longevity:

"No. 1, coaching is teaching and he was a teacher, so that helps. He realizes that all kids are different when it comes to their personalities. He's so even-keeled all the time."

On Grosso's calm demeanor and competitive spirit:

"He definitely has that competitive fire. He gets that across at certain times during the year. He gets it across at certain times when he needs to. He doesn't wear kids out with that stuff all the time because it can get old with kids and start going in one ear and out the other."

JEFF WHITNEY

On Grosso being inducted along with former teammates:

"It's special to him to go in with some friends. I know how important the comaraderie of coaching is to him. He's very well-liked and respected."

On what Grosso enjoys most about coaching:

"I think what he drives home to the kids is doing things with class, working hard, being a good teammate ... so many of those life lessons. Because of the way he coaches, the kids enjoy what they're doing and they're successful. That's probably why he doesn't need to talk about (his wins)."

• • •

Here is the bio on Grosso from the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association:

With 677 career wins at the end of the 2013-14 regular season, Rochester Mayo head coach Lorne Grosso, who has been the school’s head coach for 47 years, is the winningest coach in Minnesota boys high school hockey history, having passed the legendary Willard Ikola for the state’s top spot during the 2010-11 season.

A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Grosso grew up playing with the likes of Lou Nanne and Phil and Tony Esposito before coming to Minnesota to play for the Gophers and John Mariucci. While at Minnesota, Grosso was paired on a line with fellow 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Roy Nystrom, of Albert Lea, whom he coaches against and leads by seven career coaching victories.

Although he has been successful at winning hockey games, Grosso’s approach, at times, is philosophical.

“At times, I have more fun losing than winning because I see that the kids are playing up to their ability,” Grosso said. “If we play our best and happen to lose, I am fine with that.”

As the years have passed by and the wins piled up, Grosso has noticed the game change but his fundamentals of coaching have stayed the same.

“The equipment is better, the kids are bigger, and the game is faster,” he noted. “But you try
to teach them the same things that will make them successful. You try to get them to improve and develop. As far as the coaching aspect, it’s pretty much the same game.”

Grosso attended St. Basil’s Novitiate for the priesthood before moving on to the University of Minnesota, from where he graduated in 1966. He took over as the head hockey coach at Mayo upon his graduation and taught Latin and Italian at the school from 1966-99. In 1999, he accepted a position at Rochester Lourdes, teaching religion along with Latin and Italian before retiring in 2007.

In 2009, Grosso was inducted into the Rochester Quarterbacks Club Hall of Fame and, last year, the American Hockey Coaches Association honored him with its Mariucci Award, a national award for a high school hockey coach.

Grosso and his wife, Joannie, are the parents of three children; daughters Laura and Marisa, and son Jim; have seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. When not coaching, he enjoys playing the guitar and piano, walking the couple’s two dogs, cutting fire wood and travelling to Italy and Florida. He also sang and played guitar at mass for 22 years, has been a hospital visitor for St. John’s Catholic Church, brings communion to the homebound and serves as a Eucharistic minister.

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 18, 2014

Thoughts, pics from Hockey Day Minnesota '14

Posted by: Feldman

If you watched the high school hockey games played at Handke Pit in Elk River on FSN today, you had a better view than I did of most of the goals in Rochester Lourdes' 4-1 loss to Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.

But, then again, who really cares about the goals. Honestly, the score, the outcome, the play of the game isn't really what the coaches, players and fans are going to remember about this day a year, five years, 10 years from now. They're sure not what I'll remember.

OK, so Lourdes' Peter Alexander will probably remember scoring his team's lone goal and Tyler Vehrenkamp will remember getting the assist. And Jack Burkel will probably remember the highlight reel saves he made through the first two periods, including a get-that-shot-outta-here glove save on a breakaway. 

Really, though, the best memories will be of stepping off the bus at 8:30 a.m., 90 minutes before game time, and stepping over to the top edge of the natural bowl that forms Handke Pit, looking down at the rink and the bleachers and the lights and cameras of Fox Sports North. 

