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Class A rankings: Little Falls stays at No. 1

By Tim Kolehmainen, 01/11/09, 8:59PM CST


Little Falls remains unbeaten and at No. 1, while Red Wing and Albert Lea move into the top 15

by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor
The Breakdown

The Breakdown takes its weekly look at the top 15 teams in Class A...

1. Little Falls (11-0-0)

The Flyers remained perfect on the season with a pair of victories last week, beating Class AA Brainerd (5-3) and swamping River Lakes (7-0) last Friday night. Little Falls lives and dies by its senior class, which includes forward Ben Hanowski (28-17-45), defenseman Izaak Berglund (8-19-27) and goalie Michael Sperl (11-0-0, 1.89 GAA, .921 save %). The Flyers will go as far as that group leads them – which with their talent could be quite far. Hanowski is bidding to become the state’s all-time leading career scorer and needs 63 more points to tie Johnny Pohl’s record of 378 points. Big Ben already has six hat tricks in 11 games, including a seven-goal outburst at Greenway.

This week: Thursday at Prairie Centre Area (7:15pm), Saturday at Fergus Falls (7pm – and the Breakdown will be there).

2. St. Thomas Academy (9-3-0)

It’d be tough to argue that any Class A team has played a tougher schedule than the Cadets, including a tough draw in the Schwan Cup Gold Division over the holidays. Last week, STA beat what turned out to be a very-distracted Hill-Murray team (5-2) and then rolled past Richfield (6-3) on Saturday night. The Cadets are a young team led by their juniors, such as leading scorer Christian Isackson (4-18-22), Justin Crandall (10-9-19) and goaltender Kurt Altrichter (6-2-0, 2.35 GAA, .908 save %). Sophomores A.J. Reid (10-7-17) and Zach Schroeder (5-5-10) certainly help, as well.

This week: Thursday at Henry Sibley (7:30pm), Saturday vs. South St. Paul (3pm).

3. Hermantown (12-1-0)

Did the Hawks have a hangover from their big victory on FSN North over Duluth Marshall last week?  Perhaps, but they did finally suffer their first loss after a dozen straight victories (5-4 in OT to International Falls). Hermantown has dealt with injuries to key players and hadn’t missed a beat until this week, thanks to the play of sophomore sensation Cody Christopherson (13-11-24), Adam Krause (10-14), Kurt Peterson (7-12-19), Jeff Paczynski (3-15-18), Branden Perrault (9-7-16) and Charlie Comnick (7-7-14). The Hawks are both physical and fast and will be a difficult out in the very deep Section 5A playoffs in March.

This week: Tuesday vs. Grand Rapids (7:30pm), Friday at St. Cloud Cathedral (7:15pm).

4. Mahtomedi (10-2-1)

The Zephyrs bumped their winning streak to five in a row with a three-game sweep over the week, including an impressive 5-4 overtime victory over Totino-Grace to begin. Mahtomedi also ripped Blake (8-4).  Since dropping back-to-back games before the holidays, the Zephyrs have been impressive, including claiming the Schwan Cup Bronze title. Sophomore defenseman Ben Marshall (7-12-19) leads the team in scoring and has already committed to the University of Minnesota. He’s the real deal, folks. Tanner Jordan (10-3-13) tops Mahtomedi in goal-scoring, just ahead of Brandon Zurn (8-6-14).

This week: Thursday at Henry Sibley (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Simley (7:30pm).

5. St. Cloud Cathedral (11-2-1)

The Crusaders have a big game coming up this week against Hermantown, but they weren’t looking ahead in a solid post-holiday week that included three victories. Cathedral beat Warroad (4-2), Holy Family Catholic (7-0) and Orono in overtime (1-0) in the most recent game last Saturday. Cathedral has a very good balance between its offense, led by Jordan Palusky (17-9-26) and Alex Koopmeiners (8-15-23) and its defense paced by one of the top juniors in the state in Minnesota-bound Nate Schmidt (11-13-24) and underrated Joe Nessler (2-12-14).

This week: Tuesday at Litchfield/D-C (7pm), Friday vs. Hermantown (7:15pm).

6. Warroad (12-1-0)

The Warriors finally dropped their first game of the season, as well, falling 4-2 at St. Cloud Cathedral back on Jan. 2.  Warroad responded with two good victories over tough foes in the next week, defeating St. Cloud Tech (6-3) and Thief River Falls (3-1). It’s more of the same up in Hockeytown USA, as the Warriors were thought to be down after losing several top seniors. No such luck to their foes, however. Jason Goldsmith (11-1-0, 1.45 GAA, .914 save %) has been solid in nets and scoring isn’t an issue with Brock Nelson (17-14-31), Brett Hebel (8-16-24), Dane Shaugabay (7-16-23), Chris Sylvester (13-7-20) and Mickey Knox (7-10-17) around,

This week: Thursday vs. Roseau (7:30pm), Saturday at Crookston (4:30pm).

