To say that this has been an unusual winter in Minnesota would be a massive understatement. Tuesday was perfect golf weather, followed by high winds on Wednesday. Still no snow, and the temperature is supposed to rise again this weekend. We as a collective group had better start praying for some consistently cold weather, or Hockey Day Minnesota is going to feature the first ever outdoor game on a floating iceberg on Lake Minnetonka. I'm not all that interested in covering the games while the rink and footing melts underneath me and floats away.
Actually, that's no longer a possibility. Hockey Day Minnesota will be played indoors. Personally, I never liked the idea of putting the game on a lake for this specific reason. The last two Hockey Day Minnesota rinks have experienced some technical difficulties with the ice. It was raining in Hermantown, and one end of the Moorhead rink was melting because of how the sun was shining on the ice. A lake is an even less controlled environment than an outdoor rink. I think everyone involved could see the writing on the wall in December when there was no snow and Lake Minnetonka was still mostly open water. At least this year there will be good ice to play on.
Hopefully, everyone is keeping Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette in their thoughts. Jack is gaining movement back in his arms, and Jenna has begun her physical therapy, but neither have regained the ability to move their legs. Keep pulling for both of these kids.St. Thomas Academy vs. Mahtomedi
The #8 Zephyrs had a tough loss last week against #7 Totino-Grace, seeing a win slip through their fingers with less than 20 seconds in the 3rd period. They got another chance to take on a Top-10 Class A team in #2 St. Thomas Academy. The Cadets just squeaked by a surprising South St. Paul team with a 1-0 win and were looking to get back to their style of hockey. From the drop of the puck, St. Thomas was all over Mahtomedi. The Cadets really bottled up the Zephyrs with their speed and forecheck. St. Thomas really controlled play and generated the chances, but Mahtomedi was able to get a big game from Sawyer Marshall. The Cadets let some of the momentum get away, as they took a pair of early penalties. The Cadets caught a lucky break as the Zephyrs had a goal waived off due to an early whistle. A Mahtomedi penalty gave the Cadets their second wind. While they didn't score, the Cadets used the powerplay to get puck control back and press offensively. Shortly after the penalty expired, Jack Jensen of Minnetonka got the Skippers on the board. Gunnar Regan and Matt Perry got the helpers on Jensen's goal. 37 seconds later, the Skippers struck again. Tom Novak banged home a rebound, with Peter Kreiger and Andre Commers getting the assists. The Skippers kept the pressure on, and were rewarded with a Kreiger goal on nice feed from Novak and Eric Schurhamer. The Cadets had a 3-0 lead after the 1st period, and Mahtomedi seemed to be reeling.
The Zephyrs were able to regroup during the intermission and regain their focus. An early St. Thomas penalty gave Mahtomedi a chance to get back into the game. It only took about 20 seconds to cash in, with Dan Kilgore getting the Zephyrs rolling from Ryan Brown and Jake Erickson. Mahtomedi got the confidence back and used the quick momentum swing to strike again. Johno May pulled the Zephyrs to within one from Erickson and Tanner Jordan. The Zephyrs were moving their feet, got back in the game, and drew back-to-back penalties, giving them an extended 5-3; however, Mahtomedi was not able to get the equalizer. The Zephyrs took a penalty of their own, and the Cadets scored on the short powerplay opportunity. Austin Sattler was able to score on a breakaway, as Schurhamer and Wyatt Schmidt were able to spring Sattler. Another poor St. Thomas penalty gave Mahtomedi another opportunity to close the gap, and the Zephyrs cashed in. Patrick Kegley was able to one-time home a pretty Tanner Jordan pass, making it a one-goal game again. St. Thomas would not allow Mahtomedi to build momentum this time around, as Peter Krieger scored his second goal from Andrew Commers a minute after Kegley's goal.
The 3rd period was a penalty-filled frame, highlighted by a terrible check from behind by Tanner Jordan. After what Minnesota High School hockey has had to go through recently, this was not a smart penalty by Jordan. He's got to be smarter than that. Play was so broken up because of penalties in this frame that there were only 7 total shots in the period. Mahtomedi put themselves in a great position to make this competitive down the stretch, but taking 7 minor penalties along with a 10-minute major will not please the coaching staff. St. Thomas took 5 minor penalties of their own along with a 10-minute major, so had the Zephyrs played disciplined hockey in the last frame, they had a chance. Mahtomedi had two powerplay goals already in the game, but could not give themselves an opportunity when it counted most. The Cadets were able to take this game, 5-3.
