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Class A rankings: Little Falls emerges unscathed

By Tim Kolehmainen, 01/26/09, 7:30AM CST

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Waytashek nets only goal in 1-0 thriller over Alexandria

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

1. Little Falls (14-0-0)
The Flyers got past their biggest hurdle to an undefeated regular season, edging Central Lakes foe Alexandria 1-0 Thursday night in Alex.  After two scoreless periods, Wesley Waytashek (10-11-21) scored just 22 seconds into the third on a feed from Ben Hanowski (33-24-57) to give the Flyers the win.  Senior Michael Sperl (14-0-0, 1.70 GAA, .928 save %) stopped all 26 shots he faced in the game.  Now Little Falls has to battle complacency as much as its opponents, although Sartell-St. Stephen and the Nahan boys could cause trouble on Tuesday.

This week: Tuesday vs. Sartell-St. Stephen (7:15 p.m.), Thursday vs. Fergus Falls (7:15 p.m.), Friday at Sauk Rapids-Rice (7 p.m.).

2. St. Thomas Academy (13-3-1)
St. Thomas Academy proved its supremacy over a couple of other top Class A clubs last week, pasting Rochester Lourdes (5-2) and Mahtomedi (8-5). The debate will continue to rage for a while as to who’d fare best in a Little Falls/St. Thomas Academy matchup.  And unless the Flyers are upset during the regular season, the Cadets may have to settle for the No. 2 spot.  Underclassmen lead the way for young St. Thomas Academy, both on offense with Christian Isackson (9-22-31), Justin Crandall (16-12-28) and A.J. Reid (17-9-26) and on defense with Joe Graveline (0-11-11) and goaltenders Kurt Altrichter (9-2-1, 2.04 GAA, .912 save %) and Matt McNeely (4-1-0, 2.41 GAA, .901 save %).  Little Falls, on the other hand, is senior-laden.

This week: Thursday vs. Simley (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at North St. Paul (7:30 p.m.).

3. Hermantown (15-1-0)
The Hawks weren’t a very accommodating host for a pair of Wisconsin teams last week, beating Lake Superior Conference foes Superior and Ashland by a combined 18-2 score. They’ll certainly get a test Monday night, though, with a rescheduled game at No. 5 St. Cloud Cathedral.  Adam Krause (13-20-33) and Cody Christopherson (17-14-31) continue to lead Hermantown in scoring and have combined for 10 power play goals.  Ben Tessier (11-0-0, 2.25 GAA, .893 save %) remained perfect in nets, although Tyler Ampe (4-1-0, 1.28 GAA, .939 save %) posted his third shutout of the season in his only start last week.

This week: Monday at St. Cloud Cathedral (6:45 p.m.), Tuesday at Proctor (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Two Harbors (7:30 p.m.).

4. St. Cloud Cathedral (14-2-1)
After a long layoff of nine days, the Crusaders came out firing in Wright County Conference play.  Cathedral swamped Delano/Rockford (4-0) and Mound-Westonka (6-0) in back-to-back games. Defenseman Joe Nessler (3-18-21) stepped to the forefront with six assists in the two games and helped goaltender Nick Maiers (12-2-1, 1.61 GAA, .917 save %) record two straight shutouts.  Maiers now has six on the season, tying Duluth East’s Matt Cooper.  Jordan Palusky (20-11-31) continued his great goal-scoring season, while Nate Schmidt (14-17-31) and Alex Koopmeiners (9-18-27) also give the Crusaders punch.

This week: Monday vs. Hermantown (6:45 p.m.), Tuesday at Waconia (7 p.m.), Saturday vs. Holy Family (1 p.m.).

5. Warroad (15-2-0)
I’m not going to knock the Warriors much for their overtime loss at Moorhead (5-4) Saturday night.  Warroad fell behind 4-1 late in the second period, but stormed back to tie it and nearly won in the final seconds, if not for several big saves by Spuds’ goalie Michael Bitzer.  The Warriors also beat ranked Thief River Falls (5-1) easily on Thursday.  Junior Brock Nelson (23-16-39) is a massive player on the ice and can really snipe, as can Chris Sylvester (16-8-24) and a trio of shifty defensemen in Michael Pieper (3-13-16), Tai Larson (3-11-14) and Carson Gray (4-9-13).

This week: Tuesday vs. Crookston (7:30 p.m.), Friday vs. Duluth Marshall (7:30 p.m.), Saturday vs. Duluth Denfeld (4:30 p.m.).

6. Breck (12-3-1)
Breck opened the week with a hard-fought 1-all tie with Totino-Grace, then stepped back into Tri-Metro play in a big way, routing St. Paul (9-1) and St. Paul Como (10-1).  It’s expected to more of the same throughout the Tri-Metro schedule for the Mustangs. Defenseman Reid Herd (6-11-17) scored four goals in the two games. Tyson Fulton (12-17-29) and Joe Rehkamp (8-20-28) lead all scorers, while Mike Morin (12-9-21) is tied with Fulton for the goal-scoring lead.  Like Breck, many of the top Class A teams will be in the thick of their conference schedules now and will face fewer challenging games the rest of the way (with some notable exceptions, of course).

This week: Tuesday at Orono (7 p.m.), Thursday at Blake (7:45 p.m.), Saturday vs. Minnehaha Academy (1 p.m.).

7. South St. Paul (10-3-3)
The Packers followed up their impressive tie with St. Thomas Academy by beating Richfield (4-2) in their only game last week.  Senior defenseman Zach Palmquist (12-15-27) continues to pace the team in scoring, netting two more goals against the Spartans.  Both the Section 4A and Classic Suburban Conference races heat up this week, with road games at Hill-Murray and Mahtomedi on the slate.

