Despite not being outside for the first time, Hockey Day Minnesota had to be considered a good day for hockey fans across the state. The Pagel Activity Center was a very nice complex to host the high school games. Grand Rapids and White Bear Lake had a great game to open the day. The fans who showed up early to watch the Thunderhawks and Bears were treated to a much more competitive game than the Skippers and Greyhounds.
The Gophers were able to bounce back against Colorado College. While Fox Sports North and their homer employees would never acknowledge that there are more than one Minnesota D1 college teams, the other state teams performed well. The Bulldogs swept the series in their return home over Alabama-Huntsville. Minnesota State was able to pull off an overtime win against Nebraska Omaha. St. Cloud State played a very competitive game against North Dakota despite missing their cornerstone goalie and captain.
To cap off the day, the Wild found their offensive game and forecheck in a huge win against Dallas. Chad Rau and little brother Kyle Rau were able to celebrate a huge day for the family. Chad ended up with the game-winning goal in his first NHL game, the first goal of his career. It was a great day for Minnesota hockey.
While there were plenty of good games over the course of the week, there were really only two games with serious implications for Minnesota Boys' High School Hockey. Unless it's the State Tournament, it's rare to see arguably the top two teams from both Class A and Class AA going head to head.
Minnetonka vs. Duluth East
A rematch of the Schwan Cup Final (Gold Division), the #2 Skippers and the #1 Greyhounds skated as the highlight high school game of Hockey Day Minnesota. The Hounds came in with a couple of key players not in the lineup, while Minnetonka had a Thursday loss to Edina. The large crowd inside of Pagel was heavily in favor of Minnetonka. The game had an early feel that the #1 would go down.
From the drop of the puck, the speed and offensive talent of Minnetonka was on display. Not having Trevor Olson in the lineup really hurt Duluth East, as he is arguably the best two-way player on the team. It didn’t take long for Minnetonka to use their depth advantage to strike first. The Baskin was defended by the 2nd line of Duluth East, and the mismatch was apparent. Erik Baskin took a perfect feed from Sam Rothstein off an East turnover and beat Paige Skoog to give the Skippers an early 1-0 advantage. A T.V. timeout gave the Hounds a chance to regroup after the Skipper goal, and they responded with a tally of their own. Jake Randolph took a cross-ice feed from Dom Toninato and tied the game at 1. Ryan Lundgren got credit for the secondary assist on the goal. The tie wouldn’t last long though, as the Baskin line came back out on the mismatch and made the Hounds pay again. This time it was Rothstein beating Skoog, with Baskin and Jack Ramsey getting the helpers. Phil Katopodis, who drew the tough assignment of shutting down the East top line, forced a turnover and buried a partial breakaway chance to put Minnetonka up 3-1. The Skippers survived a late push by Duluth East to hold a 3-1 lead after the 1st.
The 2nd period was all Minnetonka. A checking from behind major gave Minnetonka an early powerplay, and Max Coatta made it count. Right off the draw, Coatta buried a quick goal from Vinni Lettieri to stretch the lead to 4-1. East was able to avoid giving up another powerplay goal on the major, but the damage was done. The Hounds looked defeated after the Coatta goal, while Minnetonka had all the confidence and were playing great hockey. The Skippers made life tough for Duluth, especially in the neutral zone. The Hounds continued to turn the puck over, making poor passes. It got worse for Duluth as Coatta was able to bury his second goal of the game, coming from Lettieri once again. A late Minnetonka powerplay gave Duluth East a chance to stop the bleeding. After some quick passes, Jake Randolph made an unbelievable saucer pass across the zone to find Ryan Lundgren. Toninato was able to find Lundgren’s rebound, pulling Duluth within 3. The Skippers had the lead after 2 periods, 5-2.
The Skippers came out in the 3rd period and put it away early. Once again, it was Max Coatta doing the damage, finishing off a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play from Connor Thie and Lettieri. The hats came flying over the glass for Coatta. The Skippers didn’t let up, as Baskin was able to fire home his second of the game, this one from Rothstein. The fans seemed to think that Baskin had a hat trick, as more hats came flying out, but the fans were quickly disappointed as the box announcer said that it was only Baskin’s second of the afternoon. A kneeing penalty gave Duluth East another powerplay opportunity, and Jake Randolph made the man advantage count. Toninato moved the puck to Lundgren, who found Randolph alone on the backdoor for the easy goal. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as Coatta from Rothstein and Lettieri made it 8-3. Lettieri added his own goal from Michael Prochno and Coatta to finish the route. The Skippers crushed Duluth in the rematch, 9-3.
Duluth was clearly outmatched in this game. Missing Trevor Olson, Nate Repensky, and Dylan Parker made a huge difference. The Hounds didn’t have another defenseman to match up against the depth of Minnetonka. Olson wasn’t available to help the 2nd line. Time and time again the Hounds were exposed when the Randolph – Toninato – Lundgren line wasn’t on the ice. The Skippers played incredible neutral zone defense, forcing bad passes and turnovers. Not to take anything away from Minnetonka, but Duluth definitely looked sluggish in this contest. The Hounds didn’t attack the Minnetonka defense at all. East made Minnetonka look bad in the Schwan Cup, and now Minnetonka made East look bad on Hockey Day Minnesota. I expect that a true matchup is somewhere in between these two appearances.