Duluth Marshall vs. Rochester Lourdes
The #5 Hilltoppers have seen a minor slide in the rankings. A win over #9 Rochester Lourdes would be a boost to a team that lacked a marquee win so far. The Hilltoppers didn't do themselves any favors by taking a penalty less than one minute into the game. Duluth Marshall got the kill, but it really set a poor tone for the Hilltoppers. Three separate minors in the 1st period really took Duluth Marshall out of their game. The one extended break away from penalties gave the Hilltopper a chance to get their forecheck going. Michael Damberg got Marshall on the board, with the lone assist going to Judd Peterson. That would be the only goal of the period, as Marshall took another penalty. If Duluth doesn't keep going to the box, Rochester would have been in a lot of trouble. On the other side, the Eagles had to be disappointed that they could not cash in on three man advantage opportunities.
The 2nd period mirrored the 1st in many ways. The Hilltoppers took bad penalties, with Judd Peterson going off for a check from behind. Dumb penalty that sent the top player from Duluth Marshall off for 10 minutes should have been when the Eagles capitalized, but their stagnate powerplay did not strike. The Eagles powerplay was running at about 25% coming into the game, but the powerplay was letting the team down on this particular night. They had back-to-back powerplays separated by just a few seconds, but did not find any success. Frustration had to be setting in, leading to undisciplined play. A too many men penalty on Lourdes gave Duluth Marshall a short powerplay, and Luke Pavelich made the man advantage count. Matt Klassen and Ryan Gotelaere got the helpers, and the Hilltoppers led by two after 2.
Duluth Marshall finally played more disciplined hockey in the 3rd period, taking fewer penalties and giving their team a chance at 5-on-5. The Hilltoppers had their first chance to take control of the game with their talent and speed. Judd Peterson was able to stretch the lead late in the 3rd, and Gotelaere got his second assist of the game. Connor Flaherty made it 4-0 just 30 seconds later, from Peterson and Kris McKinzie. The Hilltoppers took this game 4-0, but the Lourdes have to feel like they let this game get away. Going 0 for 8 on the powerplay will lose most games. Marshall went 1 for 2 on their man advantage opportunities. The Eagles had their chances to take control of this game, but they did not get the offense going. Tallying only 20 total shots with 8 separate powerplays is not acceptable. Duluth Marshall may have slipped a few spots in the rankings, but they're still a team that you have to watch out for. Expect the Hilltoppers to be at Xcel, but I'm not sure they have the depth to beat Breck, Hermantown, or St. Thomas Academy.
Moorhead vs. Duluth East
After a gritty game against Minnetonka, #9 Moorhead finished a tough back-to-back road trip against #1 Duluth East. The Greyhounds came out and put their talent on display, as they jumped all over the Spuds, who had to have tired legs after Friday's game and a long drive. Moorhead did a good job of holding off an early attack by the Hounds, but were not generating that many chances or really putting Duluth East in a defensive game. East continued to pressure Spud's goalie Michael Bitzer and keep play in the Moorhead zone. Duluth East was rewarded for controlling play, as Alex Toscano banged home a rebound from Conner Valesano and Ryan Lundgren. The Hounds kept on the attack, and Phil Beaulieu put Duluth East up 2-0 when his point shot beat Bitzer. Trevor Olson and Meirs Moore got the helpers on the goal. A late Moorhead penalty put Duluth East on the powerplay, and Beaulieu tallied his second of the game. Another shot from the point beat Bitzer, this time coming from Jake Randolph and Dom Toninato. East clearly had the better legs, and as a result skated away with a 3-0 lead after the 1st period.
