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Lasting memories

04/02/2012, 2:27pm CDT
By MN Hockey Hub staff

Hub staff reflects on its favorite moments from 2011-12 season


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

Zack Friedli

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

Tim Kolehmainen

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

Justin Magill

Games covered: 47
 
Teams covered (39): Andover, Apple Valley, Bemidji, Benilde-St. Margaret's, Blaine, Blake, Breck, Burnsville, Centennial, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, Cretin-Derham Hall, Duluth East, Eagan, East Ridge, Eden Prairie, Edina, Elk River, Forest Lake, Grand Rapids, Hastings, Hermantown, Hill-Murray, Holy Angels, Hopkins, Lakeville South, Mahtomedi, Maple Grove, Moorhead, North St. Paul, Park (Cottage Grove), Roseville, South St. Paul, Spring Lake Park, St. Thomas Academy, Stillwater, Thief River Falls, Totino-Grace, Wayzata, White Bear Lake. 
 
Venues visited (14): Aldrich Arena, Maplewood; Blake School Ice Arena, Hopkins; Braemar Ice Arena, Edina; Burnsville Ice Center; Centennial Sports Arena, Circle Pines; Eden Prairie Community Center; Hopkins Pavillion Ice Arena; Maple Grove Community Center; Parade Ice Garden, Minneapolis; Schwan Super Rink, Blaine; St. Croix Recreation Center, Stillwater; State Fairgrounds Coliseum, St. Paul; Vadnais Heights Sports Complex, Vadnais Heights; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
 
Best game I saw: Totino-Grace vs. St. Thomas Academy in the Section 4A finals on March 2. Senior Andrew Commers scored in overtime to propel the Cadets to the state tournament where they would win their second straight Class 1A title.
 
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: Jake McCann of Roseville in a 4-3 overtime victory over Forest Lake on Dec. 1. The Raiders, who trailed 3-0 early in the second period, rallied for the victory thanks to McCann, who tied the game with a goal with 1 minute, 51 seconds left in regulation and won it with an OT goal with 2:56 left.
 
Best goaltending performance: Chase Perry of Andover in a 2-1 victory over Elk River on Jan. 31. The sophomore goaltender needed to outduel Elks' senior Anders Franke and did so with 47 saves to give the Huskies a huge Northwest Suburban Conference and Section 7AA win.
 
Best atmosphere: Totino-Grace vs St. Thomas Academy in the Section 4A finals. Game was tight, fans were into every moment. A great game to be at.
 
 
Coldest arena: Hopkins Pavillion Ice Arena, and it wasn't even close. Way warmer outside than it was in the arena.
 
Best coach to interview: Bruce Plante of Hermantown. Need I say more from what was said at the state tournament?
 
Most media friendly arena: Braemar Ice Arena, Edina. Such a nice set up for high school hockey coverage.
 
Best arena food: St. Croix Rec Center, Stillwater. They have 24-ounce sodas, pizza from what I believe is brought in from a local pizzeria. The hot dogs and brats are delicious, and they sell Caribou Coffee.
 
-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff

Michael Murakami

Games covered: 45
 
Teams covered (36): Apple Valley, Benilde-St. Margaret's, Blake, Bloomington Jefferson, Breck, Burnsville, Chanhassen, Chaska, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, Delano, Duluth East, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Edina, Elk River, Grand Rapids, Hermantown, Hill-Murray, Lakeville North, Lakeville South, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Mound-Westonka, New Ulm, Prior Lake, Robbinsdale Armstrong, Rochester Lourdes, Roseville, St. Louis Park, St. Paul Johnson, St. Thomas Academy, Stillwater, Thief River Falls, Totino-Grace, Wayzata, White Bear Lake.
 
Venues visited (20): Aldrich Arena, Maplewood; Apple Valley Sports Arena; Blake School Ice Arena, Hopkins; Bloomington Ice Garden; Braemar Ice Arena, Edina; Breck School Anderson Ice Arena, Golden Valley; Burnsville Ice Center; Chaska Community Center; Eagan Civic Arena; Elk River Ice Arena; Lakeville Ames Arena; Lakeville Hasse Arena; Maple Grove Community Center; Pagel Activity Center, Minnetonka; Parade Ice Garden, Minneapolis; Plymouth Ice Center; St. Louis Park Rec Center; St. Thomas Ice Arena, Mendota Heights; State Fairgrounds Coliseum, St. Paul; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
 
Best game I saw: Blake vs. Breck in the Section 2A championship on March 1. For the second straight year, the Section 2A title game at Parade Ice Garden provided excitement right down to the very end. Breck would end up winning 7-5 to advance to the State Tournament, but not before several ties, lead changes and crazy goals.
 
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: Duluth East at Minnetonka on Jan. 21. Duluth East may have been short-staffed on Hockey Day Minnesota, but nothing and no one was able to stop Max Coatta. The junior forward scored four goals and assisted on another in the Skippers’ 9-3 rout of the Hounds.
 
