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Class A rankings: the North is rising

By Tim Kolehmainen, 02/02/09, 7:23PM CST


Little Falls remains at No. 1, but the north rises into the rankings

by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN

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

1. Little Falls (17-0-0)
The Flyers seem to be hitting on all cylinders at the right time, as they romped past three teams in easy fashion last week, beating Sartell-St. Stephen (7-2), Fergus Falls (8-0) and Sauk Rapids-Rice (8-0).  While Little Falls has continued to score goals at a great pace, they’ve also begun to limit the damage against them.  In the past seven games, the Flyers have allowed only six goals.  Senior goalie Michael Sperl (17-0-0, 1.52 GAA, .933 save %) already has seven shutouts on the season to tie for the state lead in that category.  Meanwhile, Ben Hanowski (41-29-70) continues his assault on Johnny Pohl’s state career scoring record.  Big Ben is now 39 points shy of breaking the mark after netting eight goals and five assists in last week’s three games.

This week: Tuesday vs. Wadena-Deer Creek (7:15pm), Thursday at St. Cloud Apollo (7pm), Saturday at Detroit Lakes (7:30pm).

2. St. Thomas Academy (15-3-1)
It’s a big private school week for the Cadets, who host both Totino-Grace and Hill-Murray this week.  A victory over the Pioneers Saturday should wrap up the Classic Suburban title for STA, which beat Hill-Murray 5-2 earlier this season.  Last week, the Cadets routed Simley (7-1) and North St. Paul (6-2) behind three goals from Noah Gavin (8-9-17).  St. Thomas Academy lost plenty of big-time talent from last year’s state champion, but the young kids have come to play, as nine of the top 10 scorers are underclassmen, led by Christian Isackson (10-26-36), Justin Crandall (17-17-34) and AJ Reid (18-13-31).

This week: Tuesday vs. Totino-Grace (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Hill-Murray (7:30pm).

3. Warroad (18-2-0)
While the biannual battle between the Warriors and Roseau takes center stage this Tuesday, Warroad can wrap up the Mariucci Conference title with two victories this week.  The Warriors rebounded nicely from a tough overtime loss at Moorhead two weeks ago to beat Crookston (7-0) and edge two visiting Duluth schools (3-1 over Marshall and 2-1 over Denfeld in overtime).  Those two games provided a great tournament-style test for Warroad, as both Marshall and Denfeld could find themselves with the Warriors at the X in just over a month.  Big Brock Nelson (27-21-48) continued his outstanding season with three goals and five assists last week.  He leads the Warriors in scoring, just ahead of Dane Shaugabay (13-29-42) and Brett Hebvel (13-26-39).

This week: Tuesday at Roseau (7:30pm), Saturday vs. East Grand Forks (4:30pm).

4. St. Cloud Cathedral (17-2-1)
Defense has been the game for the Crusaders recently, as they’ve allowed just three goals in their past eight games, netting five shutouts in that span.  And they haven’t been playing bottom rung teams, either.  Last week, Cathedral likely wrapped up the top seed in Section 5A over Hermantown (2-1) and then shut down Waconia (4-0) and Holy Family (7-1) – the Breakdown was at the Holy Family game and has photos and audio interviews with coach Erik Johnson, Joe Nessler and Alex Koopmeiners at http://www.mnsportspreview.com/hockey.htm.  Nick Maiers (14-2-1, 1.49 GAA, .924 save %) has been nearly untouchable in nets with all seven shutouts on the season.  He’s certainly helped by a rugged defense that includes U of M recruit Nate Schmidt (15-19-34), underrated Joe Nessler (4-20-24) and Jon Rowe (3-5-8).  Schmidt leads the Crusaders in scoring.

This week: Tuesday vs. Orono (7pm), Friday at Delano/Rockford (7:30pm).

5. Breck (15-3-1)
The Mustangs continued to fatten up at the expense of the Tri-Metro, giving up one goal in sweeping Orono (5-1), Blake (6-0) and Minnehaha Academy (7-0) last week.  It’ll likely continue this week against two teams Breck has already beaten by a combined 16-0 in the first two meetings.  In an odd stat, backup goalie Max McCormick (4-0-0, 0.25 GAA, .978 save %) already has three shutouts in four games, one more than starter John Russell (11-3-1, 1.83 GAA, .926 save %) has earned in nearly four times the games.  But Russell’s job is definitely not in jeopardy, as he’s been solid in big games.  Tyson Fulton (14-23-37) and Joe Rehkamp (11-25-36) lead the Mustangs’ offense, which is loaded with juniors.

