It's been hard to actually care about hockey this week. Everyone in the hockey community, from youth to the NHL, has kept Jack Jablonski in their thoughts and prayers. No one should have to go through what Jack has endured. We all still remain optimistic that Jack can overcome the latest prognosis and continue to pull for Jack in his time of need. Please visit Jack's CaringBridge site to let him know that he does have people pulling for him.
The #2 Skippers, coming off a loss to Duluth East in the Schawn Cup, looked to get back into the win column against a very talented #4 Wildcats squad. Both teams came out ready to play and had their feet moving, but the depth and talent of Minnetonka came forward as the 1st period played out. An early Eagan penalty would put the dangerous Minnetonka powerplay on the ice. Erik Baskin put Minnetonka on the board with a powerplay goal, with Tommy Vannelli and Sam Rothstein getting the assists on the goal. The Wildcats would not let the goal get them down, though, as Will Merchant was able to tie the game at 1 apiece, withgetting the assist on Merchant's goal. Minnetonka controlled the shots, but Eagan was able to stay with the Skippers, as the 1st period ended 1-1.
Minnetonka kept the pressure on in the 2nd period. The Wildcats were able to keep most of the shots to the perimeter and limit the quality scoring chances of the Skippers. Eagan even got their first powerplay of the game, but that penalty turned out to benefit the Skippers. Max Coatta scored two shorthanded goals, both unassisted, to put Minnetonka back on top, 3-1. Eagan did not let the two goals get them down, however, as they dialed up the pressure in the 2nd period. Merchant sniped his second goal on a pretty pass from Cody Mason. Merchant had an opportunity to tie the game and complete his hat trick in the 2nd when his one-timer rang off the crossbar. The 2nd period ended with the Skippers clinging to a 3-2 lead over Eagan.
The Skippers came out again in the 3rd with the early momentum, but penalties slowed the Skippers attack. An early Coatta penalty gave Eagan their second powerplay opportunity, but the Wildcats couldn't generate any momentum with the man advantage. The Skippers were committed to playing good team defense and limiting the Wildcat's chances. The tough defense continued as the Skippers took another penalty. Merchant had an opportunity to bury a juicy rebound, but the Minnetonka defense kept Merchant away. Minnetonka was able to stretch the lead, with Jack Ramsey burying a one-timer from Baskin. The Skippers were able to kill off one final penalty, securing the win, 4-2.
Duluth East vs. Maple Grove
The only game on Wednesday saw the #1 Greyhounds taking on the #3 Crimson. The Hounds came out tenative, having to adjust to an Olympic-sized ice sheet; however, the Hounds were able to force the Crimson to take an early penalty. The Greyhounds capitalized on man advantage, as Toninato was able to bury the first of the game from Randolph and Olson. The Crimson settled down after the goal, mounting some pressure of their own against Duluth East. Dylan Steman was able to pull Maple Grove even when he pounced on a rebound from an Alex Mason shot, with Tony Paulson getting the secondary assist on the goal. The Crimson had battled back, but the leadership and experience of Duluth East took over, as Jake Randolph put Duluth East back up, scoring on a nifty play from Toninato and Meirs Moore. The Greyhounds would close the period with a 2-1 lead.
Duluth East came out in the 2nd period, looking like the #1 team in the state. Their top skaters began using the large ice surface to their advantage, allowing their speed and creativity to open up the game, but Crimson goalie Kyle Koop continued to make big saves. The Duluth East depth helped keep the pressure in the Crimson zone for most of the period. When Maple Grove was able to mount some offense, Greyhound goalie Dylan Parker was there to make the save. Parker could be the most unsung of Duluth East's heroes this season, as he has split time with Paige Skoog, but Parker is showing that he is the man in net. The Hounds kept the pressure on until Conner Valesano was able to put Duluth East up by 2, as Trevor Olson made a perfect pass to find Valesano on the back door. Duluth East had a 3-1 lead at the end of 2.