Best goaltending performance: Benilde-St. Margaret’s vs. Burnsville on Dec. 8. At the beginning of the season, eventual state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s looked like it would be an offensive powerhouse to be reckoned with. In their first two games, the Red Knights peppered opposing goaltenders with a total of 108 shots on goal and scored 19 goals. In the Red Knights' third game, they threw 58 shots on Burnsville junior goaltender Chris Mallon but only scored once. Mallon’s 57-save performance led the Blaze to a 5-1 upset.
 
Best atmosphere: No. 1 vs. No. 2. -- Duluth East at Maple Grove on Jan. 4. An estimated 1,500 fans packed into the Maple Grove Community Center. Unfortunately for the Crimson, the Hounds kept Maple Grove’s student section out of the game but the atmosphere was absolutely electric.
 
Most surprising outcome: Burnsville at Apple Valley on Feb. 9. At the beginning of the season, this may not have been pegged to be a Spotlight Game. But a late-season surge by Apple Valley and mini-slump by Burnsville made this one an interesting matchup. While the Blaze emerging victorious was not surprising, the game being scoreless through three periods and Burnsville needing a late overtime goal by Cory Chapman was.
 
Coldest arena: Pagel Activity Center. Moving the Hockey Day Minnesota high school games indoors was definitely a downer, but while the mystique of outdoor hockey was gone, the cold was not. To be comfortable, I was wearing four to five layers and gloves since I was in the arena for about nine hours.
 
Most media friendly arena: Braemar Ice Arena, Edina. The new press box is a major improvement for covering games.

Favorite assignment Benide-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly granted photographer Adam Crane and I exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the Red Knights' first game since the injury to Jack Jablonski. I spent time in the locker room watching the players interact; was in the press conference at the arena when Jack's mother, Leslie, announced Jack had moved his arm; and was back in the locker room when Pauly passionately told his team the good news. I'll never forget seeing how the team carried itself and interacted that night as well as seeing Jack's younger brother, Max, skate onto the ice with the team wearing his brother's jersey signed by the entire team and being announced as an honorary member of the Red Knights.
 
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff

Loren Nelson

Games covered: 65
 
Teams covered (44): Andover, Anoka, Becker/Big Lake, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Blaine, Breck, Burnsville, Chanhassen, Coon Rapids, Delano, Duluth East, Duluth Marshall, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Edina, Elk River, Forest Lake, Grand Rapids, Hastings, Hermantown, Hill-Murray, Holy Family Catholic, Lakeville South, Little Falls, Mahtomedi, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Moorhead, Mound-Westonka, New Prague, North Metro, Osseo, Prior Lake, Robbinsdale Armstrong, Rogers, Mounds View, Roseville, St. Paul Highland Park, St. Thomas Academy, Stillwater, Thief River Falls, New Ulm, Wayzata, WSFLG.
 
Venues visited (19): Aldrich Arena, Maplewood; Bloomington Ice Garden; Braemar Ice Arena, Edina; Breck School Anderson Ice Arena, Golden Valley; Burnsville Ice Center; Delano Area Sports Arena; Eden Prairie Community Center; Fogerty Arena, Blaine; Highland Arena, St. Paul; Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis; Pagel Activity Center, Minnetonka; Plymouth Ice Center; Princeton Ice Arena; St. Croix Recreation Center, Stillwater; St. Louis Park Rec Center; State Fairgrounds Coliseum, St. Paul; Thaler Sports Center, Mound; Victoria Recreation Center; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
 
Best game I saw: Minnetonka 5, Edina 4 in overtime on Feb. 4 at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina. The largest crowd I saw for a regular season game (approaching 3,000) was into the action early -- literally -- when Minnetonka forward Sam Rothstein somehow lost his stick over the glass. Youngsters Dylan Malmquist and Connor Hurley were brilliant for Edina, but they lost the scoring duel with Skippers “oldtimers” Erik Baskin and Rothstein (rink workers retreived Rothstein's stick from the bleachers).
 
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: Going back to that Feb. 4 overtime game between Minnetonka and Edina, Rothstein completed his hat trick by scoring 42 seconds into overtime on a sizzling one-timer. You rarely hear basketball terminology at a hockey rink, but Rothstein was likened to the hot shooting guard who simply can't miss.
 
Best goaltending performance: Derrick LaCombe of Eden Prairie early in the regular season in a 2-1 victory over Eagan on Dec. 3. A sophomore making his first varsity start, LaCombe stopped 37 shots in a performance the defines the term “stealing a game.” He turned aside numerous point-blank opportunities in a game Eagan, loaded with Division I recruits and Mr. Hockey candidates, thoroughly dominated in every area except the scoreboard. LaCombe was almost as good in the postgame, when admitted he had never heard of any of Eagan's top players. 
 
