Edina's Miguel Fidler (12) works his way past the Holy Family Catholic defense earlier this winter. Fidler and the Hornets host the Edina Holiday Classic this coming week. Photo by Brian Nelson
1. Eden Prairie at Edina
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
In seeking out the MN Hockey Hub’s top game of the week, we’ve tabbed the No. 1 team in the state (unbeaten Edina) against one with that kind of talent but has been stumbling out of the gate this winter (Eden Prairie). But that’s not the only important angle to this game.
Both teams are in the Lake Conference, arguably the strongest hockey circuit in the state, and this result could go a long way in previewing who claims that conference trophy at year’s end -- they both do play each other twice in conference play later this season. Both also feature three Division I college recruits in Connor Hurley (Notre Dame), Matt Nelson (Princeton) and Parker Reno (RPI) from Edina and Steven Spinner (Nebraska-Omaha), Luc Snuggerud (Nebraska-Omaha) and Hunter Warner (Minnesota State) from Eden Prairie.
Last but not least, the game is also the finale of the annual Edina Holiday Classic at Braemer Arena on Saturday, Dec. 22 at 8:30 p.m. Should preseason rankings hold true to form, it could be the championship game of the tournament.
Preseason rankings have not held thus far, though.
Hunter Warner (6) is one of two Division I recruits on the Eden Prairie blue line. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Eden Prairie (3-3-0) began the season ranked among the top-four programs in Class 2A but has tumbled down the rankings with three losses in its last four games. The Eagles just aren’t winning the close games right now, including one-goal losses to Lakeville North (4-3 on Dec. 13) and Andover (2-1 on Dec. 15).
The second period was the issue on both games, as the Eagles gave up two goals in each second period and were outshot by a combined 26-12. While they dominated play in the other periods, it wasn’t enough to get the job done against either opponent.
Spinner (6-7-13) is the only Eagle with more than three goals, as the team is averaging 4.0 goals per game. He’s a dynamic and explosive scorer, but will need more support from forwards Mason Bergh (3-6-9), John Sullivan (3-3-6), New Prague transfer Colton Schmidt (2-3-5), Andrew Knudsen (2-1-3), Harry Pajor (0-2-2), Jake Keeley (1-0-1) and freshman Michael Graham (2-2-4). All have shown plenty of firepower in the past, so it should just be a matter of time until they click – and explode offensively.
Defensively, Eden Prairie is in good shape with Snuggerud (2-9-11) and Warner (1-1-2) on the blue line along with Tyler Leddy (0-3-3), the younger brother of NHLer and former Mr. Hockey Nick Leddy. They hold the fort in front of goaltenders Jake Gerdes (1-1-0, 3.00, .902) and Jake Kielly (2-2-0, 3.25, .865), who have split time.
Eden Prairie needs – if not a victory – at least a good effort against Edina to keep itself on the map. But it will be tough.
Connor Hurley (16) leads Edina in goals (8) and points (15) in a big junior season so far. Photo by Katherine Matthews
The Hornets (6-0-0) are already on the map and a near unanimous choice as the top-ranked team in the state.
Edina challenged itself with a busy early-season schedule but hasn’t played since edging Prior Lake, 2-1 on Dec. 4. That’s a 16-day layoff leading into the Holiday Classic, so it’s a near guarantee the Hornets will be hungry to see someone wearing other than green and gold practice jerseys on the ice.
No team has been able to solve the Hornets’ stout defense. Since allowing two goals in a season-opening victory over Holy Family Catholic, Edina has given up just three goals in five games with shutouts over Wayzata and Centennial. It’s a tribute to the tough defensive game played by Edina, which boasts of the two Division I recruits on the blue line (Nelson and Reno) and solid goaltender Willie Benjamin (4-0-0, 1.00, .950).
Offensively, the Hornets have a pair of top lines with Hurley (8-7-15), Dylan Malmquist (5-6-11) and Tyler Nanne (1-5-6) playing together early this year, while Andy Jordahl (7-2-9) anchors the second line with Bo Brauer (2-5-7) and Cullen Munson (0-3-3) or Miguel Fidler (1-2-3).