St. Thomas Academy vs. The Breck School
Hockey Day Minnesota also had a clash of the Class A powers, as #3 St. Thomas Academy visited #2 Breck. While the rankings have these teams at 2 and 3, I’ll still view them as #1 and #2 until Hermantown can prove they can beat either squad.
Both top lines came out flying and setting the pace quickly. The Mustangs fired one off the post in the early minutes of the game, and the Cadets counter attacked. Both teams got off some early shots, but it was the Cadets who struck first. Erik Schurhamer was able to fire a low shot through a screen to beat Jack Kenney. Gunnar Regan and Matt Perry got the helpers on the goal, and St. Thomas Academy had the early 1-0 lead. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Wesley Iverson found a loose puck by the Cadet goal and fired a shot past David Zevnik to tie the game at 1 apiece. A Breck penalty gave the Cadets a chance to grab the lead back, but a bad pinch on the powerplay allowed Matt Colford to finish a 2-on-1 with Grant Opperman, giving Breck their first lead of the game, 2-1. The 1st period ended with the Mustangs leading by one. The play between the two was pretty even.
The 2nd period would see more even play between the two programs, as both have speed and talent to burn. Breck got an early 5-on-3 for over a minute, but the Cadets were able to stand tall and kill off both early penalties. Both teams continued to trade chances through the period. Perry missed an open net for St. Thomas, and Opperman was stoned by Zevnik on a breakaway. The goalies did their part, and the defense of both teams kept the rebound chances to a minimum. The 2nd period ended with Breck still on top, 2-1.
The 3rd opened with more of the end to end skating and chances. A roughing penalty on St. Thomas gave Breck a chance to stretch the lead, but the Cadets were perfect on the kill. Breck didn’t get any good looks on the man advantage, giving away the early momentum for the period. The Cadets started to get Breck hemmed in their zone and generate some offensive flow. It paid off as Regan was able to get his stick on a Schurhamer goal, tying the game at 2. Jack Jenson got the secondary assist on the tying goal. St. Thomas got a late powerplay with the chance to finish the game, but the Breck penalty kill was able to hold off the Cadets. The 3rd period ended with the score still tied, sending this game to overtime.
The late-period surge from St. Thomas Academy carried over to the overtime period. Kenney made some huge saves early the OT to keep Breck in the game. Thomas Lindstrom of Breck had a glorious chance, but missed a wide open net. The Mustangs started to generate some momentum, but playing only two lines in overtime started to wear on Breck. Breck called a late timeout to rest their top two lines, but it wasn’t enough as the Cadets scored a goal with just over one minute left to win a huge Class A game. Tom Novak was able to finish a nice passing play from Peter Krieger and Schurhamer.
While the Minnetonka/East game was a total blowout, this game was fought tooth and nail. Both teams had great opportunities to gain the advantage. Both squads were in the game through most of it, but the decision to play only two lines wore on the Mustangs. The Cadets can safely roll three lines against any of the Class A teams and match up well. The depth of the Cadets makes them a tough team to pick against in Class A. Breck still has a lot of talent, both in the top lines and in goal. Depending on seeding, this could be the Class A State Tournament Final. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t believe that Hermantown has the talent to beat either of these programs. The Hawks are a great team, but they’ve been given the #1 ranking based simply on the fact that both St. Thomas Academy and Breck have lost games.
Team on the Rise:
Andover Huskies. The Huskies have quietly amassed an 8-3-1 conference record against a very tough Northwest Suburban Conference. Andover recently tied Maple Grove, 2-2, showing they can hang with a Top-3 team in Class AA. The upcoming games against Elk River, Centennial, and Blaine give Andover some great tune-up games against tough competition before the Section Tournaments start.
Team on the Fall:
Duluth East Greyhounds. Getting hammered by Minnetonka doesn't bode well for the Hounds. East has games against Blaine and Cloquet, but there aren't a whole lot of tough road tests left for Duluth East. After coming so close last year to the State Title, East had high expectations for this season. On Saturday, they looked totally outmatched against Minnetonka. Anything less than a Championship has to be considered a disappointment, so losing against the team that could be opposing East in the Finals in a convincing fashion leaves a lot to be desired.
Upset of the Week:
Hastings Raiders defeated the Roseville Raiders, 1-0. For the second week in a row, the Hastings Raiders knocked off a Top-20 team that should have won. What made this a major upset was that Roseville had an opportunity to close the gap on White Bear Lake in the Suburban East Conference.
Upcoming Games to Note:
Friday, Jan 27th:
#7 Moorhead vs. #6 Benilde-St. Margaret's
Saturday, Jan 28th:
#5 Thief River Falls vs. #4 Duluth Marshall
#10 Hill-Murray (AA) vs. #9 Mahtomedi (A)
#9 Wayzata vs. #5 Edina
#1 Minnetonka vs. #8 Eden Prairie
Tuesday, Jan 31st:
#2 St. Thomas Academy vs. #7 Totino-Grace
#4 Eagan vs. #10 Hill-Murray
Thursday, Feb 2nd:
#8 Eden Prairie vs. #5 Edina