The season is boiling down, folks. Saturday is the last day of the regular season for Boys' high school hockey. The conferences have really tightened up. Teams separated by one or two points still have an opportunity to make a jump and hang a Conference Champion banner from the home rink. The desperate hockey is in full swing. Regardless, teams cannot look too far ahead, or they can very easily get tripped up at the finish line.
The section tournaments kick off on Saturday, February 18th. Sections 6A and 8AA will have their play-in games on Saturday. The actual section quarterfinal games will begin on Feb. 21st.
We all love postseason hockey, and this is no exception. The competition will ramp up, and the one-and-done system means that any team can take an upset and run with it. A goalie getting hot at the right time can get a team to Xcel. There are plenty of Cinderella stories that occur to believe that any team can make a run to the State Tournament. Everything these kids have put into the season will now be put to the test. Bring on the REAL March Madness.Minnetonka vs. Wayzata
The #2 Skippers are still in the hunt for the Lake Conference title going into a tough matchup against the #10 Trojans. People may have been sleeping on Wayzata, but they have played teams tough all season long and do have the talent to put together a nice run to finish their regular season. Minnetonka got caught looking too far down the schedule before, and this game had all the makings of being another trap game for the Skippers.
The Trojans came out flying right out of the gates, creating an odd-man rush against Minnetonka. Kenzie Vold, the late man on the play, was able to gather up the puck and bury an easy goal to give Wayzata a lead 30 seconds into the game. Sam Majka and Chase Haller both got assists on the quick goal. A Wayzata penalty, however, would put the vaunted Skipper powerplay on the ice, and Vinni Lettieri made it count. Lettieri, from behind the net, threw a puck out front that somehow bounced into the net, with Tommy Vannelli and Max Coatta getting the helpers. Wayzata would not let the goal get them down, however, as the Trojans picked up the physical game and started putting tough pressure on Paul Ciaccio. Pucks started getting to the net, putting Minnetonka on their heels. An Eric Fong shot got tipped by Kage Tiller and found its way past Ciaccio to give Wayzata the lead back. Kyle Olson got the other assist on the Tiller goal. Wayzata had found a way to skate off with a 2-1 after the 1st period.
The Trojans kept up their game in the 2nd period, keeping the pace slower than how Minnetonka wanted to play. The Skippers want to run-and-gun and put their offense on display, but Wayzata did a great job of clogging the middle of the ice, especially in the neutral zone. The Trojans were given the opportunity to stretch their lead when Minnetonka was assessed a holding penalty, and they didn't waste their opportunity. Sam Majka was able to bang in a rebound on the powerplay, coming from Matt Halverson and Kage Tiller. The Trojans were doing an amazing job of frustrating and slowing down Minnetonka, and they were rewarded with a 3-1 lead after 2 periods.
Minnetonka had to respond in the 3rd, and the physical play picked up; however, it still wasn't leading to goals. Wayzata was really focused on keeping the Coatta and Lettieri line shut down, and outside of the powerplay goal, the Trojans were doing just that. Neither junior was able to find a lot of space to pick up speed and use their talent. With so much focus on the juniors, the task of getting back into the game fell upon the senior combination of Sam Rothstein and Erik Baskin, and the duo came through. After Rothstein fed Connor Thie for a shot, Baskin found a loose rebound and made no mistake. The goal pulled Minnetonka to within one with just over 7 minutes left. The two seniors would again factor in on another Skipper goal, as Baskin and Rothstein got the assists on Tommy Vannelli's rebound goal. The Skippers had pulled even, sending this game to overtime.
The Trojans continued to focus their top defensive pairing on the Coatta/Lettieri duo, and once again, it was the Baskin/Rothstein combination that delivered. Rothstein fed Baskin, who shot beat goalie Alec Almquist cleanly. Wayzata loses a heartbreaker, 4-3 in overtime.
