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March 21, 2015

Bear Tracks: Bruins can wrap up division title tonight

Posted by: Feldman

We're just less than an hour away from puck drop at Riverside Arena as I write this.

The NAHL Central Division-leading Austin Bruins (35-11-11) playing host to the last-place Brookings Blizzard (19-28-9). The Bruins are coming off a thoroughly dominant 6-1 victory at Brookings last night. Austin better not have to fight off complacency, though. There's a lot at stake tonight, namely a third consecutive regular-season division championship and home-ice advantage through the playoffs.

Austin will face a Brookings team that is fighting for its season (not that that seemed to matter to the Blizzard last night). Brookings has to win its final four games (three of which are against Austin) and have Aberdeen lose its final three. Very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Not many stranger things, but some.

Evan Smith will make his fourth consecutive start in goal tonight for the Bs. Sounds like Jake Kielly has a minor injury and letting him rest won't hurt. The Bs have -- fortunately -- had a solid goaltending situation all season. Last year, they had to ride Nick Lehr, no matter how he played (which was outstanding most nights).

This year, they can afford to give Kielly and Smith adequate rest. And it's not like either has been overworked. Kielly hasn't played more than five consecutive games this season. Tonight's start will mark Smith's longest consecutive-start stretch of the year, at four games.


How'd they get here?

With it a virtual certainty that Austin will win the division (it can also win it with a Minot loss tonight), let's take a deep breath for a few seconds and think about where this team has come from to get to this point. Every player and coach I've talked to points back to the beginning of the season, when Austin steamrolled its way to the NAHL Showcase championship in mid-September in Blaine.

That gave the Bs a lot of confidence, maybe too much. 

They hit a stretch in October and into November and December where they looked disjointed at best, uninterested at times and just were not a good team. The one thing the coaching staff kept telling me at that point was that there are talented players on this team, they just need to play as a team, play for each other. I'd imagine that's a message that outspoken captain Brian Bachnak kept repeating in the locker room, too.

The coaches and captains kept pounding that message into the players' heads and, not surprisingly, when the calendar flipped to 2015, something flipped in all of the Bruins' heads, too. A lightbulb went on within the team, if you like that cliche.

It's not like the Bruins were awful. They were 17-8-8 after a home loss to Coulee Region on New Year's Eve. But the record didn't necessarily match the level of play from the team for much of the first half.

I've used this stat ad naseum, but it's a very telling number and one that shows just how far this team has come: Since Jan. 1, Austin is 18-3-3, with all three regulation losses coming against Brookings. 

I've asked and asked, coaches and players both, what the difference has been. Nobody can put their finger on any one thing. The most common answer I get: We're playing as a team. That is probably the most logical explanation. A difference line, a different player seems to step up each night. Last night, for example, six players scored once each. Seven different players have scored game-winning goals in the past eight games.

The Bruins aren't overwhelming opponents, but they're finding different ways to win. That's a pretty good recipe for postseason success. If they win tonight, a majority of those postseason games will be here at Riverside.


NAHL Central Division standings
Austin        35-11-11   81
Minot         35-16-6    76
Bismarck    28-25-4    60
Aberdeen   26-29-2    54
Brookings   19-28-9    47


Tonight's starters

Brookings
G 30 Ryan Kubic (10-13-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 save pct.)
D 5 Connor Spetz (2-6--8) / 24 Kris Brun (1-8--9)
F 27 Nate Colwell (9-12--21) / 19 Connor Hutchins (6-9--15) / 7 Zach Glienke (16-21--37)
(scratches: D Gavin Mindt, F Max Rasberg, F Colton Schmidt)

Austin
G 30 Evan Smith (10-1-2, 1.77 GAA, .924 save pct.)
D 28 Jake Arroyo (3-9--12) / 24 Riese Zmolek (0-0--0)
F 13 Trevor Boyd (23-21--44) / 11 Luke Dietsch (9-24--33) / 14 Tony Uglem (21-16--37)
(scratches: D Derek Olmschenk, D Landen Letwin, F Jade Miller)

March 11, 2015

High School Hockey | 2014-15 All-Area Team & POY

Posted by: Feldman

With the high school hockey season in the rearview, and after a couple days to decompress from an outstanding state tournament, it's time to put a close to the local high school season by naming our Sixth Annual Faceoff Blog All-Area Team and Player of the Year.

In what was an OK year for our local and area teams (boys hockey teams in our coverage area include the four Rochester schools, Austin, Dodge County and Red Wing), there were a number of players who jumped out as the best. In fact, our Player of the Year was probably the best player in the Big Nine Conference.

I'll make my annual disclaimer here: The All-Area Team appears only on the Faceoff Blog (not in print or on PostBulletin.com) for a number of reasons, the main one being most of our other writers don't like to do all-area teams because they often become a bigger headache than they're worth. Many times, so many kids' stats are so similar, that it's a no-win situation for us. If we put a point guard who averages 14 points and 7 assists per game on an all-area basketball team, we'll get an earful from mom of kid who averages 15 points and 6 assists.

I'm fair game, though. Rip away if you don't like the team I've put together. I picked it based on who I thought the best players in our coverage area were. Since I don't see every game played, and some teams I only saw once or twice this season, I also went on word of mouth, the things I hear from area coaches during the season. By chatting regularly with coaches, you get a pretty good idea of which players mean the most to their teams, regardless of what the stats say.

And as I've said in past years, there's nothing P.C. about the team (I don't try to balance it out or make sure that every area team is represented equally), it's just a list of who I think the best players in the area were this season.

Let's get to it.

Below you'll find an All-Area First Team, Second Team, a PUC list (Players Under Consideration; my not-so-clever way of saying "honorable mention") and a list of past Players of the Year.

