Posted by: Feldman
A week ago, there were 16 teams remaining in Section 1 boys hockey, eight each in Class A and AA. We're down to four, and those four will be cut to two about 36 hours from now.
The Section 1 finals are upon us, with a pair of 1 vs. 3 matchups on tap over the next two nights at the Rochester Recreation Center.
It starts at 7 p.m. tonight (game is still on, as of now -- 12:40 p.m.) with the Section 1A championship game between top-seeded New Prague (19-8-0) and No. 3 seed Northfield (16-9-2). New Prague edged Northfield 3-2 when they met in the regular season, wayyyyyy back on Nov. 29. New Prague had to score twice in the final six minutes of that game to win it.
That seems typical of Section 1A teams this season; you never know what the outcome will be on a given night.
Section 1AA seems more clear-cut, but we've seen stranger things happen than, say, No. 3-seeded Farmington (19-7-1) pulling an upset of No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Lakeville North (27-0-0). Not many stranger things, but a few. Farmington and North are set to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rec Center in a rematch of last year's section final, which North won 6-0.
North is a machine. It can put six D-I players on the ice at once. The most impressive of that group to me on Saturday was junior goalie Ryan Edquist, a Gophers recruit. I can't judge a goalie's play to save my Rec Center pretzel and cheese, but I don't feel too bad about it, because many coaches I talk to can't either. I guess it's kind of like watching TV -- I can't tell you how to make a good television show, but I know one when I see it.
The same goes for Edquist. In North's 10-0 win against Rochester Century on Saturday, he kept the game scoreless while Century pressured for the first nine minutes -- really the only time all game Century was able to sustain pressure. Edquist made a pair of great saves, one on a Riese Zmolek shot and another on a tip by Erik Thorvilson. Edquist has the look of a D-I goalie -- the way he played the puck, the way he kept himself in the game, very impressive. On one Century power play, he basically played catch with Century goalie Cole Walter. Century put a couple of hard shots in on goal from outside the blue line. Edquist gloved them, dropped them and fired them all the way down the ice in one fluid motion.
I got some comments about Edquist from North coach Trent Eigner after the game that I'm saving for next week's state tournament preview, if North makes it. Eigner called Edquist the team's hardest worker.
Let's take a look at this week's Section 1 title games:
No. 3 Northfield (16-9-2) vs. No. 1 New Prague (19-8-0)
7 p.m. tonight, Rochester Recreation Center
Faribault hung with New Prague for half the game because it played a trap and didn't give the Trojans' talented skaters any open ice to use. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Once Faribault decided ditch its trap, the game turned into a track meet and New Prague dominated in that case, scoring four times in the second period and four more in the third.
I've only seen Faribault and Northfield twice each, but it seems to me that Northfield could play that trap pretty effectively and make tonight's game into a close one all the way through. Northfield has multiple lines that can control the puck and generate offense.
That said, the Raiders went toe-to-toe with No. 2 seed Mankato West in the semifinals on Saturday without mucking things up. The Northfield-West game was wide open and, quite honestly, Northfield looked like it wore West down a bit late in the game.
New Prague is looking for its second consecutive trip -- and second ever -- to the Class A state tournament. It placed third last season.
Northfield has never been to the state hockey tournament. The Raiders have never had a better opportunity. That's not a knock on New Prague, but more a commentary on how even this section has been all season.
I'll go back to what I said wrote last week when I was making predictions for this section tournament: It's so wide open that I won't be surprised no matter who wins it.
Here's what I wrote last week, when I predicted Northfield and New Prague would meet in the title game: Why do I think this is Northfield's year to get to state? I just feel like, in a wide-open section like this, someone other than the top seed will come out of it. The Raiders have lost five games since the start of January. Three of those came against Class AA teams. The other two -- against Mankato West and Faribault -- both came by one goal. I think the Raiders flip those two one-goal games in the playoffs and advance to state. Plus, when these teams met in the regular season, New Prague had to score twice in the third period to rally from a 2-1 deficit to win. Northfield hangs on this time.
The call: Northfield 2, New Prague 1.
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No. 3 Farmington (19-7-1) vs. No. 1 Lakeville North (27-0-0)
7 p.m. Thursday, Rochester Recreation Center
Nick, Jack, Ryan Poehling. Jack McNeely and Jack Sadek. Ryan Edquist. They'll all be playing D-I hockey in a few years. They'll all be on the ice for one team again Thursday night, hoping to lead Lakeville North back to state and back to the state title game, where it lost last year to Edina.
Standing in North's path is Farmington, which surprisingly blew out No. 2 seed Lakeville South 5-1 on Saturday in a section semifinal game. It was 3-0 Farmington after one and South -- despite outshooting the Tigers 38-26 -- never seriously threatened.