Moorhead came out in the 2nd and got back to their game of good defense and tough, physical play. The Spuds may lack the firepower to run-and-gun with the Greyhounds, but they always have a tough defensive team that takes the body well. The physical play started leading to post-whistle scrums, which is not how East wants to play hockey. Coach Randoph was able to settle his troops down, however, and East got back to their speed and skill game. The Greyhounds picked up their forecheck and created chances, but Bitzer came up with the big saves to keep Moorhead hanging around. The Spuds started to take the lazy penalties when they stopped moving their feet, giving a lethal powerplay plenty of opportunities to finish the game in the 2nd. Valesano was able to make it 4-0 on the powerplay when he finished off a give-and-go with Trevor Olson. Moore got the secondary assist on a nice chip pass to Valesano. Late period penalties gave East plenty more chances, but Bitzer and the Spuds were able to keep the game from getting out of hand. The 2nd period ended with Duluth East leading 4-0.
A major sense of urgency must have hit Moorhead during the intermission, because it was a totally different Spuds team that took the ice in the 3rd period. A clean faceoff win sprung Logan Ness, who got Moorhead on the board 9 seconds into the period. Cody Rahman and Bryant Christian were credited with the assists on the quick goal. The goal got Moorhead skating, and the Spuds struck again at the 4-minute mark. Nicholas Uglem finished off a quick passing play from Aaron Herdt and Tony Uglem. The Spuds had quickly made it 4-2 and were finding their legs. Play started to even out between the two teams, with both squads getting good looks. Dom Toninato restored the 3-goal lead on a sweet passing play from Lundgren and Randolph. Moorhead had no quit, though, and scored less than 30 seconds later to keep the Spuds in the game. Tony Uglem got the goal from Nicholas and Ben Welle. Play got chippy again, as both East and Moorhead sent two players to the box at the 9:16 mark of the period, but Olson took a double-minor, giving Moorhead a powerplay opportunity. Duluth East did a great job on the penalty kill, giving the Spuds no real good looks on the man advantage. A good Greyhound cycle found Lundgren on the backdoor alone, with Moore and Randolph picking up the helpers. A late Spuds penalty would seal this game, as Duluth East held off the Spuds in the 3rd period to win 6-3.
Edina vs. Burnsville
It's been an up-and-down year for the #5 Hornets. The wins have been less regular than seasons past, but you can never count out Edina. The #8 Blaze have been one of the few surprises this year. Burnsville has been building their program back to contenders, and this year could very well be the first in a new Burnsville dynasty. Edina got the early momentum, pressuring Burnsville in the neutral zone. The Blaze held off the early Edina pressure and scored on their first real chance of the period. Cory Chapman found himself alone in the slot and finished a good setup from Mason Wyman and Hunter Anderson. The Hornets didn't let the goal get them down. Edina kept putting pucks to the net and it paid off as Dylan Malmquist was able to find a loose rebound and put it home to even the game at 1 apiece. Connor Hurley and Andy Jordahl came up with the helpers on the tying goal. Both teams started to open up after the Malmquist goal, trading chances and making plays. Hurley would break the tie for Edina, as he was able to snipe one from the faceoff dot after Jordahl forced a turnover and fed him the puck. Edina held a 2-1 lead after the 1st period.
Edina started to pick up their play early in the 2nd period. The Hornets may not have the most skill, but they're still a highly talented team. Burnsville wasn't making clean passes and was having a hard time getting through the neutral zone. The first half of the period was all Edina. The Blaze really struggled to get any offensive zone time, and it looked like Edina was going to pull away except for the fine play of goaltender Chris Mallon. Burnsville was able to get shots to the net, but the Edina backchecking made second and third opportunities all but impossible. Both teams did a good job of clamping down defensively. If you really look at how both teams have found success, it's been by limiting the opposition's chances and tough neutral zone play. The pace really slowed in the second half of the period, leading to no scoring in the frame. Edina still had the 2-1 lead after 2.
With a one-goal deficit, the Blaze had to come out and push the pace in the 3rd period. Burnsville started opening up their attack. Edina goalie Willie Benjamin had to step up his game, as Burnsville was crashing the net hard, trying to create offensive chances. The Hornets, to their credit, did not turtle in the period and let Burnsville have their way. Edina was able to get that important insurance goal when Henry Rose was able to score on a bad-angle shot. Anthony Walsh and Nick Leer got the assists, and Burnsville's task got that much harder. Instead of an emotional letdown, the Blaze got back to work and scored a quick response goal. Nick Bohn put a bouncing shot on goal that got by Benjamin, getting the helpers from Jake Senta and Sam Dockry. Burnsville kept putting the pressure on, but Benjamin stood tall. Edina really didn't get a lot of puck control after that, but Burnsville would end up coming up just short. Edina hung on and won a tight game by a final score of 3-2.