FIRST TEAM

DEFENSEMEN

***PLAYER OF THE YEAR***
Riese Zmolek, senior, Rochester Century (20-21--41)
Our repeat selection as the All-Area Player of the Year, Zmolek was the fourth-leading scorer in the city, as a defenseman. He was hands-down the most versatile player I saw this year in our area. He has all the tools to compete at higher levels. He played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League last fall, and he hit the ground running for the high school season. He finished with a career-best 41 points and capped his prep career with 103 total points, an amazing stat for a D-man, but even more astounding considering Zmolek missed half of his sophomore season with an injury.
Here's an evaluation one junior hockey scout gave me on Zmolek: "We watched him at the start of the Elite League season and thought 'I don't know, he has a ways to go.' We went back and watched him toward the end of the Elite League season and he popped. He can do it all. He should be in the USHL next season and he can play at the D-I (college) level."
Just a few days after the conclusion of his high school career, Zmolek moved over to Austin, where he'll finish the season with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League. He was thrown right into the fire there, playing in all situations, including being sent out to kill a 5-on-3 disadvantage in the final two minutes of his second game back with the team (he played four games for the Bruins prior to the high school season).

Griff Slightam, senior, Rochester Lourdes (8-7--15)
For a second consecutive season, the skilled and big, physical d-man was hampered by injuries. Slightam missed his entire junior season due to an injury he suffered during the football season. He also missed half of his senior season because of injuries, yet put up 15 points from the blue line, and served as basically another assistant coach for the Eagles while sidelined. The fifth-year varsity player played in three state tournaments. He was at his best late in the season, recording four points in two playoff games. His two late-third period goals helped Lourdes rally to beat Mankato East in overtime of a Section 1A first-round game. He is tendered with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League.

FORWARDS

Logan Haskins, senior, Rochester Mayo (22-25--47)
The only repeat First Team forward, Haskins led the city in scoring for a second consecutive season. The diminutive, slick-skating playmaker finished his three-year varsity career with 116 points and he put up at least one point in 23 of Mayo's 26 games this season. He also had 13 multi-point games this season, playing on a line that combined for 125 points.

Jake Roth, senior, Rochester Century (19-25--44)
The runner-up for the city scoring title, Roth piled up 117 career points over four seasons on Century's varsity. That total includes 82 points over the past two seasons. Roth played mutliple roles for the Panthers. He wasn't afraid to dig in the corners and battle for the puck, and wasn't afraid to go to the front of the net and score gritty goals. He could make plays, too, as indicated by his 25 assists -- a total that matches Haskins for the most in Rochester this season.

Anthony Oliveto, sophomore, Rochester Mayo (26-17--43)
The city's goal-scoring champ finished third in points in Rochester, behind only Haskins and Roth. Just a sophomore, Oliveto already has 67 career varsity points. The big, skilled forward led Rochester with 26 goals and finished his sophomore season on a nine-game point streak. 

GOALIE

Jack Burkel, senior, Rochester Lourdes (5-18-2, 2.80 GAA, .901 save pct., 3 shutouts
The veteran goalie was far better than his record indicates. The goals-against average and save percentage tell a more accurate story. In 17 of his 25 starts, Burkel allowed three goals or less. Lourdes scored more than three goals in a game just four times all season, so Burkel had to be sharp each night out. He gave his team a chance to win nearly every game it played, including a narrow season-ending 2-1 loss to top-seeded New Prague -- the eventual section champ -- in a Section 1A quarterfinal game.

* * * * *

SECOND TEAM

DEFENSEMEN
Dakota Streit, senior, Rochester Lourdes (4-11--15): Played the "Ryan Suter" role for the Eagles, eating big chunks of ice time on a nightly basis, all while being the team's most steady defenseman on both ends of the ice.
Will Zmolek, sophomore, Rochester Century (5-12--17): By the mid-point of his first varsity season, he was as reliable as any defenseman in the Big Nine. Rarely was beaten or caught out of position. Wasn't asked to do a lot of scoring, but finished with 17 points, a good total for a young d-man.

FORWARDS
Ethan Moore, senior, Rochester Mayo (12-23--35): Had at least a point in 20 of Mayo's 26 games this season. Totaled six points in three games at the Kiwanis Festival as Mayo captured the tournament championship in late December.
Cory Checco, sophomore, Rochester JM (15-16--31): Led the Rockets in goals, assists and points in his second varsity season. Had at least one point in 21 of JM's 26 games. He'll go into his junior season with 56 career points.
Tyler Defore, sophomore, Red Wing (21-13--34): One of just four 20-goal scorers in our area, the sophomore was his team's leading scorer and finished the season strong. He had 14 points over the final eight games, including four points in a playoff win against Waseca.

GOALIE
Chris Wileman, senior, Rochester Mayo (16-8-1, 2.98 GAA, .871 save pct., 2 shutouts): The senior had a strong start to his season, recording a shutout in his varsity debut. He finished the season with a sub-3.00 GAA and helped Mayo earn a home playoff game.

* * * * *

PUC (Players Under Consideration)
Forwards
* Tucker Chapman, soph., Rochester Lourdes (17-7--24)
* Brady Dahl, junior, Rochester JM (14-9--23)
* Dylan Goggin, senior, Red Wing (18-15--33)
* Sam Hanson, junior, Red Wing (17-16--33)
* Nic Leisen, sophomore, Dodge County (11-14--25)

Defensemen
* Josh Frerks, junior, Rochester JM (5-9--14)
* James Johnston, senior, Rochester Mayo (7-12--19)
* Alex Ney, senior, Rochester Century (12-7--19)

Goalies
* Adam Defore, senior, Red Wing (8-18-1, 3.98 GAA, .873 save pct.)
* Brady Meyers, junior, Rochester JM (9-13-0, 3.31 GAA, .886 save pct., 1 SO)
* Cole Walter, freshman, Rochester Century (8-3-1, 2.96 GAA, .872 save pct., 1 SO)

* * * * *

FACEOFF BLOG ALL-AREA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
* 2015: Riese Zmolek, senior, D, Rochester Century
* 2014: Riese Zmolek, junior, D, Rochester Century
* 2013: Alex Funk and Jason Samuelson, seniors, F, Rochester Lourdes
* 2012: Alex Funk, junior, F, Rochester Lourdes
* 2011: Rory Vesel, senior, D, Rochester Lourdes
* 2010: No POY (the inaugural all-area team didn't include a POY)

* * * * *

BELOWTwo All-Area First Team players battle during a Section 1AA quarterfinal game at Graham I on Feb. 19. Mayo's Logan Haskins, left, attempts to carry the puck around Century's Riese Zmolek. (Photo credit to Post-Bulletin's Scott Jacobson)

Haskins RZmolek

March 05, 2015

Boys Hockey | The Tourney '15: Breaking down the Class AA field

Posted by: Feldman

What better way for The Tourney '15 to start than by earning the No. 1 play on SportsCenter's Top 10 and having the final game of the day decided on a good goal in OT?

