The National Sports Center in Blaine, Ridder Arena, and Xcel Energy Center teamed up this year to bring the some of the best hockey in the state at the Schwan Cup. The Gold Division had the top seed in Class A as well as 3 of the top 5 in Class AA. The Silver Division had its fair share of talent as well, as Lakeville South, the Breck School, Bemijdi, Roseville, and Blake all competed as ranked teams. Full docket of intense games, so let's make the jump and find out what team would be skating away with some early-season hardware.
Academy of the Holy Angels vs. St. Thomas Academy
Two teams trending in the wrong way kicked off the Schwan Cup Gold Division. The AHAstarted as a pre-season ranked team, but have not looked impressive all season. They've had trouble stringing wins together, they've lost conference games, and are in serious danger of becoming an irrelevant team this season. In fact, the Holy Angels were the only non-ranked team in the Gold Division. The #1 Cadets, meanwhile, have continued to roll. They are the team to beat in Class A, and their play against AA schools continues to leave me questioning why they even bother playing the Class A Tournament.
From the opening faceoff, St. Thomas Academy jumped all over the Stars. The Cadets came out flying and were hungry for every loose puck. After controlling play and the shots, the Cadets struck early, as Alex Johnson scored to give St. Thomas Academy an early 1-0 lead. Eric Schurhammer and Wyatt Schmidt got credit for the assists on the Johnson goal. The Cadets continued to put the pressure on, but the Holy Angels were able to keep the Cadets scoring chances down. The Stars kept a lot of the shots from the point and the outside, denying the Cadets the middle of the ice. A clean and well-played period led to only one penalty called in the period. The late penalty would give the Stars the first powerplay of the game, but the period ended with a 1-0 Cadets lead.
The 2nd period saw the Stars truly begin their powerplay advantage. The Stars weren't able to build a lot of momentum from the powerplay, but the puck possession seemed to settle the team down. The Stars got the equalizer, as defenseman Jack Friendshuh got a shot through traffic, with the helpers going to Aammir Freese and Mario Bianchi. Play would even out for a few minutes, as both teams played some tough defense to limit quality chances. After some back-and-forth play, Henry Hart put the Cadets back up on a speed rush, with Johnson and Austin Sattler getting the assists. Shortly after the goal, the Stars took a lazy hooking penalty, putting a very deadly St. Thomas Academy powerplay on the ice. 10 seconds into the powerplay, the Cadets cashed in. Andrew Commers got his first of the game from Tony Bretzman and Schurhammer. Just over a minute later, the Cadets connected again. Hart scored his second of the game, with Johnson and Sattler getting the helpers. It looked like the Cadets were getting ready to pile it on, but the Holy Angel Stars answered right back, 16 seconds after Hart's second goal. Marshall Barnes pulled the Stars back within two, getting the help from Andrew Willner. The 2nd period would end with the Cadets leading 4-2, but the Stars playing a much better period than the 1st.
The Cadets came out in the 3rd period wanting to get back to being the dominant team. St. Thomas Academy kept the Holy Angels bottled up for much of the period, controlling the flow of play and wearing down their opposition. After outworking the Holy Angels in low, Commers buried his 2nd goal of the game. The assist for his second goal went to Tony Bretzman. Alex Johnson then stretched the lead to 6-2 on a great individual effort as he dangled his way around the Stars. A backdoor goal to Peter Krieger from Bretzman and Matt Perry put the Cadets up 7-2. In the span of 2 minutes, the Cadets put 3 goals past the Holy Angels. Mario Bianchi would get the Stars back on the board, connecting from Tony Haeg, but the Cadets would put this game out of reach. After a Bianchi penalty, Schurhammer tallied a powerplay goal from Krieger and Bretzman. A late Tom Novak goal would finish the scoring, as the Cadets took their first game easily, 9-3.
Burnsville vs. Duluth East
While the #7 Blaze have been a surprise this season to some, they've earned their top-10 ranking by beating some top teams in the state. Burnsville was given another chance to prove their a top team against the #1 Greyhounds, who are favorites to make it back to the State Final. Duluth East came in and demonstrated why their considered a favorite, as they took control of the game early, dominating the tempo. The Hounds continued to put pressure on the Blaze until Duluth East's Jake Randolph took a penalty and put Burnsville on the powerplay. The Blaze capitalized on their opportunity, as Jake Senta put Burnsville up 1-0 on a goal from Dan Ames and Anthony Rikberg. The late period goal would give the Blaze a 1-0 lead heading into the second period.