Hermantown vs. Grand Rapids
The #2 Hawks of Class A put their unbeaten record on the line as they took on another Northern power in #14 Grand Rapids (AA). The Thunderhawks had been playing well following some tough losses against top-tier competition. Hermantown continues to roll through Class A, looking more and more like a real threat to either Breck or St. Thomas Academy. Grand Rapids came out early in this game, trying to take the advantage over Hermantown's cramped legs. The Thunderhawks put pucks to the Hermantown net early and crashed, looking for rebounds. Hermantown was caught early standing around, and Grand Rapids made them pay. Some pretty breakout passes from Travis Underwood and Cody Mann found a streaking Nate Mondry, who walked in and buried the early chance. The Thunderhawks kept the pace flying, forcing a Hermantown penalty. The Hawks got the kill, giving them some momentum. Hermantown started getting pucks to the net, but an offensive zone penalty put a halt on their attack. The Hawks went back to work, putting together a good penalty kill. Grand Rapids really didn't get a lot of opportunities to set up in the Hermantown zone. As Jared Thomas stepped out of the box, a Grand Rapids shot rang all the way around to him and he walked in alone to get Hermantown back in the game. The period would end with a 1-1 tie.
The Hawks fed off the late period momentum of the 1st to come out and set the tone in the 2nd period. Chris Benson of Hermantown struck early on a pretty backdoor feed from Jared Thomas and Jared Kolquist. The Hawks owned the period as they dominated in puck possession and chances. It looked like a totally different hockey game the way Hermantown controlled the flow. Even a pair of powerplay opportunities could not spark the Thunderhawks. Hermantown owned the neutral zone the entire period. A late period penalty by Grand Rapids gave Hermantown their first powerplay, and the Hawks capitalized. Bo Gronseth was all alone on the backdoor and finished another nice passing play from Paul Herrold and Travis Koepke. Another late penalty would give Hermantown an abbreviated powerplay for the start of the 3rd period. Hermantown now held the advantage 3-1.
The 3rd started with Hermantown gaining quick offensive zone control. After a Grand Rapids defensman fell catching an edge, Chris Benson stepped into the slot and fired home the 4th Hermantown goal. Thomas and Kolquist both got helpers on the goal. Grand Rapids, after the Benson goal, woke back up and got back to playing their game. The Thunderhawks built momentum off a successful penalty kill and got back to work. Jake Bischoff made a good chip play along the boards. The puck found its way to Cody Mann, who fed Avery Peterson in slot, and Peterson buried the nice chance to get Grand Rapids back in the game, 4-2. Another good penalty kill by Hermantown, however, would tilt the momentum back in their favor. Jared Thomas tried to make a nifty move in the slot, but had the puck knocked off his stick right on to his teammate's stick, Andrew Mattson. Mattson buried a prime chance in the slot, stretching the lead to 5-2. The Mattson goal took the wind out of the Grand Rapids sails, as Hermantown was able to cruise to victory. The Hawks remain undefeated with impressive wins all over their resume. Hermantown and St. Thomas seem to be the most battle-tested Class A teams thus far.
Maple Grove vs. Edina
With Minnetonka losing to Duluth East, the Crimson from Maple Grove moved into the #2 ranking for the week, but gave the ranking right back at the hands of the same Greyhounds. Edina was coming off a tough win against Burnsville, and a win over a Top-3 team would propel the Hornets up the rankings. The puck was dropped, and the Crimson got rolling right away. The youth of Edina was tested in this game by the leadership and veteran play of Maple Grove. The Hornets got caught running around, allowing the Crimson to spring Tony Paulson on a breakaway, which he was able to cash in on. Jordan Freberg and Alex Mason made the passes to spring Paulson. Edina showed that they are a young team by not settling into the game. They were chasing the Crimson all over the ice, and found themselves lucky to not be down more than just one. A Crimson penalty would give the Hornets their first chance to really get in the game, and the Hornets wasted no time. Dylan Malmquist fed Connor Hurley in the high slot, who fired a wrist shot past Kyle Koop and evened the game, 1-1. It didn't take the Crimson long to respond, however, as Dylan Steman found a loose rebound on the doorstep and put Maple Grove back on top, 2-1. The late goal gave Maple Grove the edge heading into the 2nd period.