Your move, Class AA.

The big boys start today in front of a sold out Xcel Energy Center, when 98 percent of the state (that number may be low) cheers on Bemidji against No. 2-seeded Edina in what could be a tremendous opening game.

Before we break down the AA games, here are some links to stories from yesterday's Class A quarterfinals and some links to Class AA tournament preview stories:

* Defending state champs knock off Section 1 champ New Prauge (Grand Forks Herald)

* Hermantown breezes into Class A semis (Duluth News Tribune)

* Hermantown is a loose group this year (Star Tribune)

* A young Duluth East team is proving its doubters wrong (Duluth News Tribune)

* Section 1AA champ Lakeville North in pursuit of perfection (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

* Everyone in Minnesota might be thinking about a potential Lakeville North-Edina matchup, except North and Edina (Star Tribune)

* The legacy of the 1990s Bloomington Jefferson powerhouse teams could be matched this weekend. (Pioneer Press)

• • •

CLASS AA STATE QUARTERFINALS
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

11 a.m.  Bemidji (23-3-2) vs. No. 2 Edina (24-1-2)

Overview: Bemidji has posted shutouts in seven of its past 10 games and has allowed a total of three goals in that stretch. However, all of the Lumberjacks players were at least a decade from being born the last time Bemidji made state (1986). Edina has been to nine consecutive state tournaments and has the two highest-scoring players in the field, Dylan Malmquist and Garrett Wait, a Gophers commit, both who have 71 points.

Bemidji leaders: Sr. Jake Leitner (22-25--47); Jr. Nick Leitner (7-8--15); Sr. goalie Grant Tharaldson (16-2-2, 1.28 GAA, .928 save pct.).

Edina leaders: Sr. Dylan Malmquist (28-43--71); Jr. Garrett Wait (23-48--71); Sr. Paul Meyer (4-18--22); Sr. goalie Kobi Boe (21-1-2, 1.68, .914).

The pick: As much as many Minnesotans would like to see Bemidji open the day with an upset, it's difficult to pick against Edina this time of year: Edina 3, Bemidji 1 (en).

• • •

1 p.m.  Duluth East (14-10-4) vs. No. 3 St. Thomas Academy (24-4-0)

Overview: Duluth East is in its seventh consecutive state tournament and 22nd overall. It hasn't beaten another state tournament team this season, but will play a puck possession game and attempt to keep the score down. STA is making its first Class AA tournament appearance after making eight in Class A, including winning five titles.

East leaders: Sr. Nick Altmann (14-13--27); Jr. Ash Altmann (10-14--24); Sr. goalie Gunnar Howg (10-6-4, 2.46, .904).

STA leaders: Sr. Alec Broetzman (35-31--66); Sr. Christiano Versich (24-42--66); Sr. Peter Tufto (30-42--72); Sr. D Seamus Donohue (5-34--39); Sr. goalie Matt Snow (17-3, 1.92, .912).

The pick: East is 0-5 against tournament teams this season. That won't change in the opener: STA 5, East 3.

• • •

6 p.m.  Hill-Murray (21-7-0) vs. No. 1 Lakeville North (28-0-0)

Overview: Hill is back at state for a third time in four years. It was upset in the section final last year by Stillwater, but avenged that loss in this year's section semifinals. North won't sneak up on anyone in the state this year. Led by six Division I commits, the Panthers are unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in the state and seeded No. 1 in the tournament. They haven't lost in almost a year, since an 8-2 loss to Edina in last year's state championship game.

H-M leaders: Sr. Zach Mills (23-21--44); Sr. Davis Zarembinski (7-19--26); So. Marko Reifenberger (19-21--40); So. goalie Jake Begley (11-2, 1.39, .925).

North leaders: Sr. Jack Poehling (34-35--69); Sr. Nick Poehling (32-31--63); So. Ryan Poehling (15-32--47); Jr. Max Johnson (17-30--47); Jr. goalie Ryan Edquist (26-0, 1.30, .940).

The pick: Would this really be considered a huge upset if Hill was to win? It won 21 games this season against a tough schedule and has a pair of 40-point scorers. Hill will give North a run, but ultimately the Panthers' depth and goalie play will carry them through to the semis: North 4, H-M 1.

• • •

8 p.m.  No. 5 Eden Prairie (18-9-0) vs. No. 4 Blaine (22-5-1)

Overview: E.P. lost 13 seniors from last year's team, including a pair of Mr. Hockey candidates. It hasn't skipped a beat, though, and has two Division I commits -- Michael Graham (UMD) and Casey Mittlestadt (Minnesota). Blaine has a first-year head coach and lost 15 seniors off last year's team. But aside from top-seeded North, it might be the hottest team in the state. It hasn't lost in its past 17 games (16-0-1), allowing less than 30 goals in that span. Its leading scorer, Riley Tufte, is a UMD commit.

E.P. leaders: Soph. Casey Mittlestadt (24-26--50); Jr. Michael Graham (23-23--46); Sr. D Andy Aguilar (1-15-16); Sr. goalie Shaun Durocher (14-7, 2.70, .904).

Blaine leaders: Jr. Riley Tufte (27-32--59); Jr. Luke Notermann (26-29--55); Sr. Easton Brodzinski (30-21--51); Jr. goalie Jon Kallestad (12-2-1, 2.21, .920); Jr. goalie junior Ridge Gerads (10-3-0, 2.15, .914).

The pick: Blaine hasn't lost since Jan. 2. That streak might not make it through the weekend, but it makes it through tonight: Blaine 5, Eden Prairie 4.

• • •

STATE SEMIFINALS

Edina vs. STA: The heads of hockey fans around the state might explode having to watch these two powerhouse programs that, ummmm, aren't the most-liked teams around, face off with a spot in the state title game on the line. Could Edina draw support from the fans as the public school in this battle? Could STA draw support as the former Class A team that moved up to face the big dogs? Could fans just hope for a double-countout and have the title awarded to the winner of the other semifinal? Probably not, there has to be a winner: Edina 4, STA 3 (OT).

