By Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
Game of the week
Bloomington Jefferson at Eden Prairie (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 10)
Some may not agree, but at this point in the season, these two teams are playing like the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state. Tuesday night at Eden Prairie, the Lake Conference’s behemoths collide in a game that could either solidify Jefferson’s hold on No. 1 – or shake up Class AA even more than has already happened in the last two weeks.
The Jaguars are a perfect 21-0-0, including all 15 victories in the Lake Conference. Eden Prairie has lost just three times (twice to Edina and once to Jefferson) and is second in the Lake at 14-1-0. Jefferson took the first meeting between the two top programs, winning 2-1 on goals from Joe Faust and Caleb Herbert back on Jan. 3. The Jaguars outshot Eden Prairie, 43-16, but Eagles’ goalie Matt Halloran kept his team in the game with 41 saves.
Jefferson has a scare in its most recent game, escaping with a 4-3 overtime decision over visiting Moorhead Saturday afternoon. Faust netted the game-winner on a 5-on-3 powerplay a minute and a half into the extra session. But they’ve stayed unbeaten thanks to a balanced offensive attack and one of the stingiest defenses in the state.
UMD recruit Herbert (19-19-38) leads the Jags in scoring, but a dozen players have double-digit point totals and a half-dozen have scored at least 10 goals, including A.J. Siiro (18-15-33), T.J. Gallus (14-18-32), Faust (11-19-30), Tyler Dietzler (10-21-31) and Zach Knight (11-5-16). Jefferson has two well-balanced offensive lines, but also gets contributions from offensive-minded defenseman like Faust, Jeff Pauluk (7-20-27) and Tim LaBombard (5-9-14). The Jaguars have scored 5.5 goals a game and allowed just 1.2. Casey O’Connor (19-0-0, 1.19 GAA, .931 save %) has played the majority of minutes in nets and is in the top-3 in the state in all three categories.
Eden Prairie wasn’t necessarily expected to be in the position they are after losing many key veterans from last year’s 18-7-2 club, some due to graduation and others who defected to USHL and other programs. But an incoming Bantam group that had won two straight state titles at that level has elevated Lee Smith’s club right back into the thick of the state championship race.
Sophomore forward Kyle Rau (19-19-38) leads the Eagles in scoring, while sophomore defenseman Dan Molenaar (9-11-20) and sophomore goalie Andrew Ford (9-1-0, 1.39 GAA, .940 save %) have been equally important additions. With Mr. Hockey candidate Nick Leddy (8-23-31) also putting up impressive offensive statistics from the blueline, Eden Prairie certainly resembles the Jaguars. Like Jefferson, the Eagles get good scoring from more than one line and from its defensemen. Mitch Rogge (8-20-28), Taylor Wolfe (13-14-27), Mike Erickson (11-13-24) and David Rath (11-4-15) are all now proven goal scorers. Halloran (9-2-0, 2.45 GAA, .896 save %) has split time in nets with Ford.
The Eagles may have been young to start the season, but they’re plenty experienced now and should be a force in the section playoffs.
Common opponents: There have been plenty since both clubs play in the Lake Conference. Eagan (Eden Prairie won 8-2 and 2-0, Jefferson won 4-0), Eastview (Eden Prairie won 6-1 and 6-1, Jefferson won 5-0), Lakeville North (Eden Prairie won 7-3 and 6-3, Jefferson won 4-3), Chaska (Eden Prairie won 8-2 and 12-4, Jefferson won 6-0 and 10-3), Burnsville (Eden Prairie won 3-1 and 7-6, Jefferson won 4-2 and 7-1), Rosemount (Eden Prairie won 7-1, Jefferson won 8-1 and 8-1), Lakeville South (Eden Prairie won 2-1, Jefferson won 10-2 and 4-3), Apple Valley (Eden Prairie won 5-0, Jefferson won 6-1 and 3-0), Bloomington Kennedy (Eden Prairie won 14-1, Jefferson won 5-1), Grand Rapids (Eden Prairie won 4-1, Jefferson won 7-0).
Terrific 10 games of the week
2. Centennial at Blaine (7:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 14)
This rematch also could easily have been the top game in the state next week, especially with both teams coming off upsets last week. Plenty is at stake in Bengals’ territory on Valentine’s evening, as both the Section 5AA top seed and the Northwest Suburban Conference title are up for grabs between these two perennial powers (along with Maple Grove now). In their first meeting, the teams tied 4-4 back on Jan. 17.