The Hounds came out in the 2nd period with a powerplay from the 1st period carrying over, and they used the early momentum to continue driving play. After some good chances each way, Trevor Olson of Duluth East tied the game at 1 a piece, with the helpers going to Phil Beaulieu and Jake Randolph. The rest of the period would become a goaltending duel, as Burnsville's Chris Mallon and Duluth East's Dylan Parker made some huge saves to keep the game tied at 1. Some turnovers and great skating led to solid chances by each team, but Mallon and Parker really put on a clinic in the 2nd period. The goaltenders definitely gave their respective team a chance to win, as the 2nd period ended with a 1-1 tie.
The defenses of both teams were sub-par, leading to turnovers and odd-man rushes, and that trend continued in the 3rd. Duluth East had a poor turnover in the neutral zone, leading to a Burnsville 2-on-1. Jake Senta capped off the odd-man rush with his second goal of the game, this time coming from Nick Bohn and Mason Wyman. The Blaze had regained the lead with just under 13 minutes left in the game. An interference minor, however, would put Burnsville on the penalty kill, giving the vaunted Duluth East powerplay a chance to equalize. Trevor Olson capitalized on the chance, as he buried a shot that took a big bounce off the back boards to beat Mallon. Meirs Moore and Dom Toninato were credited with the assists on the goal. Duluth East then ramped it up again, putting shot after shot on net, but Mallon rose to the task, robbing Toninato from point-blank range with an old-school pad stack. From the way the goalies played (specifically Mallon), it seems like this game was going to overtime, but the Hound's Alex Toscano broke the tie with 46 seconds left. Hogan Davidson found Toscano alone in the slot, and he made no mistake, giving the Greyhounds a 3-2 lead. Burnsville pulled Mallon on the ensuing faceoff, but Olson completed his hat trick, sealing the victory for the Greyhounds, 4-2. An impressive game by both teams, as the Blaze really hung in there thanks to Chris Mallon, but the Greyhounds had too much depth for Burnsville to hang on.
Hill-Murray vs. Minnetonka
The #13 Pioneers have been up and down this season. They're still considered a contender, but not a top-tier Hill Murray team like years before. The #2 Skippers from Minnetonka have done nothing but win. A few slip-ups from Benilde St.-Margaret's has allowed Minnetonka to move up in the rankings, and they have looked like a team to be reckoned with come tournament time. The Skippers wasted no time in this one, netting their first goal 12 seconds in. Sam Rothstein fired one in from the top of the circles, with the assists being credited to Jack Ramsey and Michael Prochno. Off the ensuing faceoff, Minnetonka struck again, this time from Connor Thie with Vinni Lettieri and Max Cotta getting the assists. It took all of 8 seconds between the two goals, and the Pioneers found themselves in a 2-0 hole just 20 seconds into the game. The Skippers kept the pressure on, putting every puck to the net and crashing hard. The Pioneers didn't give in after the early two goals, though, as Conrad Sampair got in behind the Skippers defensmen and scored on the first Pioneer shot of the game. Zach LaValle and Andy Faust got the assists on the goal. The goal, however, would not boost the Pioneers, and the Skippers played incredibly impressive two-way hockey. A quick breakout pass from Lettieri led to Max Cotta burying his shot, top shelf over John Dugas, and the Skippers led 3-1.
Minnetonka came out in the 2nd period and continued to impose their will, still putting pucks to the net and making life tough for the Pioneers forecheck. The Skippers continued to control the puck and tempo, allowing defensman Steve Johnson to rip a shot over Dugas to put Minnetonka up 4-1. Cotta and Thie got the assists on the Johnson goal. The game would take on a different feel after the Johnson goal, as both teams began a march to the penalty box. A Skipper penalty put Hill-Murray on the powerplay and gave them new life. Up to that point, Minnetonka had the Pioneers hemmed in their own zone. Charlie Sampair made Minnetonka pay with a powerplay goal, with LaValle and Faust both getting their second assists on the goal. The two squad would continue to trade penalties, breaking up the flow of the game. Both sides got impressive kills, keeping the score at 4-2. A strong individual effort from Justin Bader of Minnetonka restored the 3-goal lead. To rub salt in the wound, Hill-Murray was called for a penalty after the goal, giving the Skippers another powerplay opportunity. Lettieri took 7 seconds to make it count, as Cotta assisted on the Skippers sixth goal of the evening. Minnetonka continued to press, as defensman Tommy Vannelli buried the seventh Skipper goal, coming from Rothstein and Ramsey, ending the night for John Dugas. Hill-Murray would limp out of the period, trailing 7-2.