North vs. Blaine: Don't count out the Bengals in this one. Watching North in the Section 1AA tournament, it took 6-7 minutes to get up to full speed. North doesn't take a lot of shots, but it works for good ones. I'd be tempted to call an upset here, but I love the way North goalie Ryan Edquist plays. He'll be the difference in this one: North 4, Blaine 1 (en).

• • •

STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

It's the rematch everybody wanted ... well, some people wanted. I like this North team a lot. It does things the right way. It makes the smart play, moves the puck well and has the chemistry that the great teams always have. Edina has only lost once all season, though, that coming against North, back in the first week of December. As much as I'd love to see North represent Section 1 and bring a state title back to Lakeville with it, it is incredibly difficult to go unbeaten in Minnesota high school hockey: Edina 3, North 2.

March 04, 2015

Boys Hockey | The Tourney '15: Breaking down the Class A field

Posted by: Feldman

I have to start today with a mea culpa.

I'm not pround of this, but I scheduled a dentist appointment for 11:20 this morning. The Tourney '15 begins at 11 a.m.

*currently hanging my head in shame*

Thankfully, DVRs exist, and The Tourney can be found on KAAL 6.2 or Charter Cable 192 in Rochester. It's also available for $5/day on Prep45.com. So I'll be having my gums poked while New Ulm and Mahtomedi are opening tournament play this morning.

I haven't seen Mahtomedi play this season, but it's the team I'm most looking forward to watching in the Class A field. The Zephyrs are the No. 2 seed, with a 24-2-2 record, and hold some impressive victories this season (Cretin, Breck, STA, Hill-Murray). They also have one of the top scorers in the tournament -- junior F Jack Becker, who has 25 goals and 60 total points this year.

Mahtomedi hasn't lost to a Class A school -- just like top seed Hermantown -- and hasn't lost since Jan. 8. It also has avenged its only two losses this season (Hill and STA). I wouldn't be shocked if the Zephyrs are lifting the big trophy on Saturday afternoon.

Oops, did I give away a prediction already? No, of course not. Or did I? Who knows. I'm not even sure, because I change my mind every minute and my pick to win will change six times before this post is done. Keep reading and I'll make my picks at the end of this post.

Before we get into the matchups, here is the state tournament preview that ran in the Post-Bulletin print edition on Tuesday. It includes a story on Lakeville North junior goalie Ryan Edquist, a Gophers commit who has been dominant this season.

As I wrote in a previous blog, I'm not great at breaking down goalie play, but I know a good one when I see one. Edquist is most definitely one. He not only is always in the right spot to make a save, but he is incredibly adept at playing and passing the puck.

Tomorrow, we'll break down the AA tourney and on Saturday we'll have our annual P-B Faceoff Blog All-Area Boys Hockey Team and Player of the Year.

Before we get to the matchups, here are some links to previews and stories about The Tourney from around the state:

* Again, my tournament preview, including a story on North's Ryan Edquist, and a little bit on New Prague's first-round matchup, plus tournament TV and ticket info, and a "By the Numbers" bit with a fact on each of the teams in The Tourney.

* A great piece from the Star Tribune's David LaVaque on Duluth East and tourney legend Dave Spehar, who put together perhaps the single-most impressive performance by an individual in the history of The Tourney.

* Mahtomedi's confidence soared after beating Hill-Murray and STA in a two-week span (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

* As I mentioned in my preview, Breck goalie Stephen Headrick has been outstanding this season, allowing less than 1.4 goals per game. (MNHockeyHub.com)

* Kevin Hartzell at Let's Play Hockey fittingly calls this week Homecoming Week in Minnesota

* The Duluth News Tribune asks the same question we've been asking for almost a decade: Is this finally Hermantown's year?

* The defending state champions from East Grand Forks are back at The Tourney, but without four star defensemen who anchored the team last season (Grand Forks Herald)

I'm running out of time before puck drop for the opener (I believe it's officially set for 11:17 a.m.), so let's get to the matchups:

CLASS A STATE QUARTERFINALS
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

11 a.m.  New Ulm (18-8-2) vs. No. 2 seed Mahtomedi (24-2-2)

Overview: Give New Ulm credit. Everyone just assumed the Section 3 champ would be Luverne. Many of us put that not in pencil, but in ink, leading up to the postseason. But New Ulm figured out a way to outscore Luverne and win the section title game 7-5 to get back to state. The Eagles have three 25-plus goal scorers, and one 30-goal scorer, Ethan Kraus (33-19--52). Mahtomedi can't overlook those guys or they'll pay for it. Mahtomedi is at state for the first time since 2010 and has its top eight scorers back from last season. The Zephyrs feature four players with 34 or more points and they haven't lost since Jan. 8.

N.U. leaders: Sr. Colin Huffman (26-36--62); Sr. Brandon Helget (26-36--62); Jr. Ethan Kraus (33-19--52); Sr. goalie Senior Matt Berkner (17-6-2, 2.31 GAA, .907 save pct.)

Mahtomedi leaders: Jr. Jack Becker (25-35--60); Sr. Kellen Campbell (17-23--40); Jr. Jack Heinsch (19-19--38); Jr. goalie Will Swanson (24-2-2, 2.24, .910)

The pick: This Mahtomedi team is deep and balanced, and it's playing with a load of confidence right now after some big wins over top Class AA schools (state tourney entrants Hill-Murray and STA) in the second half of the season: Mahtomedi 6, New Ulm 1.

• • •

1 p.m.  New Prague (20-8-0) vs. No. 3 East Grand Forks (23-4-0)

Overview: New Prague returns to state for a second consecutive season and second time overall. The Trojans had a couple of tough games in the Section 1 tourney, surviving a 2-1 game against eighth-seeded Rochester Lourdes in the quarterfinals, then outlasting Northfield 2-1 in the title game. Likewise, defending state champ EGF had to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to force OT and beat Thief River Falls 4-3 to get back to state. New Prague will have to find some scoring depth if it hopes to advance. EGF senior F Dixon Bowen (56 pts) is a Mr. Hockey finalist and one point from setting the program's single season scoring record.