The depth of Minnetonka cannot be overlooked. Many of the teams don't have the defensmen to shut down two incredibly skilled lines. Teams have to pick their poison, but as this game illustrated, the other line is able to beat you. Duluth East may be #1 in Class AA, but if I had to pick a favorite to win it all, I think the Skippers are the favorite. The Randolph and Toninato pairing can match up with one line (probably the Baskin line), but the defense and offensive depth of East doesn't seem to have enough to play with Coatta and Lettieri.
Totino-Grace vs. Benilde-St. Margaret's
The #6(A) Eagles were coming off a statement win against the Breck Mustangs and were looking to add another feather in their cap. They would be facing a #8(AA) Red Knights team that also had gotten their statement win against a top-ranked Wayzata team. Both were looking to extend their play right before the start of the Section Tournaments.
Both teams have great top end talent, and both teams were ready to play from the start. The Red Knights started to gain a slight advantage against the Eagles, but a penalty would put Totino on the powerplay. The Eagles didn't get many good looks, though, as the Red Knights skating ability made it tough to set up on the man advantage. With time running out in the 1st period, Benilde opened the scoring, as T.J. Moore was able to finish off a nice play from Dan Labosky and Jack Glover. The period would end with the Red Knights leading, 1-0.
The game and tempo completely changed in the 2nd period. Both teams stepped up the physical play, but it ended up going over the line as the penalties started to slow the game down. Seven minor penalties between the two teams held up the first 10 minutes of the period. The game finally returned to regular play with the last penalty of the period. A Benilde powerplay led to a quick goal from Labosky, with Christian Horn and Glover getting the helpers. The floodgates opened after the powerplay goal, as Horn, Jake Horton, and Moore added 2nd period goals to stretch the lead to 5-0. Jake O'Borsky and Glover got the assists on the Horn goal, Grant Besse got the single assist on Horton's goal, and Labosky and Besse got the helpers on the Moore goal. The late flurry gave Benilde a comfortable 4-goal lead heading into the 3rd period.
The 3rd period started with more penalties, as the animosity between the two conference rivals really started to come to the front. There was only one 4-minute window where there was no one in the box, and that one window was enough for Benilde to add another goal. Horn struck again, from Besse and Horton to put this game out of reach at 5-0. Shortly after, the march to the box continued, slowing play once again. Some late powerplay opportunities for Totino-Grace went empty, as Benilde-St. Margaret's took this game, 5-0.
Thief River Falls vs. East Grand Forks
In what very well could be the Section Final for 8A, the #4 Prowlers squared off against the #7 Green Wave for the second time in the season. While Moorhead has the Marriuci Conference wrapped up, the seeding for the section tournament was at stake.
East Grand Forks got off to a quick start, putting on some early pressure and driving the net hard. Nick Korynta was able to find a loose puck in the slot to give the Green Wave the early lead, with Cory Mack and Colton Poolman getting the helpers. The goal snapped the Prowlers out of an early funk, as Thief River Falls started to take over play. Thief had some decent looks and some good zone time, but weren't able to convert until the final seconds of the 1st period. The Prowlers created havoc in front of the Green Wave goal, but the puck got slapped to the side boards. Tanner Nessen threw the puck back at the net, but goalie Hunter Aubol couldn't find it through traffic. Nessen got Thief on the board from Connor Doherty and Logan Engelstad. The late period goal put this game at a 1-1 tie going into the 2nd period.
Having taken momentum and control, the Prowlers started to push the pace in the 2nd period. Logan Ose was able to give Thief River Falls their first lead on an unassisted goal in the slot. A failed slot clear left Ose all alone, who was able to bang home a loose rebound. The Prowlers kept putting on pressure as East Grand Forks got caught in their own zone. The Green Wave did do a good job of getting in front of shot, keeping the shot total low and most opportunities to the outside. The Prowlers were finally able to break through the East Grand Forks defense with another dirty goal. Evan Ose was able to find a rebound from a Riley Soderstrom shot to give Thief a 2-goal lead.
