by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
The Breakdown takes its weekly look at the top 15 teams in Class A...
1. Little Falls (20-0-0)
St. Cloud State bound Ben Hanowski (50-40-90) shattered the first career scoring record he’s likely to break this season, netting the all-time goal-scoring mark during a victory over St. Cloud Apollo last Thursday. Next in his sights is Johnny Pohl’s career points record, which he’s just 19 points shy of tying with five regular season games (and undoubtedly several playoff games) remaining. Hanowski led the Flyers to three routs last week to remain unbeaten. Little Falls is now averaging 7.0 goals a game while allowing just 1.5 per. In addition to Big Ben, Riley Hirsch (18-26-44), Izaak Berglund (12-29-41), Ben Nelson (15-22-37), Wesley Waytashek (14-22-36), Logan Kalis (2-22-24) and Jordan Moll (11-10-21) all provide plenty of offense for the Flyers. Michael Sperl (20-0-0, 1.54 GAA, .928 save %) has played every second in nets this year and has a state-leading eight shutouts.
This week: Tuesday at St. Cloud Tech (7pm), Thursday at Prairie Centre (7pm), Friday vs. River Lakes (7:15pm).
2. Warroad (20-2-0)
Earning huge bragging rights, the Warriors swept rival Roseau in their season series. Warroad won 3-2 last Tuesday after beating the Rams 5-2 in mid-January. Brock Nelson (30-21-51) continued his torrid season with two more goals in the victory, including the game-winner 3:28 into the third period. Jason Goldsmith (19-2-0, 1.39 GAA, .917 save %) stopped 25 of 27 shots for the victory, which helped catapult Warroad into the No. 2 spot in the rankings after St. Thomas Academy was shut out by Hill-Murray. Warroad is going to be a tough out in the tournaments with a deep roster, very good size and a strong defensive corps led by Michael Pieper (3-17-20), Carson Gray (6-11-17) and Tai Larson (2-13-15). The Warriors have won 10 of their last 11 games, with only a 5-4 overtime loss at Moorhead as a blemish.
This week: Tuesday at Grand Forks Central, ND (7:30pm), Thursday at Bemidji (7:30pm).
3. St. Thomas Academy (16-4-1)
I know, I know. Nobody in Class A plays a tougher schedule than the Cadets. But sometimes they have to be penalized for a loss, even if it is to defending Class AA state champion Hill-Murray (3-0 on Saturday night). The Pioneers aren’t the same team that won the state title last year, however, and STA had already beaten them 5-2 back on Jan. 8. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a team so young can have an off night, even with the talent on their roster, including juniors Christian Isackson (12-30-42) and Justin Crandall (18-19-37), and sophomores A.J. Reid (19-14-33) and Zach Schroeder (9-13-22). Even so, a drop to No. 3 isn’t a back-breaking fall for the young Cadets. I’m sure no one is interested in facing them come tournament time.
This week: Thursday at Richfield (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Sibley (3pm).
4. Breck (17-3-1)
Speaking of young teams, the Mustangs have only two seniors playing regular roles on the ice this winter. Otherwise, Breck has a roster full of juniors with a sprinkle of sophomores thrown in for good measure. They’re getting plenty of experience, although the Mustangs haven’t had a tough game in weeks, as they’ve romped through the Tri-Metro. Breck has pitched four straight shutouts and has allowed only nine goals in 13 games since the New Year – all victories for the black and gold. John Russell (12-3-1, 1.72 GAA, .930 save %) and backup Max McCormick (5-0-0, 0.20 GAA, .979 save %) sure have enjoyed the support and have combined for seven shutouts (an amazing four for McCormick in five varsity starts).
This week: Tuesday at St. Paul Academy (7:30pm), Saturday vs. St. Paul Como (1pm).