With a five-goal lead, Minnetonka worried less about pressing in the offensive zone and playing smart neutral-zone hockey. While the intensity may not have been there, the march to the penalty box continued. Hill-Murray was given a short 5-on-3, and while the Pioneers couldn't connect on the first minor, Willie Brown was able to rip a shot past Behounek, with the assists going to Logan Sharp and Sam Becker. The goal, though, was too little too late, as the Skippers continued to control play and still made the night tough for the Pioneers. The Brown goal would prove to be the last of the evening, as the Skippers were just too much for the Pioneers. Minnetonka won in a big way, 7-3.
Edina vs. Blaine
The #5 Hornets have been up and down in the rankings, but seem to be trending upwards. Recent wins Eden Prairie, Elk River, and Grand Rapids have driven the youthful Edina up the rankings. They would face a stiff test in the #9 Blaine Bengals, another surprise team to some. The 1st period had stretches of tough neutral zone play. Neither team has the ability to light up another squad, so both teams commit to playing good defense first and capitalizing on opportunities. Both teams forced low-quality chances in the frame, but Edina was able to break through first. Tim Spicola found a rebound off of a Anthony Walsh shot, and the Hornets jumped to a 1-0 lead. Cullen Munson got the secondary assist on the goal. Nick Malvin, the Bengal's goalie, kept the score at 1-0 by making some big saves to close out the 1st period. Hornet's goalie Willie Benjamin was equal to the task, making key saves as well. Both teams seemed to find their legs a little better as the 1st period wore down. Edina held the lead, but Blaine was still in the game.
Edina came out in the 2nd period and started putting the pressure on Blaine. The Hornets forecheck was causing turnovers and poor passes, but Malvin was an absolute wall through the period. The Bengal goalie kept everything that was thrown his way out of the cage, keeping Blaine in the game. Edina kept coming, but Malvin stood tall. The Bengals responded by finally getting some pressure of their own to close out the 2nd period. Benjamin, like Malvin, kept the puck out of his net and made the big saves when he had to. Both teams had some chances, but Edina carried the play in the 2nd. If not for Malvin, the Hornets could have easily had a 3 or 4 goal lead heading into the 3rd period. As it stood, though, the Hornets were still nursing their 1-0 lead over a Bengals team that wasn't about to go away.
The Bengals came out in the 3rd, down by one, pressing for the tying goal. The 3rd was Benjamin's period, though, as he made some critical saves early in the frame to help the Hornets settle down. The Hornets then got back to work, playing their game, and it resulted in a Blaine penalty. Louie Nanne made the opportunity count, as he was able to beat Malvin with a tipped shot. Jack Walker and Connor Hurley got the assists on the insurance goal for the Hornets. The goal was not without controversy, however, as Blaine was yelling from the bench that the goal was played with a high stick. The tirade by Blaine Head Coach Dave Aus resulted in a bench minor, putting the Bengals back on the penalty kill. The Hornets did not cash in, but it was 2 precious minutes the Bengals needed to get back in the game. Blaine kept pressing and had some glorious chances, even drawing a late Edina penalty, but were unable to solve Willie Benjamin and the Hornets. Edina skated away with the win, 2-0.
Duluth East vs. St. Thomas Academy
An intriguing match-up between the Class A and Class AA #1 teams, as the Greyhounds and Cadets opened up the semifinals at Xcel Energy Center. The Cadets came out flying and putting Duluth East on their heels, but a hooking penalty called against St. Thomas Academy helped the Greyhounds weather the early storm. Despite not scoring on the powerplay, the Hounds were able to slow down the Cadets. The Greyhounds then started to get their forecheck going, leading to a Conner Valesano goal from the high slot, with Ryan Lundgren and Jack Forbort getting the helpers on the opening tally. The two squads played an even period, with both sides getting good chances. Alex Johnson of St. Thomas put on the jets and skated right past the Duluth East blueline and buried a good shot to pull even late in the 1st period. The assists went to Austin Sattler and Henry Hart on the Johnson goal. The two teams skated off with a 1-1 tie, the shots nearly even at 12-10, and a game that looked as even in play as it did on paper.
Duluth East came out in the 2nd period ready to dominate. The Hounds woke up and started moving their feet. The Greyhound's defense, in particular, started closing gaps better and playing tougher against a talented Cadets team. East started moving the puck better and it paid instant dividends. Ryan Lundgren was able to find Dom Toninato, who buried a sharp-angle shot to put Duluth East back on top, 2-1. The pretty passing between the Greyhounds continued, as Jake Randolph finished a beautiful play from Lundgren and Toninato. The Hounds had a 3-1 lead, and St. Thomas Academy started running around. The Cadets were forced to start taking penalties, leading to a Lundgren powerplay goal from Randolph and Toninato. The Hounds jumped to a 4-1 lead and looked like they were ready to put St. Thomas away, but the Cadets came firing back. After pulling Ian West and replacing him with David Zevnik, the Cadets scored 20 seconds after the Lundgren goal. Henry Hart got the Cadets back on the board, with Jack Jensen got his first point of the night, and Sattler got his second assist of the game. The Cadets got back to their game of pressuring the defense, and it led to a 5-on-3 powerplay for a full 2 minutes, but the Hounds dug their heels in and killed off both penalties in a game-changing situation. The period would end without any more scoring, and the Greyhounds had to feel good about a 4-2 lead.
