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A bounty of Holiday Classics

12/26/2011, 7:22am CST
By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Eden Prairie's matchup with Moorhead highlights Top 10 games for Dec. 26-31


Eden Prairie's Derrick LaCombe (Photo by Helen Nelson).

1. Eden Prairie vs. Moorhead
St. Louis Park Holiday Classic
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
MyFoxHockey Live Webcast

Hockey fans, instead of returning, exchanging and/or otherwise dealing with all your holiday presents, give yourself a treat. Head on out for a hockey tournament.

The Week Ahead’s top games over the holiday break feature a sampling of top first-rounders from holiday tournaments across the state. There will be some terrific match-ups in the semifinals and finals of these events, but without going out on a limb with predictions, the only sure bets are in the first round. This week, we're picking one game from each of 10 holiday tournaments to feature -- and believe it or not, but there are plenty more than just 10 tournaments this week around the state. No matter which corner of the state you are in, it's a fairly easy drive to see some great hockey games.

Games begin on Monday, Dec. 26 (Boxing Day for those of you from Canada) and continue on until the Roseau Holiday Classic ends the smorgasbord on New Year’s Eve. 

For our top game of the week, we're heading down to the relatively new Hockey Holiday Classic at St. Louis Park, a tournament hosted by Benilde-St. Margaret's that features eight top programs from around the state, but we're most watching the quarterfinal between Eden Prairie and Moorhead.

The Eagles versus Spuds matchup is just one of four great quarterfinal games at the St. Louis Park Holiday Classic. Maple Grove and Elk River play in a Northwest Suburban Conference showdown, Bloomington Jefferson faces Wayzata, and Centennial takes on Benilde-St. Margaret’s. The final will played Friday, Dec. 30, at the St. Louis Park Rec Center and will be a Hockey Hub Spotlight Game. All championship bracket games will be webcast live on MyFoxHockey.com.

Eden Prairie (5-1-1) may be the defending Class AA champion, but the sixth-ranked Eagles are far from the same team that beat Duluth East in the title game last March. They graduated one of the most decorated classes in recent history, including Mr. Hockey Kyle Rau, and appeared to most observers to be primed for a rebuilding season. But there is no rebuilding at Eden Prairie, only reloading.

The Eagles have only lost once in their first seven games of the winter, a 4-1 setback to host Edina at the Hornets' Holiday Classic earlier this month. They've also posted some impressive victories, such as a 2-1 shocker over Eagan, 3-1 over Grand Rapids and the latest, a 7-3 rout of Burnsville. Eden Prairie may not have the firepower of last season, but it's winning close, low-scoring games.

Andrew Knudsen (6-6--12) and sophomore Steven Spinner (6-1--7) share the team goal-scoring lead with a half dozen each, but it's in the Eagles' defensive zone that they've been strongest. Sophomore Luc Snuggerud (4-2--6) has been a great addition both offensively and defensively, as has the young goaltending duo of sophomores Derrick LaCombe (3-1-0, 1.75, .936) and Jake Gerdes (2-0-1, 3.48, .875).

Defense and goaltending is also the strength of No. 9AA Moorhead (6-0-0), so it should be a game of who is most effective at their relative strength. The Spuds are one of a handful of unbeaten teams left in the state and have impressive victories over Section 8AA rivals Bemidji (2-1 in overtime) and at Roseau (5-2).

Senior Michael Bitzer (6-0-0, 1.17, .944) is one of the top goaltenders in the state and an early favorite to win the Frank Brimsek Award as the top senior netminder. He's been starting since sharing time his freshman season and is calm and steady between the pipes, but he has plenty of help from a defensive corps that is led by seniors Terry Leabo (1-5--6) and Jake Uglem (1-4--5).

Moorhead's scoring punch also comes from a pair of junior Uglems, Tony (8-1--9) and Nicholas (4-5--9), along with Thomas Carey (1-8--9). The trio leads the team in scoring, but the Spuds are a balanced bunch, as a dozen players have at least four points.