N.P. leaders: Jr. Alex Gregor (31-24--55); Sr. Ben Witt (13-31--44); Jr. Zach Davis (16-24--40); Sr. goalie Conner Wagner (19-8-0, 2.13 GAA, .912 save pct.)

EGF leaders: Sr. Dixon Bowen (25-31-56); Jr. Tanner Tweten (19-23-42); Jr. Grant Loven (11-17-28); goalie Josh Weber (16-3-0, 1.51, .925); goalie Garrett Lieberg (7-1-0, 1.80, .920)

The pick: EGF lost some talented players from last season, but the Green Wave play a tough schedule and they still have a lot of guys back from last season, including senior forward and Mr. Hockey finalist Dixon Bowen: EGF 4, New Prague 2.

• • •

6 p.m.  Spring Lake Park (16-11-1) vs. No. 1 Hermantown (25-2-1)

Overview: SLP is making its first-ever state tournament appearance and, as the luck of the draw went, it got matched up with top-seeded and ticked-off Hermantown. H'town has lost in the past five state championship games, including a 7-3 loss to East Grand Forks last year. SLP is a defensive-minded team, as evidenced by its 5-0 shutout victory against Chisago Lake in its section championship game.

SLP leaders: Sr. Jacob Nystrom (28-28--56); Sr. Deven Sunell (23-31--54); Jr. Zach Benson (4-18--22); Jr. goalie Aaron Furlano (16-10-1, 2.98 GAA, .903 save pct).

Hermantown leaders: Sr. Ryan Kero (29-37--66); Sr. Nate Pionk (31-32--63); Jr. Cole Koepke (20-22--42); Jr. goalie Luke Olson (21-1-1, 1.51, .932).

The pick: This is a game Hermantown should win. And the Hawks generally don't lose games they're supposed to win. Nothing different here: Hermantown 7, SLP 1.

• • •

8 p.m.  No. 5 St. Cloud Apollo (22-4-2) vs. No. 4 Breck (21-7-0)

Overview: This should be the best matchup of the opening round, and, of course, the latest-starting. Generally the "8 p.m." game actually sees the puck drop about 8:45 p.m. Remember waiting all day for a couple of these games, Lourdes fans? It's hard to say what the long day and wait will do to the players, who have to keep their minds and bodies busy for a full day, but don't want to wear themselves down. Watch for this game to come down to goaltending. Breck's Stephen Headrick (1.29 GAA) and SCA's Nick Althaus (1.47 GAA) have been almost unbeatable this season.

SCA leaders: Jr. D Tanner Breidenbach (10-25--35); Sr. Jason Omann (18-15--33); Jr. Gino Lucia (17-15--32); Jr. Tyler Scott (18-15--33); Jr. goalie Nick Althaus (20-4--2, 1.47 GAA, .917 save pct.).

Breck leaders: Jr. Chase Ellingson (25-21-46); Jr. Will Blake (12-21--33); Sr. goalie Stephen Headrick (21-7-0, 1.29 GAA, .931 save pct.).

The pick: Breck's goaltender, Stephen Headrick, has been outstanding all season, allowing 38 goals in 28 games. That means Apollo will have to keep this close to have a chance. They'll do it, and they'll get the break they need in extra time to advance to the semis: St. Cloud Apollo 2, Breck 1, OT.

• • •

STATE SEMIFINALS

• Mahotomedi vs. East Grand Forks: EGF has a bunch of talented players, including a Mr. Hockey finalist in Dixon Bowen. The Green Wave lost four really talented defensemen from last season, though (two in the USHL, two in the NAHL) and that will show here: Mahtomedi 5, EGF 3.

Hermantown vs. St. Cloud Apollo: Hermantown coach Bruce Plante told the Duluth News Tribune that his team has been very even-keeled this season, not a lot of ups and downs. That poise and experience will show this week: Hermantown 5, SCA 2.

• • •

STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

Hermantown vs. Mahtomedi: I haven't gone out on much of a limb with these picks, I know, but history has shown that coaches know what they're doing when it comes to seeding teams in The Tourney, especially in the first round. It gets a little more even after the first day, and a little more difficult to pick winners. Count me in the group of Tourney watchers who would love to see Bruce Plante and Hermantown snap their streak of losses in the title game. BUT, Mahtomedi has been outstanding all season, too, and their wins in the second half of the season have been quite impressive. The Zephyrs are deep and led by one of the tourney's top scorers, junior F Jack Becker (25-35--60). They'll make the most of their first tourney appearance since 2010: Mahtomedi 4, Hermantown 3.

February 27, 2015

Junior Hockey | Bear Tracks: The weekend ahead for the Austin Bruins

Posted by: Feldman

I know I'm pushing this right up against game time, but, hey better a little early than never, right? Right.

Should we really be surprised that there are five weeks to go in the regular season and the Austin Bruins are starting to play their best hockey? It's been a theme under head coach Chris Tok over the first five years of the Bruins' existence.

After winning two games in extra time at the Midwest Division-leading Minnesota Wilderness last weekend, the Bruins again control their own destiny in their pursuit of a third consecutive NAHL Central Division regular-season championship.They also became the first Central team to wrap up a playoff spot. If the Bs win both games this weekend against Aberdeen (7:05 p.m. tonight, Saturday) at Riverside Arena, and Bismarck loses twice in regulation against the Wilderness, the Bruins will clinch home ice in the first round of the NAHL playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest sign that things have turned around for the Bs is their success in extra-time games as of late. They've won four of their past five games that have gone to OT or a shootout, dating back to Jan. 21. Prior to this stretch, Austin had won just three of 13 extra-time games this season.

Every point is crucial in the standings for teams in a very competitive Central Division. The Bruins have done a nice job of grabbing those extra points over the past month. 

Austin (29-10-11, 69 points) has a five-point lead over Minot (29-13-6, 64 points). Minot has 12 games remining, while Austin has just 10. But even if Minot won those two games they have in hand, that still would put them a point back of the Bruins. 

The Bruins' coaches won't let the players get caught up in counting points and chasing points. Still too much time left for that. They just need to keep playing the way they're playing. If they do, we'll see a lot of playoff hockey at Riverside again this spring.

Check out just how good Austin has been since the calendar flipped to 2015:

* In their 17 games since the start of January, the Bruins are 12-2-3 overall.