I'm sure they talked a lot on FSN about Handke Pit -- one of the locals told me not to call it a pit; it's a stadium. He was probably around when the glacier formed it and he was quite intent on it being called a stadium. But some other, younger locals told me to go ahead and call it the pit; they were just excited to be showcased on region-wide and nationwide TV (Fox Sports 2). 

Anyhow, I'm sure they talked a lot about Handke Pit on TV (I haven't watched the game or FSN's coverage yet, though I DVR'd it all), but here are some of my thoughts:

* It was an amazing setting. FSN and the Minnesota Wild do an awesome job every year of not only finding settings that look outstanding on TV, but also are outstanding in person. Lourdes coach Josh Spaniol sent me a pic about a week ago when he drove up to Elk River and drove by it. I told him today that the pic looked awesome but nothing could do justice to seeing it in person.

* The natural bowl, formed by a glacier, was the exact right size for a full-size rink with regulation boards and very good, mostly smooth ice, bleachers on each side and one end, and a smaller rink behind the bleachers that had youth hockey games being played on it all day. Trees line three sides at the top of the bowl and Handke Elementary School is on the fourth side, the west side. 

* I checked in at the school at 9 a.m. and they funneled the media out through a back door that overlooks the entire pit. What a sight to walk out the door and see the place, with near-empty bleachers. A handful of players from each team were standing outside their locker rooms (trailers that were just big enough to hold a full team; Lourdes and C-E-C had to be out of those trailers 10 minutes after their game so Elk River and Stillwater could move in) just soaking in the atmosphere.

* One of the coolest aspects of Handke Pit was on the south side, the same side as the team benches. Up at the top of the pit was a platform for handicap seating and then about 6-7 rows of wooden bleachers built into the side of the hill. It was an awesome vantage point to watch the games from and just take in the entire area. 

* The charming little warming house was turned into the media work area. The whole building is maybe 15-20 feet wide and deep. It's made entirely out of big rocks and built into the north side hill. It also had donuts and hot chocolate, which I'm just assuming are there every day, right? Right? 

* The rink itself was very well kept. The ice was pretty smooth, though twice I noticed players nearly lose their footing while skating slowly. Both times it was right up against the boards, though, so it may have been a function of snow built up. The ice was as smooth as you could hope for outside. The puck was hopping and bouncing more than you'll see on indoor ice, but it wasn't distracting. In talking with Lourdes goalie Jack Burkel after the game, he said there were a few awkward hops and bounces that caught him off guard. I noticed one in the first period, when he left his net to play a puck along the back boards and it hit a spot on the boards and bounced straight back out in front of the net. Burkel was able to quickly get back and clear it away. 

* As for the game itself, I'd say C-E-C controlled more of the play and had more scoring opportunities. That said, they scored twice on power plays, once on an empty-netter and once after what looked like a hand pass. I'm not making excuses, just saying the teams seemed more even than 4-1 indicates. 

* It was 0-0 going into the third period, which is exactly the type of game Lourdes needed it to be. They weren't going to win 6-5 or something like that. They needed a 1-0, 2-1 type of game. They had that until they took a couple of penalties and C-E-C converted on the power plays.

* We had a photographer at the event shooting pics for us; I'll post some of his professional shots when I see them later tonight, tomorrow or on Monday. For now, I'm going to post a few that I snapped on my cell phone. They're not great, but I think they give you an idea of what the Handke Pit -- or Handke Stadium -- looked like.

The first one is Montana Streit taking a faceoff at a west-end faceoff dot.

The second pic is Aaron Van Galder leading Lourdes out for the third period.

The third pic is the view of when I stepped out the back door of the Handke School for the first time.

The fourth pic is from the wooden bleachers built into the south-side hill of Handke Pit, up at the very top. What an amazing setting to watch a hockey game.

HAPPY HOCKEY DAY!!

 

MStreit

 

VanGalder

 

First_look

 

Warmups