The Crimson once again established themselves in the 2nd period. Their overall talent and experience really came to the front in this game, as the young Edina team looked in over their heads at times. The solid play of Willie Benjamin kept Edina in through the period, as he robbed Paulson on a breakaway, keeping the Hornets within reach. The Hornets started to respond after the big save, getting some more puck control. After getting some zone time, the Hornets struck again. Hurley fired another wrist shot past Koop, this time being set up by Andy Jordahl. Benjamin had to right back to work, as he snagged a nice shot from Jordan Gross of Maple Grove. The Hornets looked like they were settling back into the game when they took a cross-checking penalty, putting a vicious Crimson powerplay on the ice. Maple Grove did not make Edina pay on the man advantage, but the powerplay gave the Crimson the momentum back. Shortly after the penalty expired, Sam Valerius was able to bat home a rebound from Shane Wolden and Spencer Bell. Time was winding down in the 2nd period when Maple Grove found the back of the net again. Tony Paulson took a nice feed from Steman, made a strong individual move to the slot, and fired another puck past Benjamin to put Maple Grove up 4-2 at the end of the period.
Edina, to their credit, didn't let the late goal get their team down. The Hornets came out buzzing, so to speak, and put together their best period of hockey against Maple Grove. The Hornets were getting shots and second chances, but Koop was playing very well. The Hornets stuck to their game, but it would be Maple Grove that struck first in the 3rd period. Spencer Bell was able to move the puck low to Shane Wolden, who found Valerius in the slot. A nifty move gave Valerius all the time he needed, as he fired a top-self shot over Benjamin. Maple Grove now had a 5-2 lead, but Edina just kept coming at the Crimson. Edina caught a break when a Louie Nanne shot deflected off a Crimson defensman and slipped past Koop to get the deficit back to 2, but that would be as close as Edina would get. Both goalies played very well, as Benjamin had to keep Edina in the game, and Koop stood tall in the 3rd period. Keep an eye on this Edina team. Like Maple Grove two years ago, Edina is young but promising. This is a Hornets team that should be favorites in AA hockey in two years.
Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Minnetonka
The #7 Red Knights have had a tough go of things recently. To focus on just the hockey, Benilde has seen a pretty steep drop. They were the #2 ranked team coming into the season, but haven't been able to consistently bring their best game. Facing off against the #3 Skippers might be exactly what the Red Knights needed to get their season turned around. Both teams have offense to spare, have gotten quality goaltending, and have great leadership to fall back on. Both teams came out absolutely flying, hungry for a huge win. The defenses played well early, but there's no good way of containing this much speed. Both teams were putting pucks to the net, skating well, and making smart passes. An early interference penalty called on Benilde gave Minnetonka the first crack on the powerplay. Sam Rothstein fed Vinni Lettieri, who put a good shot on net. Erik Baskin started banging away up front and buried a rebound to get the scoring started. The Red Knights did not allow the goal to phase them, as they got right back to work, and drew a Skippers penalty. An equally dangerous powerplay got their first turn on the man advantage, and they made it count. Dan Labosky was able to keep a clearing attempt in and fed T.J. Moore, who went top shelf to tie the game at 1 apiece. The Skippers, like Minnetonka, didn't get phased by the goal. They put pucks to the net and crashed hard. Minnetonka cashed in on their hard work (Sorry Tom) when Sam Rothstein tipped in a Jack Ramsey shot. Baskin got the secondary assist, and the Skippers were back up, 2-1. A late period Skippers penalty, however, would put the Red Knights powerplay right back on the ice. It didn't take long for Jake Horton and Benilde to capitalize, as he was able to bang home a rebound on a T.J. Moore shot. The period ended with a 2-2 tie and plenty of offense.