This week: Tuesday vs. North St. Paul (7 p.m.), Thursday at Hill-Murray (8 p.m.), Saturday at Mahtomedi (7:30 p.m.).

8. Virginia/MI-B (13-5-0)
The Iron Range Conference sure is a dogfight at the top between the Blue Devils, Hibbing/Chisholm and International Falls (and Class AA Grand Rapids). The programs seem to knock each other off every week, alternating in the rankings from week-to-week.  Last week, Virginia bested I-Falls 5-2 behind Andrew Judnick’s (7-15-22) hat trick, while Hibbing was losing to Grand Rapids.  Don’t expect the Blue Devils to slip up this week, however, with a trio of very winnable games.  Virginia will go as far as its top unit of Chris Westin (20-23-43), Garrett Hendrickson (10-20-30), Judnick and defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (13-11-24) takes it.

This week: Tuesday at Greenway (7:30 p.m.), Friday vs. Eveleth-Gilbert (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Silver Bay/Cook County (7:30 p.m.).

9. Mahtomedi (12-4-1)
The Zephyrs had a week they’d like to forget, losing both games and allowing a flood of goals in the process. St. Thomas Academy started the cascade with an 8-5 victory on Thursday and Richfield followed it with a 5-4 setback Saturday. It sent them tumbling from the top-5 in the rankings to a near-visit with double-digit territory.  A big Section 4A game looms this Saturday with South St. Paul, which has already beaten Mahtomedi once this season.  Double-digit goal scorers Ben Marshall (14-22-36), Charlie Adams (10-22-32), Brandon Zurn (13-13-26), Tanner Jordan (11-6-17) and Ben Holker (10-7-17) hope to reverse that trend.

This week: Thursday at North St. Paul (8 p.m.), Saturday vs. South St. Paul (7:30 p.m.).

10. Alexandria (11-3-0)
I’d like to rank the Cardinals higher, but they’ve lost in their three toughest tests (twice to Little Falls and once to Cathedral), although all three games were one-goal losses.  Alexandria could be a team that upsets Little Falls in the Section 6A final and makes some noise at state, or they could fall shy of the Flyers a third time and disappear.  Senior goaltender Matt Hemingway (11-3-0, 1.50 GAA, .937 save %) is one of the state’s best and can keep the Cardinals in any game.  Thomas Williams (11-15-26) and Tyler Resch (15-8-23) are the top two scorers for Aleandria.

This week: Tuesday at Willmar (7 p.m.), Thursday at St. Cloud Apollo (7 p.m.), Saturday vs. Bemidji (7:30 p.m.).

11. Thief River Falls (11-5-1)
The Prowlers had a chance to make some hay this past week with big games against Moorhead and Warroad on the schedule. They started great, shutting down the Spuds (3-1) on Tuesday, but the Warriors proved to be a more difficult foe (5-1) Thursday.  Still, a split leaves Thief River Falls right were it was in last week’s rankings.  Lucas Dillon (15-16-31) cranks up the Prowlers’ offense, but goalie Zane Gothberg (9-4-1, 1.67 GAA, .933 save %) is the engine that makes them purr.

This week: Tuesday at East Grand Forks (7:30 p.m.), Friday vs. Duluth Denfeld (7:30 p.m.), Saturday vs. Duluth Marshall (3 p.m.).

12. Hibbing/Chisholm (12-5-1)

In an odd bit of scheduling, the Bluejackets have all week off to think about their 5-1 loss to Grand Rapids last Friday.  It will be their only game in a two-week stretch from Jan. 20 through Feb. 3.  Hibbing outshot the Thunderhawks 37-22, but could not solve netminder A.J. Underwood.  He accomplished what few have done so far this year, shutting out Aaron Jamnick (25-17-42, with an amazing eight short-handed goals).  Still, the Bluejackets are on track for the top seed in Section 7A with a perfect 5-0-0 record in section play.

This week: no games scheduled.

13. Red Wing (10-6-0)
The Wingers posted a big 5-3 victory at New Prague in their only game of the week.  Red Wing bust out to a 5-0 lead with only 3:23 left in the game on two goals from Josh Mensing (10-9-19) and single tallies from George Noesen (12-9-21), Patrick Noesen (10-12-22) and Blake Schammel (10-14-24) the team’s top four scorers.  They had to hand on for dear life, though, as New Prague rapped in three goals in the final 3:03 to make it more interesting than it should have been. But the victory, combined with Rochester Lourdes’ recent struggles, has opened the door on the Section 1A race.

This week: Tuesday at Hutchinson (6 p.m.), Thursday at Farmington (7:15 p.m.).

14. Rochester Lourdes (10-5-0)

Only a 7-4 victory over visiting East Grand Forks kept Lourdes from being in the midst of a four-game losing skid, as they also lost to St. Thomas Academy (5-2) and Delano/Rockford (3-2) last week.  There’s still plenty of time to right the ship before the playoffs begin, and any team that boats of a first line of Cole Peterson (12-23-35), Tyler Voigt (17-17-34) and Taylor Funk (18-9-27) is still plenty dangerous. But the Eagles have to find a way to limit offensive chances against them to be truly a contender.

This week: Thursday vs. Mound-Westonka (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Shakopee (3 p.m.).

15. Totino-Grace (10-4-2)
Let’s welcome the Eagles of Totino-Grace into the top-15 for the first time, even though they didn’t have the most impressive week (a 1-all tie with Breck, a 5-0 loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s and a 2-1 squeaker over St. Francis).  But there is plenty of talent on this team, led by UMD-bound Dan DeLisle (21-17-38). Totino’s North Suburban Conference slate gets a bit easier this week, which should allow them to add to their victory total.

This week: Tuesday at Spring Lake Park (7:30 p.m.), Friday vs. Irondale (7 p.m.).