* Eight of those games have gone to OT or a shootout, with Austin winning five. 

* Five times in those 17 games, Austin has scored more than five goals.

* In the two regulation losses (both against last-place Brookings), the Bs outshot Brookings by a combined 17 shots on goal.

* Austin has outscored its opponents 66-38 over the past 17 games.

All those things considered, the Bruins can't let up. As you'll note in the next-to-last bullet point, their two regulation losses in 2015 came against Brookings, a team battling to stay out of the Central Division basement, a team that could potentially be the Bruins' first-round playoff opponent.

This weekend, Austin gets the team that Brookings is trying to track down for the final playoff spot from the division, the Aberdeen Wings.

Aberdeen is 23-24-2, and with 48 points is five points up on Brookings for that last playoff spot. That means the Bruins should get a hungry Wings team. If Austin doesn't match Aberdeen's intensity and play with the same kind of urgency, the Bs will have Minot breathing right down their necks.

Some quick notes before we break down this weekend's series:

* Former Bruins goalie Nick Lehr made his college debut on Thursday night for Minnesota in its 5-3 victory against Michigan State. It sounds like Gophers' starter Adam Wilcox will be good to go for tonight's series finale, but Lehr showed he can play at the highest level, settling in after a shaky start.

* Former Bruin A.J. Reid is the fourth-leading scorer for the Air Force Academy Falcons. He has seven goals and 24 points through 35 games for Air Force (13-18-4).

* Goalie Zach Driscoll, who started the season with Bruins before being called up to the USHL, is 6-2-1 for the Omaha Lancers with a 2.79 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage. Driscoll is a St. Cloud State University commit.

* * * * *

THIS WEEKEND'S SERIES

ABERDEEN WINGS at AUSTIN BRUINS
7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Riverside Arena

Records: Austin 29-10-11 (69 pts., 1st in NAHL Central), Aberdeen 23-24-2 (48 pts., 4th in NAHL Central)
Head coaches: Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 184-104-30 overall); Aberdeen, Francis Anzalone (1st season, 23-24-2 overall)
Wings top scorers: F Kyle Haak (14-29--43); F Michael Soucier (16-19--35); F Bjorn Sigurdarson (11-10--21); D Tanner Okeson (6-14--20).
Wings goalies: Andrew Shortridge (15-11-1, 2.53 GAA, .915 save pct.); Tanner Elmore (0-0-0, 0.00, .000); Luke Kania (0-0-0, 0.00, .000).
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (19-20--39); F Alex Pettersson (7-26--33); F Tony Uglem (18-14--32); F Nico Sturm (10-22--32); F Luke Dietsch (7-23--30); D Ian Scheid (10-14--24); D Cory Dunn (4-20--24).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (17-4-6, 2.21 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (6-1-2, 2.02, .923).

TALE OF THE TAPE

Records (points): Austin 29-10-11 (69); Aberdeen 23-24-2 (48)
Advantage: Bruins

Head-to-head (points earned): Bruins 3-0-3 (9); Aberdeen 2-3-1 (5)

Offense: Austin 3.32 goals per game; Aberdeen 2.35 gpg
Advantage: Bruins

Defense: Austin 2.44 goals allowed per game; Aberdeen 2.80 gapg
Advantage: Bruins

Power play (league rank): Austin 14.3 pct. (19th); Aberdeen 16.6 pct. (11th)
Advantage: Wings

Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.3 pct. (1st); Aberdeen 84.8 (7th)
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .904; Aberdeen .906 
Advantage: Wings

SERIES NOTES

Keep an eye on the players from each team who participated in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament earlier this week, Monday and Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Trevor Boyd, Luke Dietsch, Ian Scheid and Cory Dunn represented the Bruins, while Aberdeen sent forwards Kyle Haak and Bjorn Sigurdarson. That's a lot of travel and play in a short period of time; by the time Saturday's game in Austin has finished, those guys will all have played six games in nine days. ... Aberdeen traded standout goalie Chad Catt to the Soo Eagles two weeks ago (Catt actually played for Team Central at the Top Prospects Tourney this week, as he had been named to the Central team prior to the trade). The Wings look like they'll ride Andrew Shortridge (15-11-1, 2.53 GAA, .915 save pct.) the rest of the way. They have three other goalies on the roster, none who appeared to have played in the NAHL this season. ... Six different players have scored game-winning goals for Austin in the past seven games. 

THE CALL

The Bruins haven't lost a home game in regulation since a 3-1 setback to Brookings on Jan. 3, a span of 55 days. The Bruins' coaching staff has this team playing almost exactly how it wants to at this stage of the season. The close race for the division title should help the Bs from becoming complacent. And, as you likely know, if they look complacent one night, coaches Chris Tok and Jamie Huffman will make sure they do not look complacent two nights in a row. Aberdeen has been far better at home (15-8-1) than on the road (8-16-1) this season. Add all that up and it feels like a good weekend for the Bruins and their fans in their home barn. The call: Bruins 5-2, Bruins 5-3.

February 25, 2015

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

Posted by: Feldman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The call: Northfield 2, New Prague 1.

* * * * * 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The call: North 5, Farmington 1.

* * * * * *

AROUND THE STATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2015

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

Posted by: Feldman

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

TODAY'S GAMES

SECTION 1AA

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

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

-----

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

* * * * * * * * *

SECTION 1A

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

- - - - - - - - - -

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

* * * * * * * * *

AROUND THE STATE

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

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

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

---

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

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

 

 

February 20, 2015

Junior Hockey | Bear Tracks: The weekend ahead for the Austin Bruins

Posted by: Feldman

Six weeks remain in the North American Hockey League regular season and, though the Austin Bruins have taken over first place in the Central Division, things get no easier this weekend for the Bs.

After splitting a home-and-home series with the last-place Brookings Blizzard last weekend, the Bruins have a two-game set at North Division leader Minnesota Wilderness this weekend (7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, in Cloquet).

Austin's 4-1 loss at Brookings last Friday snapped the Bruins' 11-game unbeaten streak. They responded nicely on Saturday -- something they haven't always done this season -- with a 7-1 win at home against Brookings last Saturday. Bruins captain Brian Bachnak had his first NAHL hat trick in that game.

