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Battle of the defending state champions highlights the week ahead: Feb. 2-8

By Tim Kolehmainen, 02/02/09, 12:07PM CST

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St. Thomas Academy takes on Hill-Murray in a battle for supremacy in the Classic Suburban.

Game of the week
Hill-Murray at St. Thomas Academy (7:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 7)
It’s rematch time for the two defending state champions from Hill-Murray (Class AA) and St. Thomas Academy (Class A).  There are no playoff implications in this game, obviously, but bragging rights in the Classic Suburban Conference are enough.  The Cadets hold a game lead on the Pioneers with the season winding down.  Both teams are also ranked in our top-15, with Hill-Murray (12-5-1) at No. 11 in Class AA and St. Thomas Academy (15-3-1) at No. 2 in Class A.

The Cadets took the first meeting between those two teams back on Jan. 8 by a 5-2 margin.  Shots were even at 29-all, but St. Thomas Academy managed to slip five by sophomore goalie Tim Shaughnessy for the victory.  Christian Isackson started the scoring with two goals in the first six minutes for the Cadets. Tyler Zepeda scored both Hill-Murray goals.

ZepedaThere has been plenty of change for Hill-Murray since the first game with the dismissal of four of their leading scorers.  The Pioneers appear to have recovered from that loss and have won five of their past six games (the only loss in that span was a 3-2 overtime heart-breaker at Benilde, a game the Pioneers led 2-0 midway through the third period).

Zepeda (11-17-28) continues to lead Hill-Murray in scoring, adjusting nicely to the loss of his linemates.  He’s a bit nicked up, but is sure to want to hit the ice for this one.  Sophomore Ben Bahe (5-10-15) has stepped up nicely into a scoring role, as has Jeff Westerhaus (10-4-14) and Jack Walsh (5-8-13).  Junior Chris Casto (2-13-15) is a solid force on the blue line for the Pioneers, a big and physical defensemen who can also provide some offense.  Shaughnessy (8-5-1, 2.14 GAA, .901 save %) has been steady in nets.

CrandallBoth teams are quite young.  Nine of the Cadets’ top 10 scorers are underclassmen: including the top line of juniors Isackson (10-26-36) and Justin Crandall (17-17-34), sophomore A.J. Reid (18-13-31).  Sophomore Zach Schroeder (8-10-18), junior Noah Gavin (8-9-17) and senior Kevin Sienko (8-11-19) also form a potent scoring force. The Cadets are no older on defense, led by sophomore Taylor Fleming (1-13-14), junior Joe Graveline (3-7-10) and freshman Eric Schurhamer (2-7-9).

St. Thomas Academy has allowed only three goals in its last three games, paced by a great goaltending tandem of Kurt Altrichter (10-2-1, 2.04 GAA, .909 save %) and matt McNeely (5-1-0, 2.17 GAA, .901 save %).  Altrichter backstopped the Cadets’ state-tournament run last season and has earned the majority of time this winter in his junior year, but McNeely has been a great compliment as a sophomore.

A victory in this game could be a springboard for either team, both of whom will face stiff challenges in their respective section tournaments.  Hill-Murray must contend, as always, with White Bear Lake in Section 4AA, although Roseville, Stillwater and fellow Classic Suburban surprise, Tartan.

Common opponents: There have been plenty since both clubs play in the Classic Suburban and both were in the Schwan Cup Gold bracket.  Sibley (Hill-Murray won 8-1 and 10-2, STA won 6-0), South St. Paul (Hill-Murray won 3-2 and 4-2, STA tied 1-1), Simley (Hill-Murray won 11-1 and 10-0, STA won 10-1 and 7-1), Mahtomedi (Hill-Murray won 3-2, STA won 8-5), Minnetonka (Hill-Murray lost 3-1, STA won 4-3), Moorhead (Hill-Murray won 7-0, STA won 4-3), Tartan (Hill-Murray tied 1-1, STA won 5-1 and 2-0), Richfield (Hill-Murray won 6-2, STA won 6-3), North St. Paul (Hill-Murray won 9-1, STA won 6-2 and 6-2), Holy Angels (Hill-Murray lost 5-3, STA lost 5-2), Centennial (Hill-Murray lost 4-1, STA lost 6-3).

Terrific 10 games of the week
2. Warroad at Roseau (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 3)
This rematch just as easily could have been ranked No. 1 and remains one of the best games in the state every year.  Warroad broke a two-year losing streak in the classic, beating Roseau 5-2 back on Jan. 15.  But the Rams may be welcoming back Nick Oliver this time and have been playing more consistently of late.
3. Holy Angels at Red Wing (7pm, Friday, Feb. 6)
The title of Missota champion will be decided in this rematch. Holy Angels is unbeaten in conference, while Red Wing has lost just once, a 4-1 loss to the Stars in the first game of the season.  No player has been hotter than Red Wing’s Blake Schammel, while Holy Angels’ Danny Mattson is a Mr. Hockey favorite.
4. Eagan at Bloomington Jefferson (7:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 5)
The Jaguars have been playing some close game lately but have remained unbeaten and atop our rankings. This game is a great chance for Eagan to show that it is a contender. The Wildcats have won eight straight games behind terrific goaltending from Trent Caspar.  Jefferson leads the Lake Conference, while Eagan is standing in third place.
5. Hibbing/Chisholm at International Falls (7:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 5)
The Iron Range Conference is clustered at the top, with these two teams as part of the championship puzzle.  The Bluejackets have only played one game in the last two weeks, while Frostbite Falls ripped Ely 19-0 in its most recent game. Hibbing’s Aaron Jamnick is one of the top snipers in the state, but the Broncos have more balance with five double-digit goal scorers.
6. (tie) Edina at Minnetonka (7:15pm, Thursday, Feb. 5)
Minnetonka at Hopkins (3pm, Saturday, Feb. 7)
Wayzata at Edina (3pm, Saturday, Feb. 7)
The Classic Lake may not be around much longer, which makes this year’s title one for eternal bragging rights.  All four of these teams (sorry, Armstrong) could walk away with the trophy depending on how they play over the final weeks.  Minnetonka is currently in the driver’s seat with a perfect league record and victories over Wayzata, Armstrong and Hopkins in the last two weeks.
7. Eden Prairie at Hopkins (7pm, Thursday, Feb. 5)
We tabbed Hopkins as the preseason favorite in Section 6AA, but Eden Prairie grabbed that role almost immediately and have held it all season long.  Perhaps we didn’t give the young Eagles and coach Lee Smith enough credit.  Hopkins has had its ups and downs, but can beat anyone with Alex Fons on his game.
8. Duluth Denfeld at Duluth Marshall (7:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 5)
The Lake Superior Conference said goodbye to Duluth East many years back, which leaves the three remaining Duluth schools (Denfeld, Central and Marshall) to fight it out in the LSC with a handful of other area schools. Central has been down in recent years (but has shown improvement this winter), Marshall has been an annual state contender in Class A, and Denfeld has swung between the two extremes.
9.  Maple Grove at Centennial (7:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 7)
All season long, both the Northwest Suburban and Section 6AA championships have seemed to go through either Centennial or Blaine.  Maple Grove has made some noise about crashing that party, but has yet to beat either team.  They have one more shot at both, starting with this Saturday’s game at the Cougars.
10. Park at Woodbury (7:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 7)
Everything changes next year for these two neighboring schools in District 833.  The two rivals will soon become three with the opening of Eastridge High, which will divide up the students from both Park and Woodbury into three locations.  But before that happens, there’s one last get-together on the ice.

Player of the week
Blake Schammel (Red Wing)
SchammelSchammel, a senior forward for Red Wing, had a hand in 12 of the 13 goals the Wingers scored in two games last week.  First, in a 6-1 victory over Hutchinson on Tuesday, Schammel had a hat trick and two assists. The Tigers tallied the first goal of the game, but Schammel netted the next two to give Red Wing the lead for good.  Then in a 7-6 squeaker over Farmington on Thursday, Schammel was even better. He recorded his second straight hat trick and had four assists, including what proved to be the game-winning goal midway through the third period.
Red Wing coach George Nemanich called Schammel a “tremendously gifted hockey player. He has a knack for scoring goals as well as setting up teammates for goal-scoring opportunities.  As a player, he has a great release on his shot and also has great rink vision.”
Schammel’s big week pushed his season totals to a team-leading 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points.  The Wingers remained in our top-15 with the two victories, thanks in large part to their senior forward.

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

Where will we be?
Thursday, Feb. 5 – East Grand Forks at Moorhead

State rankings (02-01-2009)

Class AA

1. Bloomington Jefferson (18-0-0)
2. Centennial (14-1-3)
3. Edina (16-3-0)
4. Blaine (16-1-1)
5. Eden Prairie (15-3-0)
6. Duluth East (15-3-1)
7. Minnetonka (14-5-0)
8. Holy Angels (13-4-1)
9. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (14-4-0)
10. Woodbury (16-2-2)
11. Hill-Murray (12-5-1)
12. Wayzata (12-6-1)
13. Maple Grove (14-2-3)
14. Hopkins (12-6-1)
15. Moorhead (8-8-2)

Class A

1. Little Falls (17-0-0)
2. St. Thomas Academy (15-3-1)
3. Warroad (18-2-0)
4. St. Cloud Cathedral (17-2-1)
5. Breck (15-3-1)
6. Hermantown (17-2-0)
7. Virginia/MI-B (16-5-0)
8. South St. Paul (12-4-3)
9. Alexandria (14-3-0)
10. Thief River Falls (13-5-2)
11. Mahtomedi (13-5-1)
12. Hibbing/Chisholm (12-5-1)
13. Red Wing (12-6-0)
14. International Falls (11-6-1)
15. Duluth Marshall (10-7-1)