Down by two goals in the 3rd, the Cadets came out flying against the Greyhounds. St. Thomas Academy really dialed up the pressure on the Duluth East blueline. Alex Johnson was paid off for his hard work, as he scored his second goal of the game on a nice play from Sattler to cut the lead to one with over 10 minutes left in the game. The Cadets kept putting pressure on, but Greyhounds goalie Paige Skoog made some big saves in the 3rd to hold the lead. Duluth East was able to get the two-goal lead back, as Valesano scored his second of the game on a perfect pass from Trevor Olson. The goal put some energy back in the East lineup, and the Cadets were forced to take a late penalty. The Cadets got the kill, but were left with just over one minute left. A pulled goalie helped the Cadets strike again, as Peter Krieger banged home a rebound from Wyatt Schmidt and Eric Schurhamer. St. Thomas Academy got back to a one-goal deficit, but with only 18 seconds left, the Hounds were able to hold on to victory.
Minnetonka vs. Edina
The Skippers rolled to victory in their quarterfinal game against Hill Murray, while Edina had to gut out a win over Nick Malvin and Blaine. Edina would find out in this game if they had enough firepower to hang with one of the most offensively powerful lineups in AA hockey. The Hornets tried to keep the fast-paces Skippers in a deadlock game. Edina just doesn't have the horses to skate with Minnetonka, so a tough, grind-it-out game was the best choice for the Hornets. Unfortunately, the Skippers were able to strike early. Max Cotta, maybe the best junior in the state, got the ball rolling on a nice backhand from Vinni Lettieri and Tommy Vannelli. The Skippers kept the heat on, and Jack Ramsey banged home a big rebound from a Sam Rothstein shot, and Minnetonka had a 2-0 lead just 7 minutes into the game. After an Edina boarding penalty, Max Cotta struck again, putting the Skippers up 3-0. Lettieri and Rothstein both got their second assists on the Cotta powerplay goal. The Hornets weren't able to get much pressure on the Minnetonka goal, and the Skippers skated away fairly easily with a 3-0 lead at the end of the 1st period.
The Skippers came out and continued to pressure Edina, but lacked the same intensity they had in the 1st period. The Hornets were able to get a few more chances in the 2nd period, but it was the Skippers again who got on the board. Connor Thie was able to deflect a Michael Prochno shot to put Minnetonka up 4-0. Lettieri got the secondary assist, and Minnetonka really just had to play sound hockey instead of risking anything. The Hornets were able to generate more chances once Minnetonka eased up on their forecheck, but were unable to put anything past Skipper's goalie Paul Ciaccio. Tommy Vannelli fired in a shot from the point as the 2nd period ended, with Thie and Cotta getting the assists on the last second goal. The refs called it a goal, and without any replay, the goal stood. The Hornets had a better period but were unable to put on any sustained pressure. Minnetonka had a 5-0 lead and were on cruise control going into the 3rd period.
Edina came out in the 3rd and stepped up their game. The Hornets weren't going to let Minnetonka skate away with this game easily, and they looked to at least ruin the shutout. The Hornets finally got some real zone time, but it was Minnetonka again that made it count on the board. Phil Katopodis tipped in a Joe Schuldt shot, with Justin Bader getting the other assist on the goal. A 6-0 lead meant that Minnetonka just had to play tough defense instead of gambling to score goals. The Skippers allowed Edina more freedom in the Hornet's zone, but Edina could not find any extra room in the offensive zone and could not solve Ciaccio. The Skippers took this game 6-0, setting a #1 vs. #2 final between the Skippers and the Duluth East Greyhounds.
Gold Division Final
Minnetonka vs. Duluth East
In a slightly belated Christmas present, Minnesota got to watch as #2 Minnetonka took on #1 Duluth East for the Schwan Cup Gold Division Title. Both teams came into the game with a 10-0-0 mark and had really earned the right to be called the top two teams in AA Minnesota hockey. This game also marked a preview of the marquee Hockey Day Minnesota and could end up being the title game in the AA State Final.