The rest of the Edina Holiday Classic field is just as impressive.
Games get underway Thursday, Dec. 20 between Eden Prairie and Elk River at 6 p.m. and Grand Rapids against Edina at 8:30 p.m. They flip opponents Friday night, with Eden Prairie-Grand Rapids and Elk River-Edina on the docket. In addition to Saturday’s big rivalry tilt, Grand Rapids also takes on Elk River in an important Section 7AA seeding game.
Eden Prairie defenseman Luc Snuggerud (4) will be key for the Eagles to reverse their recent fortunes at the Edina Holiday Classic. Photo by Katherine Matthews
2. Hill-Murray at White Bear Lake
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
One of the state's fiercest traditional rivalries renews itself this week as Hill-Murray visits White Bear Lake. These two programs have combined for 44 state tournament berths and have dominated their section for decades (now both are in Section 4AA), although except for a Bears' upset victory in the 2011 section final, the Pioneers have won the past 16 meetings. White Bear Lake (3-2-1) has had its ups and downs so far this winter, but one big up has been the play of sophomore forward Jake Wahlin (11-7-18), who already has four multiple-goal games. In a bit of tough scheduling, Hill-Murray (5-1-0) has already played two No. 1-ranked teams, beating then-No. 1 Class 2A Benilde-St. Margaret's on Dec. 8 and losing to No. 1 Class 1A St. Thomas Academy on Dec. 15. Shattuck-St. Mary's transfer Mitch Slattery (5-4-9) leads the Pioneers in goals and points.
3. Eagan at Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Two top South Suburban Conference programs go head-to-head this week as Eagan visits Burnsville. Both are lingering near the back of the Class 2A top 10 pack and this could be a chance to make a big jump with a victory. The Blaze (4-2-0) have shown they can compete with any team but have also had an occasional letdown. Burnsville is star-laden with speedy junior forward Tyler Sheehy (5-11-16; uncommitted) and junior defenseman Teemu Kivihalme (3-4-7; Colorado College) both on the Division I college radar. Cole Borchardt, Brock Boeser and Anthony Rikberg have provided good scoring depth with four goals each. Eagan (4-2-0) is on a three-game winning streak in which it has scored 20 goals. Veterans Zach Glienke (6-6-12) and Cullen Willox (6-2-8) have played key roles in that stretch, as they've combined for 10 of those 20 goals.
4. Warroad at Thief River Falls
With East Grand Forks looking like a powerhouse in Section 8A, these two dynasties might just be playing for the No. 2 playoff seed. Don't tell that to either, though. Both expect to be back at the X in March -- after all, they've combined for the last 10 section titles. Thief River Falls (2-4-0) broke a two-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over Bemidji in its last game. The Prowlers have started slowly, particularly on offense where they're only averaging 1.67 goals per game. Logan Englestad (3-1-4) is the only player with more than two goals. Scoring goals hasn't been an issue for Warroad (5-2-0), which is getting big production from junior Kyle Sylvester (6-7-13) and sophomore sensations Jared Bethune (9-8-17) and Kobe Roth (8-5-13). The Warriors were just defeated by EGF last Friday, so a win here would be big.
5. Benilde-St. Margaret's at Maple Grove
Nearly everyone's preseason favorite has already dropped two games, as defending Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret's (3-2-0) has lost two of its last three games. The first time the Red Knights fell (4-2 to Hill-Murray on Dec. 8), they responded with an 11-goal outburst against Holy Angels. Scoring shouldn't be a problem for Benilde-St. Margaret's, which is deeper in scoring talent than any team in the state. Mr. Hockey favorite Grant Besse (7-3-10) is second on the team in goals and points to Spencer Naas (8-3-11) and points to Dan Labosky (4-7-11). So how do the Red Knights respond against Maple Grove? Despite a losing record, the Crimson (3-4-0) have impressed observers with their play thus far. The Crimson are an inexperienced crew, led by junior Nate Erickson (4-3-7), who had a goal in a near upset of Minnetonka last week.