The Crimson came out in the 3rd period and started putting the pressure on early. Parker was equal to the task, maintaining the 2-goal lead. The Hounds were able to hold of the early Crimson surge, and took play back to Maple Grove. A Crimson penalty put Duluth East back on the powerplay. Jake Randolph put his second goal away, as Phil Beaulieu was able to spring Randolph with a nice outlet pass. The Crimson started gaining momentum as they went on the powerplay, but Duluth East did a good job of clearing out loose pucks. A late Maple Grove penalty would slow the Crimson down, eating up two precious minutes they needed to get back in the game. The Hounds were able to hold off Maple Grove and win 4-1.
Hermantown vs. Duluth Marshall
The #3 Hawks took a very short bus ride down Miller Trunk Highway to take on the #7 Hilltoppers. Both teams had Jack Jablonski support signs behind their benches for this game, showing the solidarity of Minnesota hockey. The Hilltoppers came out fast to start the game and hemmed the Hawks in their own zone. Hermantown was able to keep the quality scoring chances down, as the Hawks put a lot of focus on slowing down Judd Peterson and his line. Andrew Mattson of Hermantown had a chance to open the scoring, but rang a shot off the pipe as the 1st period was winding down. No scoring in the 1st period. Both teams took one penalty each. Duluth Marshall had the advantage in shots, but both teams had their scoring chances.
The 2nd period saw the Hawks come out with more jump in their step. Hermantown put a lot of pressure on the defense of the Hilltoppers. The teams went 4-on-4, as Hermantown drew their first powerplay, but gave it right back 3 seconds later. Seconds after both penalties expired, Hermantown's Matt Lord forced a turnover, found Paul Herrold, and Hermantown was up 1-0. The goal seemed to spark the Hawks, as their feet picked up again. Jake Zeleznikar made a great individual effort, taking the puck all the way and putting the Hawks up 2-0. The Hilltoppers had a golden opportunity with a 5-on-3, but Hermantown was able to kill off both penalties. The Hawks then gave the Hilltoppers another opportunity on the powerplay, but were able to get the kill. The Hawks had the momentum after big penalty kills, and used that to score a last-minute goal. Bo Gronseth made a strong move to the net and put a backhand past Christian Coffman. Jared Thomas and Neil Pionk got the assists on the play. The 2nd period ended with Hermantown on top, 3-0.
The Hawks continued their tear in the 3rd period, getting a very quick goal. Chris Benson banged home a rebound from a Jared Thomas shot, with Mattson getting the secondary assist. The Hawks kept giving the Hilltoppers chances to get back in the game, as Duluth Marshall had a short 5-on-3, but the Hawks got another big kill. Judd Peterson helped out with that, as he took a frustration slashing penalty as Andrew Mattson stepped out of the box. The Hilltoppers finally got on the board late in the 3rd, as Steve Long Jr. was able to bury a bad-angle shot, with Conner Flaherty getting the only assist on the goal. Good teams find ways to rally around goals, and it was Hermantown that responded. Andrew Mattson scored 8 seconds after the Long goal on a back door goal, coming from Jared Kolquist and Jared Thomas. Hermantown skated off with a 5-1 win. Too many penalties from the Hawks to beat teams like Breck and St. Thomas, but they definitely showed why their considered a top contender in Class A.