East Grand Forks finally got back to getting pucks deep and creating turnovers in the Thief River Falls zone. A late Thief River Falls penalty gave the Green Wave a great opportunity to get back in the game, but goalie Jon Narverud made the big saves when he needed. The Wave tried one more time to chip into the lead when they pulled their goalie, but once again, Narverud was equal to the task, keeping East Grand Forks off the board. The Prowlers win 3-1 and took a 2-0 series lead against East Grand Forks. If these two teams meet again in the Section 8A Final, you have to believe that Thief has the mental advantage. The Prowlers have outscored the Green Wave 8-2 in their two games.
Edina vs. Wayzata
An incredibly important game for both teams, the #5 Hornets were looking to stay one step ahead of the Skippers for the Lake Conference championship while the #10 Trojans were looking to maintain their position in a brutal Section 6AA for the upcoming tournament.
The Hornets seemed to have an early advantage in play, as their top line pinned Wayzata in their own zone. The pressure, however, didn't yield a shot, as the Wayzata defense that has played well all year kept the puck away from their net. A waived off goal for Edina may have deflated the team for a bit, and the Trojans struck quickly. Sam Majka found a rebound from a Kenzie Vold shot and snuck it past Willie Benjamin to put Wayzata up 1-0. The goal got Wayzata going, but a penalty would halt their momentum. Parker Reno made the man advantage count with a pretty wrist shot from Tyler Nanne. The powerplay marker tied the game at 1 apiece after the 1st period.
Edina came out in the 2nd period and looked a bit off. The Trojans started to take the play to Edina, outworking the Hornets in the dirty areas. The tough play paid off when Blake Hallenberg found a Alec Waszczenko rebound and stuff it past Benjamin to put Wayzata up 2-1. An Edina holding penalty gave the Trojans a shot at stretching their lead, and the big name players stepped up. Kenzie Vold tipped a Matt Halverson shot in to give the Trojans a 2-goal lead. Kage Tiller got the other helper on Vold's powerplay goal. A pair of late period penalties on Wayzata gave Edina a chance to get back in the game, but Alec Almquist came up with the big saves to keep the lead at 2. Edina would have to mount a comeback in the 3rd as Wayzata held a 3-1 lead.
The Hornets came out in the 3rd with an air of desperation, and it showed in their play. Edina was winning races to the puck and getting Wayzata back peddling early in the frame. The Hornets chipped into the lead when Tyler Nanne went coast to coast and beat Almquist with a quick deke. Edina pulled within a goal and seemed like they were going to rally. The comeback, though, would be halted by a Miguel Fidler penalty. The Hornets were able to get the kill, but the offensive flow they had going early in the period was all but halted. Wayzata did a very good job of keeping Edina bottled up for most of the period, hanging on to a 3-2 upset victory.
The Edina loss, coupled with a Minnetonka win over Eden Prairie means that the Skippers now hold control of the Lake Conference. The better overall record of Minnetonka means that the loss to Wayzata has eliminated the Hornets from winning the Lake.
Upset of the Week:
Spring Lake Park defeated Totino-Grace, 8-4
Powered by a 6-goal 2nd period, the Spring Lake Park Panthers absolutely stunned the Totino-Grace Eagles. Not the response the Eagles were looking for after losing a tough game against Benilde-St. Margaret's.
Upcoming Games to Note:
Saturday, Feb. 18th:
#6 Totino-Grace vs. #9 Rochester Lourdes
#7 Moorhead vs. #10 Hill-Murray
#8 St. Cloud Cathedral vs. #5 Duluth Marshall
#3 The Breck School vs. #10 Blake
#5 Edina vs. #6 Eden Prairie
For a complete listing of scores, check out the StarTribune's complete schedule.
For updated rankings, check out the Let's Play Hockey rankings.
To see the Sections and rankings, check out Follow the Puck.