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Fight to the finish

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 09/17/11, 9:41PM CDT

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Friends, teammates draw battle lines in Northwest vs. Southwest showdown


Team Southwest's Conor Andrle of Breck dives to beat Team Northwests' Spencer Bell of Maple Grove to the puck as goaltender Michael Bitzer of Moorhead guards the crease. Photo by Helen Nelson

The scoring was back and forth. So, too, was the trash talking.

It seems Team Northwest and Team Southwest are not the friendliest of rivals, even though many of the players know each other well.

Perhaps too well?

“Southwest has a lot of the big names out there -- Edina, Minnetonka -- so we thought we'd take it to them,” said Breck’s Grant Opperman, who scored twice for Team Northwest in its hotly contested 5-4 Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League victory on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.

Conor Andrle, Opperman’s good buddy and Breck teammate, plays for Team Southwest. In fact, there are three Breck players on Team Northwest (Opperman, Austin Rudnick and Thomas Lindstrom) and two on Team Southwest (Andrle and Wesley Iverson).

Benilde-St. Margaret’s was another high school team divided, with Team Southwest’s Daniel Labosky squaring off against four Red Knights teammates on Team Northwest.


Team Northwest scored three goals against Dylan Parker of Duluth East in the second period against Team Southwest. Photo by Helen Nelson

“It's them versus us,” Opperman said. “We don't like them when we're out there against them. We like them when we're with them, I mean Conor (Andrle) is one of my best friends, but out there he's not one of my buddies.

“He knows that, I know that, we're going to play hard to the whistle and then after the game we'll probably go hang out now.”

A five-minute major penalty for slashing called on Blaine’s Michael Brodzinski at the end of the first period had the effect of jet fuel on a bonfire.

“After we killed that off, we really got a lot of energy going for the team,” said Maple Grove’s Jordan Gross, a junior Team Northwest defenseman whose two-goal afternoon included the game-winner with less than two minutes left. “It felt really good. A couple of the guys just really wanted to beat them. We’ve got friends on each side.”

The teams combined for 10 penalties in the second period alone. In all, there were 20 penalties (including one game misconduct and one 10-minute misconduct) called for a whopping 62 minutes.

The game was so intense, even Labosky, one of the smallest players on the ice at 5-foot-7, 145 pounds, was whistled for a third-period roughing penalty.

Stay tuned for Round 2, said Opperman: “It's a lot of the big teams in the metro and we're going to see each other during the high school season. We don't like each other, we haven't liked each other. I have a feeling that every Northwest-Southwest matchup is going to be pretty similar to that.”

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Q&A with Team Northwest Forward Grant Opperman

Scoring twice in the Sunday, Sept. 18 game against Team Southwest would have been reason enough to talk to Team Northwest forward and Breck senior Grant Opperman.

Now add in a recently announced commitment to play for Dartmouth College.

Opperman took time after Team Northwest’s 5-4 victory to speak with the Hockey Hub about his collegiate commitment, the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League and high hopes for Breck during the 2011-2012 varsity season.

Question:  How are you feeling about your decision to play at Dartmouth College?
Answer:  I'm just really excited. I've been talking to the coaches for a little while, I love the coaches, I know a couple guys going there Brett Patterson (Eden Prairie) and Ryan Bullock (Blake), both good friends, so I'm excited about it -- it's going to be fun.

Q:  Now, Breck and Blake have quite the rivalry as evidenced last season. What is it going to be like playing with former Blake defenseman Ryan Bullock?
A:  I don't like him when I'm playing (against) him but when I'm playing with him, obviously he's a great player. He moves the puck, he hops up into the rush and he's a great offensive defenseman. It's going to be fun to play with him.

Q:  Are you heading straight to the Ivy League or will you be playing somewhere else first?
A:  I've got a year of juniors -- I'm not sure where yet -- but 2013 is when my commitment is for.

Q:  Is this your first season playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League?
A:  (In 2010), I played a little bit towards the end of the season but most of it in the development league.

Q:  What’s this experience in the Elite League been like so far?
A:  It's just fun. We have a great group of guys. We've only been together for a couple of weeks but we're a tight knit team. We love to play, we have good energy and good chemistry out there. It's awesome.

Q:
  With so many players coming back for Breck, perennial state tournament attendee, what’s this experience in the Elite League like for the Mustangs?
A:  We have five in the Elite League, a few more that could be easily, we're going to bring it. We have a lot of seniors this year and it's our last chance. A lot of us were on the freshman and sophomore team that won state. We're just going to bring it day in and day out. We know what we have to do and we know we have the horses to do it.

-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap


Jordan Gross

Jordan Gross, a junior defenseman from Maple Grove, scored with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining to lift Team Northwest past Team Southwest 5-4 in a penalty-filled Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League game on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.

With Team Northwest on a power play, Gross scored the winning goal with a low blast from the point. The puck skidded past a sliding Tanner Holmquist of Hopkins before appearing to deflect off traffic in the crease, redirecting just before sliding under Team Southwest goaltender Dylan Parker of Duluth East.

The teams combined for 20 penalties totaling 62 minutes. Team Northwest converted 3 of 8 power-play opportunities while Team Southwest went 2-for-9 with the man advantage.

Gross scored two power-play goals, and Grant Opperman of Breck also scored twice for Team Northwest, which trailed 2-1 after the first period and 3-2 midway through the third.

T.J. Roo of Totino-Grace scored the other Team Northwest goal.

Conor Andrle of Breck, Eric Baskin of Minnetonka, Parker Reno of Edina and Daniel Labosky of Benilde-St. Margaret’s scored the Team Southwest goals.

Michael Bitzer of Moorhead stopped 28 of 32 shots to earn the victory. Parker made 23 saves for Team Southwest.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

1. Jordan Gross, Team Northwest
A 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior defenseman from Maple Grove who has committed to play at Notre Dame, Gross repeatedly uncorked his booming shot from the point as Team Northwest enjoyed numerous power-play opportunities. Gross scored twice, with both his goals coming on the man advantage.

2. Grant Opperman, Team Northwest
Opperman, a 5-11½ senior forward from Breck, scored a shorthanded goal on a high-speed dash early in the second period and added another goal midway through the period as he helped Team Northwest match Team Southwest goal-for-goal.

3. Daniel Labosky, Team Southwest
One of the smallest players on the ice, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-7, 145-pound Labosky made an impact with his speed and grittiness. He scored midway through the third period to tie the score at 4, then left the ice with his celebratory leap into a teammate's arms.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com