The Hockey Hub staff covered about 300 games during the 2011-12 season, culminating with the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo by Adam Crane
Games covered: 55
Teams covered (41): Andover, Anoka, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Blaine, Breck, Burnsville, Cloquet, Coon Rapids, Duluth Denfeld, Duluth East, Duluth Marshall, Eagan, Edina, Elk River, Forest Lake, Grand Rapids, Greenway, Hermantown, Hibbing, Hill-Murray, Holy Angels, Holy Family Catholic, Lakeville South, Little Falls, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Moorhead, Mounds View, New Ulm, North Metro, North St. Paul, Rochester Lourdes, Rogers, St. Michael, St. Thomas Academy, Thief River Falls, Totino-Grace, Virginia, Wayzata, White Bear Lake, Woodbury
Venues visited (11): Mars Lakeview Arena, Duluth; IRA Civic Center, Grand Rapids; Heritage Sports Center, Duluth; Amsoil Arena, Duluth; Hermantown Arena; Cloquet Area Recreation Center; Graham Arena, Rochester; Ridder Arena, Minneapolis; Wakota Arena, South St. Paul; Maple Grove Community Center; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
Best game I saw: Duluth East vs. Minnetonka, Schwan Cup Final. Back-and-forth action, the Hounds played one of their best games, and the Skippers came at them hard in the final period and half, but by that time the game was out of reach. Exciting, high-scoring... saw true potential of Duluth East, and the Greyhounds were playing without their best defenseman.
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: Trevor Olson, Duluth East vs. Burnsville, Schwan Cup Quarterfinals. Olson's first game back from a preseason knee injury, and he gets himself into the game by throwing just some massive hits. Randolph tells him to let the coaches know if he gets tired, but he never does. Ends up getting a hat trick in a 4-3 win. Amazing effort.
Best goaltending performance: Not counting Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer at the state tournament, it has to be either Michael Stumpf against Hermantown or Zach Thompson against Duluth East. Stumpf made some great saves to keep the score close, and he was taking a beating while doing it. The Hawks crashed the net hard, making it a chore for him to sit high in his crease and make saves. Thompson was equally as good against the Hounds. Defneld lost 4-0, but he was outstanding, and he had to be. East outshot Denfeld like 45-15 or something, and 30 of those 45 shots were grade A chances.
Best atmosphere: Without question it was at the Jan. 12 showdown at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids betwen the host Thunderhawks and Duluth East. The teams hate each other, the fans hate each other, the coaches hate the fans ... great rivalry. During the third period of the JV game there wasn't anywhere to sit. Midway through the varsity game they were packed in so tight I can't believe they kept selling tickets. Classic atmosphere at a classic rink.
Most surprising outcome: Lakeville South upsetting Duluth East at state. What can I say ... it wasn't something anyone saw coming.
Coldest arena: Grand Rapids. Covered two games there in the middle of January when it was below zero outside. Couldn't have been much warmer in the rink.
Most media friendly arena: Cloquet is awesome for media. They have an enclosed press box just above the penalty boxes. Great for watching a game, plenty of power outlets, good cell service... loved it.
Favorite coach interview: After the Grand Rapids-Cloquet game the week leading up to Hockey Day Minnesota, I asked Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque if he had put in a bid for Grand Rapids to host Hockey Day next year. He said "we've talked to people" and left it at that. I asked him what that meant exactly, and he said something like "we think we have a pretty good shot at it. It's a good location, and we want it, but we haven't heard anything." Finally, I asked if he knew where Hockey Day would be next year and he said "not officially, no." Two days later it was announced that Rapids was hosting Hockey Day.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff
Games covered: 44
Teams covered (41): Andover, Bemidji, Benilde-St. Margaret's, Blaine, Blake, Brainerd, Breck, Breckenridge-Wahpeton, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, Cretin-Derham Hall, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Duluth East, Duluth Marshall, Eagan, East Grand Forks, Edina, Fergus Falls, Forest Lake, Hermantown, Hill-Murray, Holy Angels, Lakeville South, Little Falls, Luverne, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Moorhead, Morris/Benson Area, New Prague, New Ulm, Park Rapids Area, Providence Academy, Rochester Lourdes, Roseau, Roseville, St. Cloud Cathedral, St. Thomas Academy, Thief River Falls, Warroad, Woodbury.
Venues visited (15): Bemidji Community Arena; Crookston Sports Center; Exchange Arena, Little Falls; Fergus Falls Community Ice Arena; Heritage Arena in Duluth, Kent Freeman Arena in Detroit Lakes, Mars-Lakeview Arena in Duluth, Moorhead Sports Center, East Grand Forks Civic Arena, Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Roseau Memorial Arena, Schwan Super Rink, Blaine; Stern Sports Arena, Wahpeton, N.D.; Wakota Arena, South St. Paul; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
Best game I saw: Moorhead 2, Bemidji 1 in overtime on Feb. 11 in Bemidji. Both games between these two Section 8AA rivals went to overtime, including this late-season rematch. Moorhead was down 1-0 nearly the entire game until tying it in the final two minutes and winning it on a controversial Bryant Christian goal late in overtime. Fans talked about this ending for more than a week afterward.
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: Zack Lawdermilt of East Grand Forks scored all three goals for his team in a 3-2 overtime home victory over Warroad on Dec. 16. He constantly sparked the Green Wave offense with his speed – not just in this game, but all season long.
Best goaltending performance: Michael Bitzer of Moorhead in the Class 2A state quarterfinals against Eagan, a 4-0 Spuds’ victory. I saw Bitzer all year, but his best game was the 34-save shutout of the heavily-favored Wildcats.
Best atmosphere: Kent Freeman Arena in Detroit Lakes for the Feb. 16 showdown between Park Rapids Area and the home Lakers. Both teams had huge fan bases for the rivalry and both were more than willing to make noise – and lots of it. Park Rapids won and its fans went bonkers, hovering over the glass to make a tunnel for the victorious players to walk through on their way to the locker room. Close runner up was Exchange Arena in Little Falls.
Most surprising outcome: Lakeville South 3, Duluth East 2 in the state Class 2A quarterfinals. I saw a number of upsets this year, but this had to be the biggest. Watching the No. 1 team in the state go down was enough, but South actually controlled play the entire game.
Best hot chocolate: I’m not a hot chocolate guy, but the apple cider at Wakota Arena in South St. Paul may have kept me alive during a busy holiday week. It was only powdered mix, but soothed a cutting sore throat and sinus infection.
Coldest arena: An easy choice. Standing at ice level in Stern Sports Arena in Wahpeton is akin to a trek across Antarctica. I actually had to wipe icicles out of my moustache. The breeze coming through the Zamboni doors only added to the chill factor.
Most media friendly arena: There’s nothing better than Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls for its huge press box, quick wireless connection and photo-friendly bright lighting. It’s also heated to a comfortable viewing temperature for those bare-handed typing days.
Best coach interview: Chris Denardo, Detroit Lakes. An affable guy who speaks his mind – whether praising or punishing his program. Never utters the words, “Off the record.”
-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA