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Clash of the champions highlights the week ahead: Jan. 5-11

By Tim Kolehmainen, 01/04/09, 1:04PM CST


It isn't must-win territory for the two defending state champions, but both would sure like this victory

by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The Breakdown

Game of the week
St. Thomas Academy at Hill-Murray (8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 8)
It’s difficult to say that these two defending state champions need this victory to rebound after a tough holiday break, but that might just be the position they both find themselves in. Add in bragging rights in the Classic Suburban Conference and it should be a great game over at Aldrich Arena this Thursday night.

Both teams stumbled in the Schwan Cup Gold division over the holiday break. Defending Class AA state champion Hill-Murray (8-2-0) lost two of three to finish as the consolation runner-up, while defending Class A state champion St. Thomas Academy (7-3-0) also lost two of three, beating Moorhead in the seventh place game. In fact, both teams beat only the Spuds, while each lost to Centennial.

KohlsHill-Murray (ranked No. 6 in Class AA) has tallied 48 goals in 10 games, nearly half from its top line of Isaac Kohls (10-7-17), Tyler Zepeda (4-13-17) and Nick Widing (9-7-16). The trio has a great combination of speed and size and creates match-up problems all over the ice for foes. We ranked the three as the top line in the state this winter, despite the fact they’re playing together for the first time. The Pioneers also get offensive contributions from Paul Prescott (4-5-9), Ben Bahe (1-7-8), Jeff Westerhaus (6-1-7), Jack Walsh (2-5-7) and Ryan Holler (4-2-6).

The Pioneers have allowed just 16 goals in that same time, although seven came in the two losses in the Schwan Cup last week. Sophomore Tim Shaughnessy (6-2-0, 1.66 GAA, .906 save %) has played in nine games, taking the majority of time in nets for the graduated Joe Phillippi, who won the Brimsek Award as the top senior goaltender in the state last winter. He’s had help from a very good defensive corps with tough junior Chris Casto (0-6-6), quiet but potent sophomore J.D. Cotroneo (3-4-7), Alex Kelly and Jordan Johnson.

IsacksonSt. Thomas Academy (ranked No. 3 in Class A) has racked up 46 goals in 10 games with a significant balance up and down the lineup. Forwards Justin Crandall (9-7-16), A.J. Reid (8-5-13) and Kevin Sienko (6-6-12) lead the goal-scoring race, but another nine players have two or three goals each, including leading scorer Christian Isackson (2-17-19). Sienko is the only senior in the group for the young Cadets.

Defensively, the Cadets have registered 26 goals against, although like Hill-Murray, many came in the three games at the Schwan Cup. St. Thomas Academy allowed 14 against the tough tournament field. Junior Kurt Altrichter (6-2-0, 2.23 GAA, .899 save %) has played the majority of time in nets, just as he did for last year’s state title run. He’s supported by defensemen Joe Graveline (3-4-7), Eric Schurhamer, Taylor Fleming, Matt Baer and Grant Sattler.

There have already been a significant number of common opponents for the two teams: Minnetonka (3-1 over H-M, 4-3 win for STA), Moorhead (7-0 win for H-M, 4-3 win for STA), Centennial (4-1 over H-M, 6-3 over STA) and Simley (11-1 win for H-M, 10-1 win for STA).