Give much of the credit for that to Farmington goalie Gage Overby. At the start of the playoffs, we said Overby is one of a handful of guys in this section who could be a game changer. If Farmington wants to get to the Class AA state tournament for the first time ever, he'll have to be the star of the game tomorrow.
Overby's playoff numbers are outstanding -- 2-0, 1.50 goals-against avg., .941 save pct. -- as are his full-season numbers (15-6-1, 2.28, .905, 5 shutouts). However, he's going up against a goalie who's been perfect in the postseason. Edquist is 2-0 with 2 shutouts as North has outscored its opponents by a combined 24-0.
North is so deep and talented, though, that it's difficult to see this game going any way other than the Panthers lifting the section title trophy. In addition to those six D-I players, the Panthers also have junior F Max Johnson, who has 7 points in two playoff games. He was drafted last summer by Sioux Falls of the USHL. Johnson, sophomore Henry Enebak (18-21--39) and junior Taylor Schneider (15-20--35) are often overlooked because of what the St. Cloud State-bound Poehling brothers do, but that's a mistake. Watch for North's second-liners to make a big impact on Thursday's game.
Oh, yeah, North can play some D, too. McNeely (Nebraska-Omaha) and Sadek (Gophers) lead a defensive corps that has limited the Panthers' two playoff opponents to a total of 23 shots on goal.
As for a pick, I originally had North vs. South in the title game, so I was off the mark on that one. I wasn't surprised that Farmington beat South, but was definitely surprised that they did so in such convincing fashion.
But beating North is an entirely different challenge, and one that no team has accomplished this season.
The call: North 5, Farmington 1.
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AROUND THE STATE
We're down to the championship games in almost every section, so every game now is a good one. I'll pick out a few to keep an eye on (the numbers in front of team names indicate state rankings, not section seeds):
SECTION 2A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 4 Breck vs. No. 7 Delano/Rockford (7 p.m. Thursday, Parade Ice Garden, Minneapolis): Breck has put up 21 goals in its first two playoff games. Delano has had to squeak out a pair of one-goal victories to get to the section final. Breck beat Delano 6-1 in their regular-season meeting, but that was the season opener, back on Nov. 25.
SECTION 6A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 10 St. Cloud Apollo vs. No. 19 St. Cloud Cathedral (7 p.m. Thursday, M.A.C., St. Cloud): An all-St. Cloud title game, set up by fourth-seeded Apollo knocking off No. 1-seeded and No. 5-ranked Alexandria 4-2 in the section semis. These teams met once in the regular season, Cathedral winning 2-1 on Dec. 9.
SECTION 7A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 1 Hermantown vs. No. 6 Duluth Marshall (7 p.m. Tonight, Amsoil Arena, Duluth): Could this be the year that Hermantown finally wins that elusive state championship? After five consecutive state title-game losses, that's the question that's been asked all season. But just to get to state will be a challenge for the Hilltoppers. Duluth Marshall stands in their way tonight. Hermantown hasn't lost to a Class A school this season and has two wins against Marshall (6-2 and 5-2).
SECTION 8A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 3 East Grand Forks vs. No. 12 Thief River Falls (7 p.m. Thursday, The Gardens, Warroad): Last season, East Grand Forks had both its boys and girls team reach the Class A state championship games. The EGF boys won, while the girls lost. Thief River Falls' girls won the state championship last week. Can the boys follow suit and return to state for the first time since 2012? The Gardens in Warroad will be packed, for sure.
SECTION 2AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 Edina vs. No. 15 Burnsville (6:30 p.m. tonight, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis): Edina hasn't lost since Dec. 4, a 3-1 setback to No. 1 Lakeville North. The Hornets are 23-1-2, including a 3-0 shutout of Burnsville on Dec. 27, and they've won their last six games by a combined score of 32-7.
SECTION 6AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 5 Eden Prairie vs. No. 14 Minnetonka (8:30 p.m. tonight, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis): The second half of an outstanding boys hockey doubleheader features a top-seeded E.P. team that will be short-handed because of this brawl after its 1-0 victory against Benilde-St. Margaret's last Saturday in a section semifinal game. E.P. will be without a first-line forward, a second-line forward and a top-four D-man for tonight's section final. It all makes this THE game to watch tonight in the state.
SECTION 8AA CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 12 Bemidji vs. No. 17 Moorhead (7 p.m. tonight, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Thief River Falls): Moorhead has been to state three times in the past four years. It's been almost 30 years since Bemidji played at the state tournament. The Lumberjacks are seeking their first trip to state since 1986 and, as the top seed in the section, they feel they have the team to break that dryspell. Bemidji beat Moorhead twice during the regular season (4-2 and 3-0) and it has not allowed a goal in two playoff games.