6. Duluth East at Andover
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Here's an interesting rematch of last year's Section 7AA championship game, won by Duluth East. Both teams certainly could make their way back to that level, but they haven't been able to put a consistent offense forth so far this winter. Expect this one to be low scoring. Duluth East (3-1-0) looked good in its last game, a 5-2 defeat of Cloquet in which Hogan Davidson (5-1-6) scored a hat trick to give coach Mke Randolph his 500th career victory. The 'Hounds are certainly tough defensively in front of Dylan Parker (2-1-0, 1.33, .895). So is Andover (3-3-0), which may be figuring things out after a rough start. The Huskies defeated Eden Prairie in their last game, with superstar goalie Chase Perry (3-3-0, 2.83, .914) making 41 saves on 42 shots. After giving up 14 goals in his first four games, Perry has been spot on the last two.
7. Rogers at Hermantown
Let's hit the reset button. This game was originally scheduled for last Saturday but was postponed because of icy weather. Not much has changed in the last few days, so let's rehash what we wrote last week. Both programs will be strong contenders (along with St. Cloud Cathedral and perhaps Princeton) for the Section 5A title. Hermantown (4-0-0) is rocking and rolling with 31 goals in four victories, while allowing only three. Travis Koepke (4-5-9), Lane LeGarde (4-3-7) and defenseman Neal Pionk (4-2-6) -- who just committed to Minnesota-Duluth -- lead the Hawks with four goals each, while goaltenders Jace Thomas and Adam Smith have combined for a 0.75 goals against and .955 save percentage. Rogers (2-2-1) is coming off a 7-2 loss to Breck with Nate Weber (5-3-8) leading the way offensively and Michigan Tech recruit Travis Brown (2-0-2) anchoring the blue line.
8. Lakeville South at Lakeville North
Does it really matter which team is sitting on the home bench in this game? Not really, as the atmopshere will be terrific when these two cross-town rivals renew their biannual battle for supremacy. And this winter, we might be treated a third game in the Section 1AA finals if all goes according to plan. Lakeville South (2-3-0) is finding its way after the graduation of Mr. Hockey Justin Kloos and others. The Cougars have a veteran presence in leading scorer Patrick Lauderdale (5-4-9) and goaltender Tyler Schumacher (1-3-0, 5.00, .861), both of whom played big roles in the team's third-place finish at last year's state tournament. North (4-2-0) already has an impressive victory over Eden Prairie on its resume and could be the team to beat. Sophomores Nick Poehling (3-7-10) and Jack Poehling (5-4-9) each scored a goal in that upset and lead the Panthers in scoring.
9. Windom Area at Luverne
New Ulm has had control of Section 3A in the last three years, but this could be an interesting pre-holiday game to decide who really is a contender to knock the Eagles off their perch. Luverne (5-1-0) was the preseason favorite to do so and is on a four-game winning streak in which it's outscoring teams 30-3. Sophomore defenseman Toby Sengvongxay (11-5-16) has been even better than advertised after he was a USA Hockey National 15 camp invitee last summer. He's scored in all six games thus far, including a hat trick in the opener against Worthington. Windom Area (5-0-0) has also been better than advertised so far, winning all five of its games by pumping in 6.8 goals per game. Traivs Janssen (14-8-22) and Zach Bartosh (9-7-16) have provided much of the scoring. Janssen already has three hat tricks while Bartosh has all nine of his goals in the last three games.
10. Totino-Grace at Achiever NE Academy
Call it the curiousity factor. What is this Achiever NE Academy and how will the Aces look against Totino-Grace, one of the best teams in Class 1A. We'll get a chance to see this week as the Aces (3-4-0) take a big step against the Eagles. What we do know is that Achiever NE Academy is a new program based out of Eagan that has been competitive so far against Class 1A programs on its schedule. Cory Sprague (9-5-14) leads the team in goals while Ryan Finnegan (5-10-15) is tops in points. Totino-Grace (3-1-1) is the highest-ranked team the Aces will have played and the Eagles could be ornery after losing 5-1 to Holy Family Catholic in their last game. T.J. Roo (3-9-12) and Derek Lodermeier (7-4-11) pace Totino. This game may also be a preview of a Section 4A playoff tilt, as both are in that section this winter.