Karl Krecke was Lourdes' only returning veteran defenseman this winter. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
In leading Rochester Lourdes to the state tournament the prior two winters, head coach Josh Spaniol readily admitted he wasn't a run-and-gun kind of guy.
His Eagles' squads relied on a tough, experienced defense and veteran goaltending to get the job done.
Leave the flashy stuff to others.
“I'm a D-first kind of guy,” he told the Hockey Hub's Loren Nelson on the eve of last year's state tournament. “If you have good defense and good goaltending, I figure the offense will take care of itself.”
So imagine Spaniol's discomfort when he confessed that Lourdes (20-8-0) has followed a different path into its Class A quarterfinal matchup against unbeaten and top-seeded Hermantown at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“We've had to change a lot this year, to tell you the truth,” Spaniol said. “We've had to take more of a run-and-gun (approach). Get pucks out of our zone and get flying down the ice.”
Apparently, tigers can change their stripes.
And Eagles certainly do fly – and fast.
In the wake of graduation losses that robbed Lourdes of all but one of its top defensemen and its starting goaltender, Spaniol shed his tight-checking style and let the dogs loose.
The Eagles average 5.1 goals per game with a wide open game based on the speed of their top line of Jason Samuelson (30-33-63), Alex Funk (32-30-62) and Landon Farrell (16-35-51). If Lourdes is to upset Hermantown, it will likely be on the shoulders of the trio of gifted speedsters.
“We just have to use our speed and get around them and get shots when we can,” said Spaniol. “Get the puck to the net and get a bounce or two.”
While his top line carried the load during the regular season, Spaniol knows he must get contributions from up and down the lineup. Lourdes' second line of Ben Weir (7-4--11), Ryan Nicolay (9-7--16) and Connor Nellans (7-9--16) is a veteran group that could come up big. And, true to his roots, Spaniol expects them to be responsible in their own zone.
“They plug away, forecheck as hard as they can and will run you over to get the puck,” Spaniol said.
Lourdes has had to adjust defensively to the loss of nearly its entire defensive unit. After some rough games early, the corps has been playing better.
Karl Krecke (10-11-21) is the lone veteran, while freshman Griff Slightam (4-13-17) has surged into a big role. Justin Dewitz (9-26-35) and Robby Campbell both moved back to the blue line after playing forward last winter.
Senior Jesse Neumann (11-6-0, 2.69, .870) has earned the majority of starts in goal in recent weeks, getting the nod the past nine games.
“We started -- not from scratch -- but it took a while to get used to (the new roles),” Spaniol said. “They've adjusted well, grown as a unit and shown ownership. They just have to keep it simple. There are no big horses back there that can control a game every other shift.”
With the change in style this winter comes hopes of a change in result. The Eagles have lost in the quarterfinals the last two years. It doesn't get any easier with Hermantown on the docket this season.
“We just have to be a little more relaxed,” Spaniol said. “Half the squad has been (to state) a few times over the last few years. That leadership has to prevail, and we have to have fun and do our jobs.”
With a run-and-gun style, it will be a different Rochester Lourdes team that tries to break its recent quarterfinal losing streak. It should be fun to watch the top line of Alex Funk, Jason Samuelson and Landon Farrell blaze up and down the ice against the other Class A powers. If Lourdes it to win, those three burners will play a big factor.
Josh Spaniol has guided Lourdes to the state tournament in each of his three years as a head coach and also was an assistant on the 2009 squad that made it to the X. Unfortunately, the Eagles are 0-for-2 in the quarterfinals. Spaniol is aided by one of southern Minnesota’s most respected veteran coaches in assistant Kirk Gill.
Head Coach: Josh Spaniol
Schools in Cooperative: Rochester Lourdes, Stewartville
Combined Enrollment: 944
Colors: Purple, Gold
Assistant Coaches: Kirk Gill, Tom DeVinny and Jeff Korsmo
Home Ice: Graham Arena, Rochester
State Tournament Appearances: Class A: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Section 1A playoffs