Terrific 10 games of the week
2. Woodbury at Cretin-Derham Hall (7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10) – not only are these two teams battling for supremacy in the Suburban East, but seeding in Section 3AA. Woodbury has had the upper hand the past two seasons and advanced to state.
3. Duluth Marshall at Hermantown (7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6) – it’s another battle between conference foes (Lake Superior) and section rivals (Section 7AA) up in northeastern Minnesota. Marshall’s been the Hawks’ nemesis in recent seasons.
4. Warroad at Thief River Falls (7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 8) – the Prowlers are the only team other than Warroad to represent Section 8A in the past six years, advancing to state in 2006. Thief River Falls is hoping to show its ready again this winter.
5. Benilde-SM at Minnetonka (7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10) – Benilde just lost to Wayzata in the Schwan Cup Silver finals, taking a hit in the Section 6AA seedings. Now comes Minnetonka trying to knock them down further, especially after the Skippers played well in the Gold division at the Schwan Cup.
6. Moose Lake at Northern Lakes (7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6) – let’s step outside the Twin Cities Metro for a moment to recognize two unknown programs with great starts. The Rebels and coach Sherm Liimatainen are still unbeaten after eight games, while the Lightning just suffered their first loss after opening with 10 straight wins.
7. Totino-Grace at Mahtomedi (7:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 5) – to say that these two are fighting it out for second place in Section 4A (behind St. Thomas Academy) is incorrect. Both have the firepower to knock off the Cadets this year, but first they’ll deal with each other Monday night.
8. Hutchinson at Holy Angels (2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10) – Hutch is another one of those “under the radar” unbeaten teams. Expect that to end Saturday at Holy Angels in a Missota Conference clash. Just don’t expect the Tigers to come out unscathed.
9. Duluth East at Blaine (7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6) – two of the state’s heavies try to improve their one-loss resumes – a difficult task with the tough schedules they’ve both set for themselves. East will get top defenseman Derek Forbort back from the USA U17 team.
10. Silver Bay at Two Harbors (7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6) – no, they aren’t exactly two of the state’s top programs, but this is a heated rivalry that goes back to their days in the Lake Superior Conference together – and back to the heyday of my hockey up in Mariner country. And it may not be long before the schools co-op, so catch it while you can.

Player of the week
StraateMatt Straate (Wayzata)
Straate came into the holidays with only two assists and no goals on the season for the surprising Trojans, who streaked into our rankings at No. 12AA after winning the Silver Division of the Schwan Cup at Aldrich Arena. The 6-3/210 senior forward is a big reason why they claimed first, however, with his sudden scoring prowess, which included back-to-back game-winning goals.
Straate netted three goals and two assists for a plus-4 rating in a 7-1 victory over Brainerd in the opening round last Monday. Included in the hat trick was the game-winner midway through the first period. Then Straate followed it up by tallying the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 win over Breck in the semifinals. He also had two assists in the game.
Straate didn’t score in the championship game, a tight 2-0 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret’s, but he was a plus-1.
The Trojans, who we picked to finish fifth in Section 6AA, suddenly look like a very serious contender along with the Red Knights, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.

Leaderboards (through Pointstreak)
Scoring leaders -- http://mbhsh.stats.pointstreak.com/scoringleaders.html?leagueid=538&seasonid=3534
Goalie leaders –

Where will we be?
Saturday, Jan. 10: Red Wing at Fergus Falls

The Breakdown rankings (01-04-2009)

Class AA

1. Edina (11-1-0)
2. Bloomington Jefferson (10-0-0)
3. Eden Prairie (7-2-0)
4. Duluth East (8-1-1)
5. Centennial (7-1-1)
6. Hill-Murray (8-2-0)
7. Holy Angels (5-2-1)
8. Blaine (10-1-0)
9. Woodbury (9-1-1)
10. Minnetonka (7-4-0)
11. Maple Grove (9-0-2)
12. Wayzata (7-3-1)
13. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (8-2-0)
14. White Bear Lake (6-5-1)
15. Moorhead (5-4-1)

Class A

1. Little Falls (9-0-0)
2. Hermantown (11-0-0)
3. St. Thomas Academy (7-3-0)
4. Mahtomedi (8-2-1)
5. St. Cloud Cathedral (9-2-1)
6. Warroad (11-1-0)
7. Rochester Lourdes (7-2-0)
8. Breck (7-3-0)
9. Virginia/MI-B (9-4-0)
10. Hibbing/Chisholm (8-3-0)
11. Duluth Marshall (5-4-0)
12. Alexandria (8-2-0)
13. South St. Paul (7-2-2)
14. Thief River Falls (7-2-1)
15. International Falls (7-4-1)