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Rochester Lourdes cruises to Kiwanis title

By Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff, 12/30/11, 12:22PM CST

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Four first-period goals help Eagles smoke St. Michael-Albertville

Winning the Kiwanis/Think Mutual Bank tournament in its hometown was one of Rochester Lourdes’ preseason goals. After outscoring opponents 28-2 on their way to the Class 1A title, the Eagles easily conquered that objective.

But gliding through a three-game tournament isn’t something the Eagles will experience if they make it to St. Paul in March, and head coach Josh Spaniol knows that.

While Spaniol says he is happy with the way his Eagles played during their run to the school’s first Kiwanis crown since 2005, he is also quick to point out that he thinks the Eagles get more out of their regular season schedule.

The Eagles don’t belong to a conference in hockey, allowing them to schedule the best teams from across the state. Since they host a holiday tournament, Rochester Lourdes doesn’t enter into the prestigious Schwan Cup or any of the other deep tournaments in Minnesota.

As the Eagles are the Kiwanis tournament’s Class 1A powerhouse, chances are they won’t be traveling away from Rochester for a holiday event anytime in the near future. Because of that, Spaniol hopes he can work with fellow coaches to make the Kiwanis tournament one of the more challenging tournaments in the state, much like it was in past decades.

“We want to play the best competition we can in tournaments, because that will make us better come February,” Spaniol said.

Ideally the Kiwanis tournament, which currently features two eight-team brackets, would be shrunk into one eight-team affair. To do this, all four Rochester schools – Lourdes, Century, John Marshall and Mayo – would have to agree to be placed in the same bracket.

Hockey fans in Rochester have been asking for a format similar to that for years, but nothing has ever changed. The Class 2A schools stay together, while Class 1A Lourdes is stuck by itself.

That's because Spaniol may be the only coach in town that likes the mixed class format.

“We’re trying [to get that format],” Spaniol said. “I think that if you put the four Rochester schools in this tournament, and you bring in the four best teams you can find out there at that time, you’re going to have eight quality teams and some great games.”

Adding to the debate is the classic “public vs. private” dispute, something Spaniol says makes the dream of all four Rochester schools in the same tournament seem far-fetched.

“We just got to get away from this standard of public vs. private that there is in this town,” Spaniol said. “That’s what we have right now, and it’s too bad. We’re pushing hard, but we’re [the only school that is].”

In the end, the holiday tournament is something Spaniol hopes can be a solid prep course for playoff hockey.

“That kind of tournament would make us a lot better,” said Spaniol, talking about the single bracket idea. “I pray we can do it next year.”

Statistics, summary

Game Recap

Rochester Lourdes scored three times in the opening 6 minutes, 24 seconds, added four more tallies on the night and took home the Class 1A Kiwanis/Think Mutual Bank Hockey tournament title with a 7-0 win over St. Michael-Albertville on Friday, Dec. 30, at Graham Arena in Rochester.

The Eagles outscored their opponents 28-2 during the tournament, dominating the field for the school’s first Kiwanis championship since 2005.

Rochester Lourdes’ top-line of Jason Samuelson, Alex Funk and Landon Farrell combined for four goals and eight points, while Jesse Neumann made 18 saves in goal.

Justin Dewitz got the Eagles started with a goal just 26 seconds after the opening draw. Dewitz’s shot trickled through Knights’ goalie Matt Borgen’s legs, sat in the crease and was knocked in by a St. Michael-Albertville player.

Farrell, Ryan Nicolay and Griffin Slightam also recorded goals for Lourdes in the first period, a 17-minute whooping where the Eagles outshot the Knights, 18-3, and played easily their best period of the night.

Farrell's goal was a beauty. Along with linemates Funk and Samuelson, he got the Knights scrambling around their own end, found a soft spot behind the defense and tapped home a perfect backdoor pass from Samuelson.

Funk scored twice and Samuelson netted a single goal for Lourdes (9-3-0) in the final two periods to put the game into running time.

It was a penalty-filled affair, with both teams racking up 16 minutes in the box. Lourdes was 1-for-5 on the power play; the Knights (5-5-0) failed to score on any of their five man-advantage opportunities.

St. Michael-Albertville’s Andrew Semo relieved Borgen after the first, stopping 18 of 21 shots in relief. Borgen gave up four goals and finished with 14 saves.

The Eagles have a week off before hosting Class 1A’s fifth-ranked team, Duluth Marshall, on Saturday, Jan. 7.

1. Alex Funk, Rochester Lourdes
The Eagles’ speedster scored twice and helped on another goal, showing why he’s one of the best players in Southern Minnesota. Funk, along with linemates Jason Samuelson and Landon Farrell, dominated the offensive zone with their speed and toughness below the dots. Funk has some serious hands, and he showed them off numerous times on quick rushes throughout the contest.

2. Jason Samuelson, Rochester Lourdes
Samuelson scored a pretty goal, set up two others and wore out the St. Michael-Albertville defenders with solid forechecking early in the contest. Much like Funk, Samuelson’s hands are something to watch, as he has the ability to turn opposing players inside out. Samuelson showed awesome vision against the Knights, especially on Lourdes’ third goal, where he found a forgotten Farrell backdoor for an easy tap in tally.

3. Connor Nellans, Rochester Lourdes
The gritty forward didn’t find the back of the net, but he did record two assists and frustrated St. Michael-Albertville players with tenacious play all night. He did have three penalties, but he was effective in the offensive zone, battling with opponents both during play and after the whistle, giving his teammates extra space while St. Michael-Albertville focused its attention on Nellans.

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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