Game of the Week

Spotlight Game Coverage

Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

'Week Ahead' Archives

Other top games

2. Burnsville vs. Duluth East
Schwan Cup Gold Division
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

For the past several years, the Schwan Cup's Gold Divisino has been considered the top holiday tournament in the state, and with matchups like this one it’s easy to see why. No. 1AA Duluth East (8-0-0) has been rolling behind Jake Randolph (15-11--26) while No. 7AA Burnsville (6-2-0) has surprised with a great balance between senior leaders and youngsters. Holy Angels and St. Thomas Academy, Minnetonka and Hill-Murray, and Edina and Blaine are also paired up in the first round of games Monday, Dec. 26, at Ridder Arena, all of which will be featured as Hockey Hub Spotlight Games. The final is slated for 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28 at the Xcel Energy Center and will be a Hockey Hub Spotlight Game, as will both semifinals the previous day.

3. Hermantown vs. Thief River Falls
8th annual Ralph Engelstad Hockey Classic

The “Little Ralph” in Thief River Falls hosts its eighth annual holiday tournament in honor of its namesake an the home team faces a difficult opponent in No. 3A Hermantown (7-0-0). No. 6A Thief River Falls (6-1-1) finished third in last year's state tournament and has weathered the graduation of several key players thanks to a balanced attack. Austin Odberg (6-5--11) leads the offense, but four other players all have four goals each. Hermantown's Jared Thomas (10-10--20) has come out guns a-blazing in his senior season, but it's the Hawks' defense that may be the strongest in the state with Jared Kolquist (1-4--5), Brian LeBlanc (4-4--8) and Jake Zelznikar (3-3--6) leading the way. Other teams in the three-day, round-robin tournament are Bottineau (ND) and Crookston.

4. St. Louis Park vs. Duluth Denfeld
Duluth Heritage Hockey Classic

An intriguing game between rising Class A teams caps the quarterfinals of the Duluth Heritage Holiday Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 27. St. Louis Park (6-0-0) has already doubled last year's victory total under first-year coach Shjon Podein and is starting to gain statewide attention. A big showing against No. 7A Duluth Denfeld (6-2-1) would transform that murmur into a roar. The Orioles' Tyler Brodersen (13-8--21) and Josh Passolt (8-6--14) have been scoring a great clip, but the defense is only allowing 2.00 goals per game. Denfeld features high-scoring Levi Talarico (9-14--23) and veteran goaltender Zach Thompson (4-2-0, 3.60, .880). Other quarterfinal games earlier in the day are New Prague versus Buffalo, Rosemount against Andover and Fort Frances (Ontario) versus Cloquet/Esko/Carlton. The final will be 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29, and is a Hockey Hub Spotlight Game.

5. Blake vs. Roseville
Schwan Cup Silver Division
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

The Schwan Cup Silver Division hosts a rematch between two teams that met in last year’s quarterfinals – and went to a shootout before No. 8A Blake (5-2-0) edged Roseville (6-2-0). Also watch for quarterfinal games between Stillwater and Lakeville South, Apple Valley against No. 1A Breck, and Forest Lake versus Bemidji, all of which will be featured as Hockey Hub Spotlight Games. The finals are at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at the Xcel Energy Center and will be a Hockey Hub Spotlight Game, as will both semifinal games the previous day. The Schwan Cup Bronze and Open Divisions also play at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine over the same three days of the Silver and includeteams such as Marshall (the early favorite in Section 3A), Rogers (expected to give Hermantown trouble in Section 5A), Cretin-Derham Hall and high-scoring Luverne. The finals in both brackets will also be Wednesday at the X and are Hockey Hub Spotlight Games.