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

6. Hermantown (17-2-0)
If Hermantown was disappointed after its 2-1 loss at St. Cloud Cathedral last Monday, they certainly took it out on Lake Superior Conference rivals Proctor (8-0) and Two Harbors (8-1) later in the week.  The Hawks remain an elite team capable of contending for a state title, but the race through Section 5A is going to be a battle.  As they have done all season, Adam Krause (18-24-42), Cody Christpherson (19-17-36) and Kurt Peterson (11-17-28) paced the offense last week.  In the win over Proctor, Krause recorded a hat trick, while Christopherson and Peterson each added two goals.  Grant Huttel (11-3-14) also enjoyed the week, netting a hat trick against Two Harbors as part of a five-goal week.  Huttel missed a portion of the season due to injury, but has been coming on strong as of late and makes the Hawks even more dangerous.

This week: Tuesday at Bemidji (noon), Thursday vs. Cloquet (7:30pm).

7. Virginia/MI-B (16-5-0)
The Iron Range Conference title could come down to the final game of the season, with the Blue Devils hosting Hibbing at Miners Memorial on Feb. 17.  But for now, Virginia is sitting atop the standings and challenging all comers.  Last week, they swept three games by an increasing margin each time over Greenway (3-2), Eveleth-Gilbert (8-1) and Silver Bay (12-1).  The Blue Devils have arguably the most potent, well-rounded line in the northeast in senior Chris Westin (25-34-59), sophomore Garrett Hendrickson (18-30-48) and junior Andrew Judnick (11-20-31). Throw in junior defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (14-15-29) and you have the majority of their scoring.  That quartet has combined for an amazing 28 power play goals already for coach Keith Hendrickson.

This week: Tuesday at Proctor (7:30pm), Friday vs. Greenway (7:30pm).

8. South St. Paul (12-4-3)
The Packers remain in the top-10 despite a loss to Hill-Murray (4-2) last week on the strength of their other two games, a 6-2 romp over North St. Paul and a 5-3 victory at Mahtomedi that completed a sweep of the season series from the Zephyrs.  This week, South St. Paul can avenge one of its losses (5-2 to Tartan on Jan. 8), the last one suffered by the Packers until this past week’s loss to the Pioneers.  Sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox (11-4-3, 2.28 GAA, .909 save %) has remained strong in nets, while senior defenseman Zach Palmquist (13-18-31) continues to lead the team in scoring over forwards Jesse Poznikowich (4-23-27), Austyn Young (8-18-26) and Trevor Mikacevich (13-9-22).

This week: Thursday vs. Sibley (7:30pm), Saturday at Tartan (3pm).

9. Alexandria (14-3-0)
If it weren’t for Little Falls, the Cardinals would be on a 16-game winning streak right now.  Alexandria dropped its opening game of the season in overtime to St. Cloud Cathedral (4-3), but have only lost two one-goal games to Little Falls (4-3 and 1-0) since then.  That continued last week with slim wins over Willmar (4-2), St. Cloud Apollo (5-3) and Bemidji (2-1) – the Breakdown was at the Bemidji game and has photos and an audio interview with coach Scott Woods at http://www.mnsportspreview.com/hockey.htm.  Senior goalie Matt Hemingway (13-3-0, 1.63 GAA, .933 save %) isn’t big, but his fundamentals are so strong and he’s seemingly never caught out of position.

This week: Tuesday vs. St. Cloud Tech (7pm), Thursday vs. Sartell-St. Stephen (7pm), Friday vs. Brainerd (7pm).