Best atmosphere: Fans were sitting in the aisles, standing on ladders and benches and stacked three and four deep along the glass at ice level when Duluth East played Maple Grove on Jan. 4 in a rare Wednesday night game at an absolutely jam-packed Maple Grove Community Center. The building was so full that kids hoping to get a glimpse of the action were standing in the window wells at the back of the main concourse.
 
Most surprising outcome: Lakeville South 3, Duluth East 2 in the state Class 2A quarterfinals. If these teams squared off 10 times, the No. 1-ranked Greyhounds would likely win eight or nine times. But this night was not their night, as South’s defensive corps played exceptionally well, never allowing Duluth East to control the game with its usually unstoppable puck movement.
 
Coldest arena: Delano Area Sports Center. Those not lucky enough to grab a spot under the individual-sized heat lamps that hang over the bleachers might as well throw themselves on a steel hook and do their best slab-of-beef imitation. There’s no way to dress appropriately for this place, short of stuffing yourself in a jumpsuit lined with hot coals.
 
Best hot chocolate: After a returing a few cups that had a distinctive coffee flavor, the State Fairgrounds Coliseum provided us with some of the tastiest brew we have encountered.
 
Best arena food: Aldrich Arena serves wild rice soup, and the individual pizzas at the Pagel Activity Center are tasty.
 
Most media friendly arena: Burnsville Ice Center. The location behind the penalty boxes offers a great low-level view of the action and the built-in media table means not having to lug in your own. Plenty of outlets are nearby, and the wireless connection is topnotch.
 
Best interview: Hermantown’s Bruce Plante, hands down. Plante isn’t afraid to express his opinion on most any topic, and it all comes out delightfully raw and unfiltered.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Walker Orenstein

Games covered: 35
 
Teams covered (37): Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Blaine, Blake, Breck, Duluth East, Eagan, East Ridge, Eden Prairie, Edina, Grand Rapids, Hermantown, Hill-Murray, Holy Family Catholic, Lakeville South, Little Falls, Mahtomedi, Maple Grove, Minneapolis, Minnehaha Academy, Moorhead, Moose Lake Area, New Ulm, North St. Paul, Rochester Lourdes, Rogers, Roseville, South St. Paul, St. Cloud Cathedral, St. Louis Park, St. Paul Academy, St. Paul Johnson, St. Thomas Academy, Tartan, Thief River Falls, Totino-Grace, Wayzata, White Bear Lake, Woodbury.
 
Venues visited (15): Aldrich Arena, Maplewood; Bielenberg Ice Arena, Woodbury Braemar Arena, Edina; Cottage Grove Ice Arena; Drake Arena, St. Paul;  Hasse Ice Arena, Lakeville; Maple Grove Community Center; Minnehaha Academy Ice Arena, Minneapolis; Pagel Activity Center, Minnetonka; Parade Ice Garden, Minneapolis; Rogers Activity Center; St. Louis Park Rec Center; State Fairgrounds Coliseum, St. Paul; Tartan Ice Arena, Oakdale; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
 
Best game I saw: Roseville beat North St. Paul 3-2 in double overtime of the Section 4AA semifinals on Feb. 25. Roseville was down by two goals with a couple of minutes left in the third and stormed back, scoring the tying goal with just seconds left and eventually winning in overtime.
 
Best individual performance by a player not named Grant Besse: On Jan. 14, I saw Josh Cisar score four goals and add an assist in Moose Lake’s 5-4 victory over Minneapolis. It seemed like everything he shot went in, and he was an unstoppable force. He took the regular season state lead in points from his younger brother Tyler in that game and never gave it back. 
 
Best goaltending performance: Although his team lost, Minnehaha Academy’s Matt Hultman made 51 saves against Tartan on Dec. 13. He was bombarded with pucks as the Redhawks had to kill seven penalties, frustrating the Titans to no end. Hultman was quietly one of the better goaltenders in the state this year.
 
Best atmosphere: Maple Grove Community Center, when (at the time) No. 2-ranked Maple Grove lost to No. 1-ranked Duluth East. The stands were jam packed to the point where you couldn’t walk down the steps, and fans were lined three or four deep around the boards.
 
Most surprising outcome: In the last regular season game for Moorhead and Hill-Murray, the Pioneers pounded the Spuds 6-1 on Feb. 18. Frank Brimsek award winner Michael Bitzer looked ho-hum as the Pioneers sniped him with ease and racked up the goals.
 
Coldest arena: Pagel Activity Center, Minnetonka. Pagel was the first rink that I actively prepared and brought multiple layers for, but it didn’t help. I was there for two games for Hockey Day Minnesota, and I froze.
 
Best hot chocolate: Pagel Activity Center, Minnetonka. Since I was so cold, the hot chocolate was the most appreciated! I must have had four or five in one day. 
 
Most media friendly arena: Parade Ice Arena, Minneapolis. I was situated on a raised platform right under a heater at center ice. There were plenty of plugs at the ready, and the wireless worked without a hitch!
-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

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