7. International Falls (9-4-1)

The Broncos were a fashionable top-5 pick at season’s start, but then stumbled out of the gate with only four wins in their first nine games (4-4-1). They’ve certainly picked it up since, winning five in a row.  In that stretch is the Kiwanis/Wells Fargo title in Rochester and wins over Eveleth-Gilbert/Mesabi East (12-2) and a huge victory at Hermantown (5-4 in OT) last Saturday. It appears as if the ship has been righted.  Sophomore Jordan Christensen (9-10-19) leads the Broncos in scoring, just ahead of Jace Baldwin (8-10-18) and Willie Corrin (7-10-17).

This week: Friday vs. Greenway (7:30pm).

8. Rochester Lourdes (9-2-0)

Lourdes fell to I-Falls in the Kiwanis/Wells Fargo title game (3-1), but then rebounded with a couple of routs over lesser clubs, beating Dodge County (8-1) and Marshall (10-0) in the past week. The big line of Tyler Voigt (10-11-21), Cole Peterson (5-14-19) and Taylor Funk (11-3-14) has led the way, scoring more than half the Eagles’ goals already this season.

This week: Saturday vs. Breck (3pm).

9. Breck (9-3-0)

Since losing to Wayzata in OT in the Schwan Cup Silver semifinals, the young Mustangs have five straight victories, including four since the holidays. Last week, Breck shut out St. Paul Johnson (8-0) and Providence Academy (8-0). Breck relies on a very big junior class to get things done, which they certainly have recently. Tyson Fulton (8-11-19) and Joe Rehkamp (6-11-17) lead the team in scoring, although 10 players have at least five points for the well-balanced team.

This week: Tuesday vs. St. Paul Academy (7:30pm), Saturday at Rochester Lourdes (3pm).

10. Virginia/MIB (11-4-0)

Watch out for this up-and-coming team. The Blue Devils started the year with two straight losses, but have now won nine of their last 10, including victories down south over Albert Lea (3-1) and Rochester Mayo (3-2) last week. Virginia is a top-heavy scoring team, relying mainly on the top line of Chris Westin (18-22-40), Garrett Hendrickson (9-20-29) and Andrew Judnick (6-13-19) along with high-scoring defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (13-10-23). Those four players account for 46 of the team’s 70 goals.

This week: Saturday at Hibbing/Chisholm (7:30pm).

11. Alexandria (10-2-0)

The Cardinals have won nine straight games since beginning with two losses in their first three games. Since the holidays, Alex has taken care of two Class AA teams on the road in Coon Rapids (5-1) and St. Cloud Tech (6-3) and then edged Fergus Falls (3-2) last Thursday. Top goalie Matt Hemingway (9-2-0, 1.67 GAA, .930 save %) leads the way for the Cardinals’ defense, while both Thomas Williams (10-10-20) and Tyler Resch (12-7-19) have double-digit goal totals.

This week: Tuesday vs. Sauk Rapids-Rice (7pm), Thursday vs. Brainerd (7pm).

12. Duluth Marshall (7-5-0)

The Toppers kicked off the week with a heart-breaking loss at Hermantown (4-3 in OT) in a televised game, but then rallied with big wins over Greenway (7-0) and St. Paul Academy (6-1). Marshall’s record isn’t great, but coach Brendan Flaherty has challenged his team with a very tough schedule so far. In their favor, they’ve already beaten defending state champion St. Thomas Academy, although they had a full lineup at that time.

This week: Friday vs. Bemidji (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (3:30pm).

13. Thief River Falls (8-3-1)

The Prowlers had their biggest showdown of the season last week and fell 3-1 to Warroad, leaving Section 8A solely in the Warriors’ corner again this winter. Earlier in the week, Thief River Falls shut out Kittson Central (6-0). Zane Gothberg (7-3-1, 1.39 GAA, .944 save %) is the real deal in nets and keeps the Prowlers in most games. Lucas Dillon (12-14-26) and Tyler Aandal (10-11-21) power the scoring.

This week: Tuesday vs. Park Rapids (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Crookston (7:30pm).

14. Red Wing (8-5-0)

Sure, the Wingers have five losses, but take a look at who they’ve lost to before you condemn them: Holy Angels, Breck, Lourdes, Totino-Grace and Mahtomedi. Coach George Nemanich’s club is improving by the week and have plenty of offensive firepower. They kicked off their post-holiday play by losing to Mahtomedi (3-1), but then reeled off three straight wins against Farmington (9-1), Prior Lake (6-3) and Fergus Falls (4-2). George Noesen (11-7-18), Blake Schammel (8-10-18) and Patrick Noesen (9-8-17) do much of the damage up front.

This week: Tuesday at South St. Paul (7pm), Thursday at Albert Lea (3pm).

15. Albert Lea (9-3-0)

Let’s give some love to the south here. The Tigers beat one of the top teams in the north last week, kicking Hibbing/Chisholm to the curb (4-1), although they did also lose to Virginia/MIB (3-1) the night before in their home rink. Still, under legendary coach Roy Nystrom, Albert Lea has something going on with the top line of Tyler Prihoda (13-10-23), Jordan Prescher-Smerud (10-13-23) and Grant Stadheim (7-12-19).

This week: Tuesday vs. Mankato West (7:30pm), Thursday at Rochester Mayo (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Red Wing (3pm).