10. Thief River Falls (13-5-2)
Like Warroad, the Prowlers also hosted two top Class A Duluth schools last week, beating Denfeld (6-2) and tying Marshall (2-2).  Thief River Falls also beat East Grand Forks (6-1) last Tuesday to hang on the fringe of the state’s top-10.  Junior goalie Zane Gothberg (11-4-2, 1.66 GAA, .932 save %) has had numbers among the state’s best all season.  He’s played nearly every minute of every game for the Prowlers.  Lucas Dillon (18-21-39) leads the scoring race, ahead of Tyler Aandal (13-14-27), Kent Peterson (10-15-25) and Matt Lindquist (13-6-19).

This week: Tuesday at Red Lake Falls (7pm), Thursday at Crookston (7:30pm), Saturday at Lake of the Woods (3pm).

11. Mahtomedi (13-5-1)
The Zephyrs only have one game this week, but it most certainly doesn’t qualify as an easy week as they host Classic Suburban power – and defending state champion – Hill-Murray.  After starting the season on a roll, the Zephyrs have now lost three of their past four games, including a 5-3 defeat to South St. Paul last Saturday.  In the team’s lone victory in that span, a 4-1 win at North St. Paul, Mahtomedi had balanced scoring with goals from Nick Montanari and leading scorers Ben Marshall (15-23-38), Charlie Adams (11-25-36) and Brandon Zurn (14-15-29).  They’ll need more of that to get out of their funk, as well as kind of defense that limited the Polars to a single goal.

This week: Tuesday vs. Hill-Murray (7:30pm).

12. Hibbing/Chisholm (12-5-1)
Hibbing hasn’t played many games recently – it will have been a 10-day layoff when they take the ice Tuesday at Greenway – but they’re still in the thick of the Iron Range Conference race.  Thursday’s tilt at International Falls should be huge, in that the loser of that game likely falls out of contention.  Hopefully there won’t be any rust for Aaron Jamnick (25-17-42) and the Bluejackets’ crew.

This week: Tuesday at Greenway (7:30pm), Thursday at International Falls (7:30pm).

13. Red Wing (12-6-0)
Nobody has been hotter than senior Blake Schammel.  The Breakdown’s player of the week recorded back-to-back hat tricks last week in Winger wins over Hutchinson (6-1) and Farmington (7-6).  In just two games, Schammel (16-20-36) tallied six goals and six more assists for 12 points – or all but one of the Wingers’ 13 goals on the week.  He’ll have to keep it up if Red Wing wants to pull into a tie for the Missota lead with Holy Angels this Friday night.  The Stars are a perfect 8-0 in conference, while Red Wing is 7-1 (with the only loss to Holy Angels, 4-1, in the season opener).

This week: Tuesday vs. Prior Lake (7pm), Friday vs. Holy Angels (7pm).

14. International Falls (11-6-1)
The third contending member of the Iron Range Conference makes its way back into the rankings at No. 14 this week.  The Broncos had just one game last week, but it was a doozy, a 19-0 romp over Ely on Tuesday night.  Believe it or not, but not a single Frostbite Falls player had a hat trick in the game.  Will Corrin, Josh Leinum, Travis Phillipe, Jon McDonald, Michael Bounds and Jace Baldwin all scored two goals, while seven other Broncos had one each.  Corrin (13-17-30) leads the team in scoring, ahead of Baldwin (10-15-25), Jordan Christensen (10-13-23) and Jacob Casareto (11-7-18).

This week: Tuesday vs. Two Harbors (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Hibbing (7:30pm), Friday vs. Silver Bay (7:30pm).

15. Duluth Marshall (10-7-1)
After a string of early losses, I’ve been slow to put the Hilltoppers back in the rankings, but they earned it this week, despite losing to Warroad (3-1) and tying Thief River Falls (2-2).  But it was a close call over a hot team like St. Michael-Albertville or Sartell-St. Stephen.  Marshall has played one of the toughest Class A schedules in the state and has played nearly every opponent close.  Whether they’ve pulled them out is another story, however.  To be considered a contender, the Hilltoppers will have to start winning more than their share.  They have just two double-digit goal scorers in Joe Kozlak (11-9-20) and Dane Morin (13-3-16).  Pat Mahoney (4-20-24) is the leading scorer overall.  The round-robin tournament of Duluth is on tap this week with games against Central and Denfeld (Duluth East is in Class AA and does not play Marshall).

This week: Tuesday vs. Duluth Central (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Duluth Denfeld (7:30pm).