The Bruins (27-10-11) are 1-2-1 against the Wilderness (32-10-4) this season. The two regulation losses came back on Nov. 21-22 at Cloquet. The teams will meet this weekend, then again in a two-game series in Austin on March 13-14.

Aside from a home series against Aberdeen next weekend, the Bruins face only the Wilderness and Brookings the rest of the way.

A couple of links to check out before we get to this weekend's matchup breakdown:

* Bruins play-by-play man John Peterson wrote a piece this week for the Bruins' website on former Bs forward C.J. Smith, who is having a strong freshman season at UMass-Lowell. Smith is part of an Austin-to-Lowell pipeline that includes current Wild defenseman Christian Folin, as well as Lucas Kohls (also a freshman at UML this season) and Guillaume Leclerc, who is committed to Lowell and playing with Madison in the USHL this season.

* Bachnak made the NAHL Plays of the Week highlight video for his goal 9 seconds into a period on Saturday. Bachnak's highlight starts at about the 3:44 mark of this video.

On to this weekend's series...

AUSTIN BRUINS at MINNESOTA WILDERNESS
7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday
At Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet

Records: Austin 27-10-11, 65 points, 1st in NAHL Central Division; Wilderness 32-10-4, 68 points, 1st in NAHL North Division.
Head coaches: Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 182-104-30 overall); Wilderness, Corey Millen (2nd season, 71-27-13 overall).
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (19-20--39); F Alex Pettersson (7-25--32); F Tony Uglem (16-14--30); F Luke Dietsch (7-23--30); F Nico Sturm (10-19--29); D Ian Scheid (10-13--23).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (15-4-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct.); Evan Smith (6-1-2, 2.02, .923).
Wilderness top scorers: F Aaron Miller (11-30--41); F Darian Romanko (22-17--39); F Tyler Cline (20-17--37); D Ivan Chukarov (9-25--34); F Niklas Lehtimaki (19-13--32).
Wilderness goalies: Ryan Anderson (21-6-3, 2.20, .897); Brock Kautz (10-4-1, 2.09, .916).

TALE OF THE TAPE

Record (points): Austin 27-10-11 (65), Wilderness 32-10-4 (68)
Advantage: Wilderness

Head-to-head (points earned): Wilderness 3-0-1 (7), Austin 1-2-1 (3)
Advantage: Wilderness

Offense: Austin 3.27, Wilderness 3.48
Advantage: Wilderness

Defense: Austin 2.40, Wilderness 2.33
Advantage: Wilderness

Power play (league rank): Austin 13.8 pct. (18th); Wilderness 24.5 pct. (3)
Advantage: Wilderness

Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.5 pct. (1st); Wilderness 83.7 pct. (10)
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .906 save pct.; Wilderness .898
Advantage: Bruins

SERIES NOTES

The Bruins can clinch a playoff spot with two victories and two Brookings losses this weekend. ... The Wilderness haven't lost in regulation, going 3-0-1 vs. the Bruins so far this season. The teams have four meetings remaining, counting tonight's game. ... Wilderness goalie Brock Kautz is a former Rochester Century standout, who is in his fifth season in the NAHL. He has played in 118 career games for Owatonna, Janesville and the Wilderness, and has a career record of 53-49-12, with six shutouts, a 2.72 GAA and a .912 save pct. ... Ryan Anderson has started every game except one in goal for Minnesota since Nov. 26. ... Tyler Cline has scored the game-winning goal in three of the past four games for the Wilderness. ... The Bruins are 9-1-3 in their past 14 games. Alex Jasiek has three game-winning goals in that span. ... Both teams are nearly unbeatable when they score first; the Bruins are 18-2-5, while the Wilderness are a remarkable 26-2-2. ... The Bruins haven't lost this season when leading after two periods. They're 20-0-5 in those games.

THE CALL

The Bruins got a wake-up call last Friday against Brookings, who snapped the Bs 11-game unbeaten streak with a 4-1 win. Austin responded on Saturday with one of their most impressive performances of the season in a 7-1 victory. Both of these teams are playing very well and both are holding slim leads atop their division standings (Austin leads Minot by three points, the Wilderness lead Fairbanks by one point). The Wilderness won twice in regulation against the Bruins the last time these teams met in Cloquet, but that was late November, when a Bruins team full of guys who were new to Austin was trying to find its identity. Austin seems to have found it: It's not a team that's going to win many games in blowouts, but it is a deep team that can feel comfortable rolling any of four lines or three defensive pairings. It also has two goalies playing very well. The Wilderness are playing quite well, too, going 8-1-1 in their past 10, and they're on their home ice. Both teams get some points this weekend. The call: Wilderness 5, Bruins 3 (en); Bruins 3, Wilderness 2 (OT).

February 19, 2015

High School Hockey Today: The Section 1 tournaments roll on

Posted by: Feldman

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

TONIGHT'S GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

Lourdes is playing with confidence

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

February 17, 2015

High School Hockey | Breaking down the Section 1A tournament

Posted by: Feldman

This will serve as an extended version of High School hockey today. The Section 1A tournament begins with five first-round games tonight (I cringe when they are called play-ins; they're tournament games, just like quarterfinals and semifinals), so we'll take a look here at the wide-open 1A tourney.

I'll preview the Section 1AA tournament in Wednesday's P-B and take a look at that bracket here on the blog either Wednesday or Thursday (it's safe to say that tournament is not as wide-open as 1A).

This should be as fun as any Section 1A tourney in recent memory. Last year's was enjoyable to watch, too, particularly the well-played section title game between New Prague and Mankato West, where New Prague built a 3-0 lead through two periods then held off a furious charge by West in the third.

Could we see a rematch of that title game? Absolutely.

Could we see two different teams in this year's title game? Absolutely.

I have been looking at the bracket since it came out Sunday and I think every time I look at and pick winners in my head, the results are different.

First, some hockey-related links to stories from around the area and the state:

* Here is my preview of the Section 1A tournament, including a short look at the top seeds and the local teams, as well as three players who could have a big impact on the tournament.

* The girls hockey state tournament begins Wednesday. Red Wing is going for a fifth consecutive season and it's bringing its deepest defensive corps.