6. Mahtomedi vs. Hibbing/Chisholm
Iron Range Holiday Tournament

The Iron Range Holiday Tournament round-robin field of games is held at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids, the Hibbing Memorial Ice Arena and the Miners Memorial Arena in Virginia and features programs from Grand Rapids, Lakeville North, Virginia/MIB and St. Francis. We like the Class A battle between rising Mahtomedi (5-3-0), which is ranked No. 8, and host Hibbing/Chisholm (5-4-0), which is looking to get on track after playing in the third-place game at state last winter. The Zephyrs top line of Johno May (6-5--11), Patrick Kegley (5-4--9) and Tanner Jordan (9-10--19) has been potent all season -- the same adjective that can describe Hibbing's Adam Johnson (15-10--25) and Joe Anderson (6-10--16).

7. Holy Family Catholic vs. Roseau
Roseau Holiday Classic

Two teams powered by young stars get together in the quarterfinals of the Roseau Holiday Classic Thursday, Dec. 29, when the host Rams (2-3-1) play Holy Family Catholic (5-2-0). Sophomores Alex Strand (6-9--15) and Zach Yon (5-6--11) have come out firing for Roseau and lead the team in scoring through their first half-dozen varsity games. Freshmen Shane Gersich (14-10--24) and John Peterson (5-6--21) have been around longer on the varsity scene, but are doing the same for Holy Family Catholic. Gersich also has a great Roseau connection, as he is the nephew of the Broten brothers (Neal, Aaron and Paul). Other quarterfinal games are slated to be Lake of the Woods against Alexandria, Chisago Lakes versus Mandan (ND), and Robbinsdale Armstrong versus Minot (ND). The final will be played Saturday, Dec. 31.

8. North St. Paul vs. South St. Paul
South St. Paul Premier Tournament

Two teams from opposite sides of the tracks – or downtown St. Paul – face off in the quarterfinals of the South St. Paul Premier Tournament Monday, Dec. 26 at Wakota Arena as South St. Paul (4-1-1) takes on surging North St. Paul (5-2-0). The host Packers have been stingy defensively, playing tight, close-checking games and only losing once in their first six games. The Polars have been doing it with offense, led by George Splichal (12-10--22) and the Oliver twins, Justin (8-13--21) and Tyler (7-14--21). Other first-round games include Anoka versus St. Paul Johnson, Hopkins versus Eagan and Hastings against Woodbury. The finals are set for Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 8:15 p.m. and will be covered as a Hockey Hub Spotlight Game. OTSN.tv will also run delayed webcasts of all championship round games.

9. Delano/Rockford vs. Duluth Marshall
Hilltopper Holiday Tournament

The Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers Holiday Tournament will be a border battle, as the top bracket features four Wisconsin teams and the bottom has four programs from Minnesota. The host Hilltoppers (5-4-0), ranked No. 5 in Class A despite a difficult opening schedule, open with Delano/Rockford (5-3-0) on Tuesday, Dec. 27, in the quarterfinals. Marshall has been boosted by the play of senior sniper Judd Peterson (19-9--28), who has been scoring multiple goals against all comers thus far. Life has continued for the Tigers without Tyler Heinonen, as goaltender Ryan Pinoniemi (5-3-0, 2.30, .925) has certainly shouldered the load. The “Wisconsin bracket” has Green Bay Notre Dame versus Appleton and Madison Edgewood against Superior, while the other “Minnesota bracket” quarterfinal is Mankato West versus Proctor. The final will be held at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29.

10. International Falls vs. Warroad
Warroad Holiday Tournament

Warroad runs a round-robin tournament over the holidays with four teams playing three games in three days. One of the games includes this interesting inter-sectional game between International Falls (5-3-0) and the host Warriors, two of the northern-most schools in the state. Osseo and Grafton (N.D.) are also involved in the three-day event. International Falls has picked up eight goals each from Lucas Debenet (8-9--17) and Mason Meyer (8-2--10) to start the season well. No the Broncos head just down the highway to Warroad to take on the Warriors (4-4-0), who have lost some close Section 8A games to rivals Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks.

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