5. St. Cloud Cathedral (18-2-1)
Future Gopher Nate Schmidt (17-20-37) is driving this engine and isn’t about to let up. He’s leading the team in scoring from the blue line and combined with Joe Nessler (5-21-26) and Jon Rowe, gives the Crusaders a top trio of defensemen any program would like to have. They, along with goaltender Nick Maiers (15-2-1, 1.51 GAA, .921 save %), make Cathedral tough to beat. Even when managing to slow down the offense of Jordan Palusky (21-13-34), Alex Koopmeiners (12-19-31), Kyle Kudak (15-9-24) and Sam Lommel (10-12-22), the Crusaders can win a 2-1 game any night.
This week: Friday at Delano/Rockford (7:30pm).
6. Hermantown (19-2-0)
The Hawks had a couple of shootouts last week, but won both to remain near the top of the Class A rankings. Hermantown edged Bemidji (5-3) on Tuesday and then blew past Cloquet (7-4) on Thursday. Leading scorer Adam Krause (21-27-48) had two big efforts, posting three goals and three assists in the two games. Six different Hawks have double-digit goals on the season, and that includes Grant Huttel (12-4-16) who has added plenty of offense since returning from injuries. In the past seven games, he’s tallied eight goals. There should be a great Section 5A showdown looming between the Hawks and St. Cloud Cathedral.
This week: Tuesday vs. Duluth Denfeld (7:30pm), Saturday at Red Wing (2pm).
7. Virginia/MI-B (18-5-0)
It’s a huge game for the Section 7A seedings this week as the Blue Devils travel to Mars Lakeview Arena to take on the Hilltoppers. Marshall is the defending section champion and won’t be keen on giving up its crown, while Virginia is bidding to make their first state tournament since 2005. The Blue Devils have been more consistent this season and are currently riding a seven-game winning streak since losing to Hibbing on Jan. 17. They’ve only allowed eight goals in that span and had back-to-back shutouts over Greenway (5-0) and Proctor (9-0) last week. Senior Will Lustig (13-5-0, 1.78 GAA, .916 save %) has turned up his game and the top Blue Devils top line is still humming along.
This week: Tuesday at Duluth Marshall (7:30pm).
8. South St. Paul (14-4-3)
The Packers are attempting to make a run at St. Thomas Academy in the Classic Suburban and in Section 4A, particularly after beating the two teams right behind them in the standings, Tartan (3-1) and Mahtomedi (5-3). South St. Paul still has a game remaining with the Cadets, as well, although they will need some help, as they’re two games back. Defenseman Zach Palmquist (13-20-33) leads the Packers in scoring and just committed to MSU-Mankato over the weekend. He’ll be key to their run, as will sophomores Adam Wilcox (12-4-3, 2.21 GAA, .913 save %) and Jesse Poznikowich (5-26-31) and freshman Austyn Young (9-20-29), the second and third leading scorers.
This week: Thursday vs. Simley (7:30pm), Saturday at North St. Paul (7:30pm).
9. Alexandria (16-3-1)
The Cardinals are another young team riding a six-game unbeaten streak (they did tie Sartell 3-3 last Thursday) and a hot goalie in senior Matt Hemingway (16-3-1, 1.54 GAA, .936 save %). Alexandria must contend with its nemesis in both the Central Lakes and Section 6A, however, in unbeaten Little Falls. The Flyers edged Alex in both games this year by a single goal (4-3 on Dec. 12 and 1-0 on Jan. 22) and a rematch in the section championship game seems likely. Incidentally, the loss to Little Falls on Dec. 12 was the last time Hemingway and the Cardinals allowed more than three goals in a game (they also allowed four in the season-opening 4-3 loss to St. Cloud Cathedral, their only other blemish).
This week: Tuesday at Sauk Rapids-Rice (7pm), Friday at Fergus Falls (7:30pm).