3. Duluth East at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 10)
The MyFoxHockey game of the week is one of the most heated rivalries in the state, no matter the relative talent of the two clubs. Duluth East has the edge in that column this season and beat the Lumberjacks 6-1 a week before Christmas. The Greyhounds are the runaway leader in Section 7AA, although Cloquet did upset them in last year’s semifinals, plenty of reason for East to come out fired up.
4. Totino-Grace at Benilde (7pm, Thursday, Feb. 12)
It’s the time of the season for rematches, including this North Suburban tilt between west-side private schools. Benilde “patted” down the Eagles in their first meeting on Jan. 22, winning 5-0 on four goals from the Pats (Borer, Steinhauser, Duda and Cron) – and oh, yeah, Brett Patterson. The Red Knights wrap up the NSC with another victory.
5. Albert Lea at Rochester Mayo (8:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 14)
The Big 9’s best face off late Saturday night (Valentine’s night), but there most likely won’t be any love lost. Albert Lea is coming off a big victory over Rochester Lourdes and is led by sniper Tyler Prihoda (32-15-47). Mayo’s top line of Tom Alexander, Alex Whitney and Brad Fisher has combined for 56 goals.
6. Virginia-MIB at Duluth Marshall (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 10)
Virginia is likely the top seed in Section 7A, especially with a victory over Marshall Tuesday night. But the Hilltoppers are the defending champions and will have plenty to say in this year’s tournament, as well, especially with the return of Zach Mausolf. He tallied the game-winner in overtime in a 3-2 victory over Denfeld last Thursday, his first goal of the season.
7. Cretin-Derham Hall at Woodbury (7:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 12)
The top two contenders in Section 3AA face off again Thursday night with the Royals holding the edge courtesy of their 4-1 win back on Jan. 10. Cretin has won six straight since losing back-to-back games that week and has limited its goals against, certainly with defenseman Mark Alt having a hand in that. Woodbury can score, however, with 96 goals in just 22 games, led by Tony Pittman’s 22.
8. Minnetonka at Wayzata (2:30pm, Saturday, Feb. 14)
Raise your hand if you have any idea how Section 6AA is going to break down? Minnetonka seemed to have the upper hand until losing in overtime to Hopkins last week. Now they travel to Wayzata to face a Trojans’ team that’s sure to be ornery after being shutout by Edina for the second time on the season. The Skippers won the first meeting 2-1 in overtime back on Jan. 29.
9. Hopkins at Edina (7pm, Thursday, Feb. 12)
Hopkins and goalie Alex Fons have played giant killers in recent weeks, knocking off Edina and Minnetonka in overtime and giving Eden Prairie all it could handle. Now the Hornets are back after outshooting the Royals 59-27 in a 4-3 overtime loss Jan. 24, a game in which Fons made an astounding 56 saves. Edina rebounded after losing 3-of-4 to rout Wayzata (7-0) in its most recent game.
10. Bemidji at Thief River Falls (noon, Tue, Feb. 10)
For those with an eye on the Class A race, these are two northeastern teams that could cause trouble for Warroad in Section 8A. Bemidji has battled the best teams in the state in recent weeks and given them all they could handle, including slim losses to Hermantown, Alexandria and Duluth Marshall by a combined four goals. Thief River Falls itself edged the Lumberjacks 2-1 way back on Dec. 18 when Zane Gothberg stopped 29-of-30 shots.
Player of the week
Ben Hanowski (Little Falls)
For his career achievement alone, Hanowski would be the player of the week. The St. Cloud State recruit shattered the state’s all-time goal-scoring record for a career and now has 173 goals in his three-plus years on the varsity. But he did so much more than that over the previous seven days as the Flyers put an exclamation point on their top ranking this past week, with plenty of help from Hanowski. The big forward tallied nine goals and 11 assists in three overwhelming victories for unbeaten Little Falls.
Hanowski began his big week with a hat trick and three assists in a 9-1 victory over Wadena-Deer Creek on Tuesday. Then in a 10-4 win over St. Cloud Apollo Thursday night, Hanowski and the Flyers rallied from an early 3-1 deficit to overwhelm Apollo. He notched five goals and two assists in the rally. Hanowski finished his big week with a goal and season-high six assists on Saturday in a 10-0 rout at Detroit Lakes.
He’s now just 18 points shy of tying Red Wing’s Johnny Pohl for the career scoring record of 378 points – and has five regular season games (and quite possibly more than a handful of playoff games) to get there.
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