* The Star Tribune looks at each of the 16 boys hockey sections in one sentence each.

* Mankato Free Press hockey writer Shane Frederick writes that Mankato East seniors are looking to win the first playoff game of their high school careers, and Mankato West hopes to navigate a competitive Section 1A tournament and get to the state tournament.

* * * * *

As for the Section 1A bracket, it had to be fun to be part of the seeding meeting.

Maybe the only clear-cut decision was New Prague earning the No. 1 seed by going 6-0-0 against section opponents.

Every other team had some wins and losses along the way that could have justified moving them up or down. For example, Mankato West was awarded the No. 2 seed, which they earned and deserved, but the Scarlets lost to LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter, Faribault and Red Wing, and tied Rochester Lourdes, all teams seeded below them.

The seeds played out like this: 1-New Prague, 2-West, 3-Northfield, 4-Faribault, 5-L-H/SP, 6-Red Wing, 7-Albert Lea, 8-Lourdes, 9-East, 10-La Crescent, 11-Waseca, 12-Winona, 13-Austin.

If I had a vote, this is how I had them ranked: 1-New Prague, 2-West, 3-Faribault, 4-Northfield, 5-LHSP, 6-East, 7-Albert Lea, 8-Red Wing, 9-Lourdes, 10-LaCrescent, 11-Waseca, 12-Winona, 13-Austin.

It just goes to show that there was a lot of wiggle room for those teams from about Nos. 6-10.

I also had Faribault ahead of Northfield because they split during the regular season and Faribault finished ahead of Northfield in the Big 9. But I have no problem with Northfield being the 3, as you'll see at the end of this post.

* East was the one team I was way off about. My guess is the Cougars' 1-5-0 record down the stretch didn't help their seed, but I was looking at their wins against Albert Lea (twice), Faribault, Red Wing and L-H/SP. They also lost to Faribault, Red Wing and L-H/SP late in the season, so that justifies East as the No. 9 seed. As I looked through results, I wished Lourdes and East had played during the regular season. I guess we'll get that wish tonight.

* It is good to see Red Wing get the No. 6 seed. The Wingers are 6-3-0 in their past nine games after a 1-14-1 start. That start wasn't as bad as the record looks, though, as they went to OT six times in that stretch and lost seven one-goal games. If Red Wing gets past Waseca, Northfield better lace its skates tight for a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday. (Though, to be fair, Northfield was the one Big 9 team that handled Red Wing fairly well during the regular season, scoring a pair of three-goal wins).

Against my better judgement, I'll go ahead and make some picks. Feel free to let me know why I'm wrong...

FIRST ROUND

Rochester Lourdes 4, Mankato East 3: East is a scrappy team. Its 7-5 loss to Rochester Mayo on Feb. 3 keeps sticking in my head. Mayo coach Lorne Grosso talked about how resilient East is, how they don't stop coming after you. I'm extremely tempted to pick them here, but I think Lourdes senior goalie Jack Burkel will win this one for his teammates. Lourdes has only scored more than three goals in a game four times this season. They'll do it for a fifth time and advance to face top-seeded New Prague on Thursday.

LeSueur-Henderson/SP/TCU/C 6, Winona 1: The state's leading scorer Sam Wenner and the LHSPTCUC (that looks like I hit the caps-lock button and mashed my hand on the keyboard) Bulldogs roll on.

Faribault 8, Austin 2: I thought Faribault should have a bye tonight, but the No. 4 seed in the section will pounce on the Packers early and pull away to move on to Thursday's section quarterfinals.

Red Wing 6, Waseca 3: The Wingers are 6-1-0 over the past month against Section 1A opponents. They'll make it 7-1-0 after taking down Waseca.

Albert Lea 5, La Crescent 2: Albert Lea is on a three-game winning streak after snapping a seven-game losing skid. The Tigers are playing with confidence and that will carry them past the Lancers (19-6-0), who put up a good record primarily against teams from Wisconsin.

QUARTERFINALS

New Prague 4, Lourdes 2 (en): Lourdes pushes the top-seeded Trojans, but NP gets a late empty-netter.

L-H/SP/TCU/C 4, Faribault 3: The Bulldogs pull the first (mild) upset of the tourney and advance to the Rec Center.

Northfield 5, Red Wing 3: The Raiders were the only 1A team to beat Red Wing over the past month. They'll do it for a third time this season.

Mankato West 6, Albert Lea 2: West's upperclassmen have had a sour taste in their mouths for a year, since that close loss to New Prague in last year's section final. They start their push for a state tourney berth with a big win.

SEMIFINALS

New Prague 5, L-H/SP/TCU/C 2: The Trojans figure out how to slow the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense and return to the section final.

Northfield 6, Mankato West 5: The game turns into a track meet at the Rec Center and Northfield gets the last goal, late in the third, to win.

CHAMPIONSHIP

Northfield 2, New Prague 1, OT: 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.

* * *

My apologies to Northfield for likely jinxing you.

This section is entirely up for grabs. The team I just picked to win it could quite possibly not even play a game at the Rec Center. Would it really surprise anyone if Red Wing went to Northfield on Thursday and won? No. Would it completely surprise anyone if No. 9 East or No. 8 Lourdes goes to New Prague on Thursday and wins a close one? It shouldn't.

Finally, if you're looking to follow tonight's games on Twitter, here's a quick list to check:

No. 9 East at No. 8 Lourdes -- me (@PBFeldy), Lourdes activities (@LHSEagles), and perhaps @PaulAllan5 for the East perspective

No. 12 Winona at No. 5 LHSPTCUC -- Bulldogs hockey (@BBulldog_Hockey)

No. 13 Austin at No. 4 Faribault -- check out Miles Trump (@FDNMilesTrump), Faribault activities (@Frbo_Falcons), Faribault hockey (@FBO_BHS_Hockey)

No. 11 Waseca at No. 6 Red Wing -- I'm guessing either Kyle Stevens (@RE_KStevens) or Joe Brown (@RE_JBrown) will be at Prairie Island Arena for this one

No. 10 La Crescent at No. 7 Albert Lea -- check Albert Lea hockey (@BoysALhockey), La Crescent coach JP Piche (@JeepPiche30), or the Albert Lea Tribune (@altribunesports)