The story of the 2nd period was really the goalies. Both Matt Behounek of Minnetonka and Justin Quale of Benilde were called upon to make some big-time saves to keep their teams in the game. The Red Knights had the early advantage, but Behounek was able to get in front of a flurry of Benilde chances. The play of Behounek settled down the Skippers, and Minnetonka went back on the attack. Quale made some impressive saves, and the Red Knights followed cue and blocked shots like they were a team of Zanons. The Skippers caught a break as Baskin used a Red Knight defensman as a screen and made a nice shot count to put Minnetonka back up, 3-2. Sam Rothstein got the only assist on the goal. The defenses and goalies took over after that goal, and the period ended with a 3-2 Skippers lead, but both teams were definitely in this game.
The Red Knights had the early jump in the 3rd period, putting pressure on the Minnetonka goal and keeping the Skippers hemmed in their own zone. The Skippers did a great job of limiting shots, though, as the defense got in front of a lot of rubber, making Behounek's life a little bit easier. T.J. Moore finally broke through for the Red Knights as his shot was blocked, but he followed it up and banged home a loose puck to get Benilde back to a tie, 3-3. Like they had done all night, the Skippers responded well after the Red Knights scored. Tommy Vannelli took a nice Phil Katopodis feed and rang one off the pipe that slid past the line. Minnetonka was back on top with another one-goal lead. T.J. Moore took a bad penalty at a critical point, halting any Benilde momentum. The Skippers really started to play great neutral-zone hockey, as Benilde was having problems getting pucks into the Skippers zone and forechecking. Connor Thie finished off a pretty passing play from Vinni Lettieri and Max Coatta to give the Skippers their first two-goal lead. A late Moore penalty sealed this game, as Minnetonka was able to hold off Benilde-St. Margaret's, 5-3. Close game, but the two T.J. Moore penalties late in the game made the comeback that much more difficult. The Red Knights had to kill off 4 minutes of penalties with just under 9 minutes left in the game. It really shrank the window they had to work with.
What should concern the Red Knights is that their four losses have been against Minnetonka, Maple Grove (twice), and Burnsville. They're struggling against top-ranked teams. The road to the State Championship is going to go through teams like Minnetonka, Maple Grove, and Duluth East. Currently, there are no more Top-5 AA teams ahead for Benilde, but it's something that needs to be corrected if they want to host the hardware at the end of the season. I'll be the first to say this...I'm selling Benilde-St. Margaret's as a serious AA contender.
Team on the Rise:
Little Falls Flyers. A really tough start to the season put the Flyers behind the 8-ball, but a recent string of victories has the Flyers back in Class A talks. Wins over ranked Rochester Lourdes and Rodgers has helped boost the stock of this team. Little Falls should win out until their season-ending matchup with Hermantown. If the Flyers can remained unbeaten until that point, it should make for an interesting game.
Team on the Fall:
Lakeville South Cougars. I don't get how a 7-5 team can actually be ranked in Class AA. Either the Cougars have some dirt on the people ranking or the state wants Kloos to be known. Either way, back-to-back losses to Prior Lake and then Lakeville North should have moved the Cougars down farther than 15. The Cougars have a tough schedule coming up: @ Burnsville, @ Eagan, vs. Eden Prairie. If the Cougars lose all 3 (which they very well could), they had better be knocked out of the Top 20.
Upset of the Week:
Lakeville North defeats Lakeville South, 4-3. After the victory, Lakeville North had a .500 record. South lost to an unranked Prior Lake team, and then lost to in-city rival Lakeville North, also unranked. I really would love an explanation as to why Lakeville South is still a ranked team.
Upcoming Games to Note:
Saturday, Jan 14th:
#1 Duluth East vs. #7 Eden Prairie
#4 Eagan vs. #9 Burnsville
#7 Totino-Grace vs. #5 Duluth Marshall
#1 Breck (A) vs. #8 Moorhead (AA)
Tuesday, Jan 17th:
#11 Hill-Murray vs. #7 Eden Prairie
#16 Duluth Denfeld vs. #14 Hibbing/Chisholm
Wednesday, Jan 18th:
Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep Team vs. #3 St. Thomas Academy
Thursday, Jan 19th:
#5 Edina vs. #2 Minnetonka
#15 Lakeville South vs. #9 Burnsville
#8 Moorhead (AA) vs. #4 East Grand Forks (A)
#13 Warroad vs. #6 Thief River Falls