Minnetonka vs. Moorhead
The #9 Spuds kicked off a tough back-to-back series with a game in Minnetonka versus the #3 Skippers. Saturday, the Spuds will travel north to take on #1 Duluth East. These two games would prove pivotal for Moorhead. Good showing could give the Spuds a boost in momentum, while poor performances could halt the Spuds in their tracks. The 1st period saw both teams play their style of hockey. Minnetonka wanted to come out and use their speed and offensive ability to wear down the Spuds, while Moorhead stuck with sound defense and strong physical play to grind their opponents out. The first quality opportunity would go to the Skippers, as Moorhead sent one to the box for a hooking penalty. Minnetonka jumped on the opportunity, as Max Coatta found Sam Rothstein on the back door for an easy tap in goal. The Skippers jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but Moorhead stuck to their game. The Spuds caught a break as the Skippers were whistled for a goalie interference penalty, putting Moorhead on the powerplay. Logan Ness made the opportunity count, as he buried a wrap around chance behind Behounek to tie the game, 1-1. Aaron Herdt and Bryan Christian both made great passes to help set up the Ness goal. The two squads did a good job of limiting chances in the period, and the 1st came to an end in a 1-1 tie.
Moorhead was able to carry some late momentum into the 2nd period. Both teams did a good job of creating offense once they entered the zone, but Moorhead had an advantage, keeping the game close and low scoring. The Spuds did a good job of keeping the high-powered Skippers offense in check. It also didn't hurt that the Spuds got great goaltending from Michael Bitzer. The Spuds carried play towards the end of the period, and their hard work (Sorry Tom) led to a Jesse Doschadis goal. Cody Rahman got the lone assist, and Moorhead had a 2-1 lead. Both teams took a late penalty, but neither team was able to cash in on the man advantage. The 2nd period ended, and the Spuds skated off with a 2-1 lead.
The Skippers came out in the 3rd with the intent of speeding up the game. They are a team that needs to play fast and aggressive to be effective. The Skippers were able to get the ball rolling early in the 3rd. Jimmy Schuldt scored 37 seconds in, with Jared Ridge and Justin Bader getting the helpers. The Skippers picked up the scent of blood after the goal and moved in for the kill. After a Spuds interference penalty, Max Coatta put Minnetonka up 3-2 on a powerplay goal. Vinni Lettieri found Coatta alone on the backside, and Coatta made no mistake. The Skippers kept the pressure on, using their speed and depth to break down the Spuds defense. Coatta returned the favor to Lettieri, as Vinni went top shelf to put Minnetonka up 4-2. It took 32 seconds for the Skippers to strike again, as Jared Ridge tipped a slap pass over Bitzer's shoulder. Phil Katopodis and Justin Bader were credited with the assists on the play. Minnetonka now had a 5-2 lead, slowly putting this game out of reach. A last minute goal from Moorhead (Bryant Christian from Ness and Herdt) got the Spuds within 2, but it was too late. The Skippers offensive talent was just too much for Moorhead.
Team on the Rise:
Edina Hornets. They came into the season as a younger team, but the youth is starting to develop some swagger. A win over a very good St. Thomas Academy team is nothing to scoff at. A 10-2 record while playing top competition is no fluke either. The Hornets could be challenging come Tournament Time.
Team on the Fall:
Warroad Warriors. A 6-4-1 record shouldn't keep Warroad ranked, but their pedigree keeps them in the Top 20. The wins haven't been that impressive. Don't be shocked if the Warriors drop 3 of 4 later in the season to Moorhead, Duluth Marshall, and Duluth Denfeld.
Upset of the Week:
Prior Lake defeats Lakeville South, 6-5. Lakeville South was clinging to the #11 ranking in AA, but a loss to Prior Lake is not what you expect from a ranked team. I'm not going to say Prior Lake is bad, but I'm not going to say the Lakers are good, either.
Upcoming Games to Note:
Saturday, Jan 7th:
#2 St. Thomas Academy vs. #8 Mahtomedi
#5 Duluth Marshall vs. #9 Rochester Lourdes
#9 Moorhead vs. #1 Duluth East
Tuesday, Jan 10th:
#5 Edina vs. #8 Burnsville
#3 Hermantown (A) vs. #14 Grand Rapids (AA)
Thursday, Jan 12th:
#2 Maple Grove vs. #5 Edina
#7 Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. #3 Minnetonka
#1 Duluth East vs. #14 Grand Rapids