The Greyhounds opened the game fast, with the Randolph-Olson-Toninato line buzzing and getting an early chance. Randolph almost buried a pretty wraparound, but Skipper goalie Behounek was able to get across to make the save. Behounek then stoned Toninato on a 2-on-1 play with Ryan Lundgren, then robbed Conner Valesano on a partial breakaway. The Greyhounds finally got on the board, as Lundgren blasted a shot past Behounek, with Toninato getting the only assist on the goal. The Hounds kept outworking Minnetonka, leading to the first powerplay of the game. While the Hounds couldn't cash in on the man advantage, they held the zone and were able to bury another goal just after the penalty expired. Lundgren got his second of the game, this time from Alex Toscano and Nate Kotter. Minnetonka finally got their legs under them and started putting some pressure on the Duluth East defense. Dylan Parker robbed Vinni Lettieri twice to keep the Skippers off the board. Duluth East controlled play for most of the period, and the Greyhounds were rewarded with a 2-0 lead at the end of the period.
The Greyhounds played a perfect 1st period and looked to keep rolling during the 2nd. Once again, Randolph generated a quick chance on the first shift that was stopped by Behounek, and the rebound try by Lundgren was stopped as well. The Skippers were able to mount more offensive attack in this period, but every opportunity they had was stopped by Dylan Parker, who was playing incredibly well in his two games. The Greyhounds, though, were still getting their chances as well, and Jack Forbort was able to tip home a pretty pass from Hogan Davidson to put Duluth East up 3-0. The goal got Duluth East rolling again, and just under a minute later Dom Toninato took a nice pass from Jake Randolph, went in on a breakaway, and put the Greyhounds up 4-0, with Phil Beaulieu getting the secondary assist on the goal. The Hounds took a late-period penalty, but were able to convert a shorthanded goal, compliments of Meirs Moore. Moore picked up a loose puck left by Toninato and was able to put another goal in, this time past Paul Ciaccio. Duluth East was firmly in control of this game with a 5-0 lead heading into the 3rd period.
Minnetonka came out to start the 3rd period with another 37 of powerplay time to start the period. The Skippers didn't cash in, but used the man advantage to get some early period momentum. Minnetonka finally broke through on a rush, as Justin Bader finished off a good play with Jared Ridge. The 3rd period did start to become a much more physical period with more penalties. A Miers Moore boarding penalty put Minnetonka back on the powerplay, and Erik Baskin took advantage of the opportunity. Vinni Lettieri got the only assist, as he carried the puck into the Greyhound's zone and left a drop pass for Baskin to put top shelf. Minnetonka started crawling back into this game, as the powerplay goal made it 5-2 with just over 8 minutes left. The march to the penalty box would continue through the period, as the Skippers took an undisciplined too many men on the ice penalty. Jake Randolph made the Skippers pay for their mistake, as Toninato and Beaulieu were able to spring Randolph on a breakaway. Duluth East would give Minnetonka a minute and a half of 5-on-3 hockey, but the Hounds were able to close out Minnetonka, 6-2.
The Greyhounds were able to counter and shut down a good offensive team in Minnetonka. Hopefully the Minnesota weather gets a little better for their January 21st rematch on Lake Minnetonka. Duluth East takes the Gold Division Championship, showing they can beat top teams in Burnsville, St. Thomas Academy, and Minnetonka. They won in a short tournament format. Their top line was one of the best in the tournament. They're getting good goaltending from Dylan Parker. It will be interesting to see if any teams can slow down the Greyhounds.
Lakeville South defeated Stillwater, 6-3
Breck defeated Apple Valley, 6-2
Forest Lake defeated Bemidji, 6-1
Roseville defeated Blake, 3-0
Breck defeated Lakeville South, 6-4
Forest Lake defeated Roseville, 3-2
Breck defeated Forest Lake, 5-1
Rogers defeated Orono, 6-2
Cretin-Derham Hall defeated Providence Academy, 6-1
Mounds View defeated Hudson, 4-2
Champlin Park defeated Sartell, 3-0
Rogers defeated Cretin-Herham Hall, 3-0
Mounds View defeated Champlin Park, 2-1
Rogers defeated Mounds View, 3-2
Upcoming Games to Note:
Tuesday, Jan 3rd:
#4 Eagan vs. #2 Minnetonka
#10 Grand Rapids vs. #15 Bemidji
Wednesday, Jan 4th:
#1 Duluth East vs. #3 Maple Grove
Thursday, Jan 5th:
#12 Elk River vs. #6 Eden Prairie
#8 Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. #14 Wayzata
#3 Hermantown vs. #7 Duluth Marshall