10. Thief River Falls (15-4-2)
Zane Gothberg (14-4-2, 1.49 GAA, .936 save %) might be the best goalie in the state that no one knows about. Playing up in Prowlers territory, Gothberg is on a six-game unbeaten string in which he’s made 105–of-111 saves (.946 save %). Unfortunately, Section 8A favorite Warroad has been the Prowlers’ lone stumbling block since the New Year, as Thief River Falls has lost twice to them (3-1 on Jan. 8 and 5-1 on Jan. 22). Odds are these two teams will get together again in the section playoffs, as well. Thief River Falls gets balanced scoring from five double-digit goal scorers in Lucas Dillon (20-23-43), Tyler Aandal (14-17-31), Kent Peterson (14-16-30), Jesse Castile (10-17-27) and Matt Lindquist (14-8-22).
This week: Tuesday vs. Bemidji (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Roseau (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Park Rapids (7:30pm).
11. Mahtomedi (14-5-1)
It’s a rare double-header between the Zephyrs and Classic Suburban rival Tartan this coming week, which should go a ways to determining which team will remain in the conference race. Either will need a sweep to keep pace with St. Thomas Academy, Hill-Murray and South St. Paul, however. Mahtomedi got a much-needed victory over the Pioneers (5-2) in its only game last week as Brandon Zurn (16-16-32) and Charlie Adams (13-27-40) each tallied two goals. They’re the top two scoring forwards for the Zephyrs and Adams is tied with U of M defensive recruit Ben Marshall (15-25-40) for the team scoring lead.
This week: Monday vs. Tartan (4:15pm), Thursday vs. Henry Sibley (7:30pm), Saturday at Tartan (3pm).
12. International Falls (14-6-1)
The Broncos are a team that had high expectations coming into the season – both internally and from outside predictors – and yet hiccupped their way outside the top-15 rankings after losing their first three games of the season. They’ve rallied, however, and have some nice victories over Hibbing (4-3 on Feb. 5), Hermantown (5-4 on Jan. 10) and Virginia (6-4 on Dec. 12). But they also have a recent surprising loss (5-4 to Greenway on Jan. 16, the Raiders’ first victory of the season). But it would be premature to count them out in the very difficult Section 7A race, which has four teams in our top-15 (Virginia, International Falls, Hibbing and Duluth Marshall).
This week: Tuesday at Greenway (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Lake of the Woods (7:30pm), Friday at Grand Rapids (7:30pm).
13. Duluth Marshall (12-7-1)
The return of Zach Mausolf only makes the Hilltoppers more dangerous. Last week, the ‘Toppers swept the other two Duluth Class A schools, beating Central (5-2) and Denfeld (3-2 in overtime). Mausolf netted the game-winner in overtime against the Hunters for his first (and certainly not last) goal of the season. He adds another sniper in the arsenal along with forwards Pat Mahoney (11-21-32), Joe Kozlak (11-16-27) and Dane Morin (14-5-19) and defenseman Derek Stauber (12-14-26). And as we’ve seen in the past, senior goalie Willie Paul (9-7-1, 2.52 GAA, .910 save %) can get hot and carry a team on his shoulders for long stretches. The Hilltoppers are much more dangerous than their record shows.
This week: Tuesday vs. Virginia (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Superior, Wisc. (12:30pm).
14. Hibbing/Chisholm (13-6-1)
The Bluejackets gave back some ground last week after losing to International Falls (4-3) and struggling to edge a three-win Greenway team (1-0). Hibbing fell behind 4-1 to the Falls last Thursday before rallying with third-period goals from Ryan Hangemon (11-9-20) and Spencer Peratelo (8-13-21). Then on Saturday, sophomore Jake Stampohar (4-11-15) netted the only goal of the game in the second period as the Bluejackets hung on against Greenway, despite outshooting them 46-15. Top scorer Aaron Jamnick (25-17-42) had an unusually quiet week without a single point.
This week: Tuesday vs. Grand Rapids (7:30pm), Friday vs. Eveleth-Gilbert (7:30pm).
15. (tie) Red Wing (13-7-0)
The Wingers gave a great effort in their last game, but fell to Class AA (and Missota) power Holy Angels 3-1 at home. They managed to equal the Stars in shots on net (26-all), but only picked up a goal from leading scorer Blake Schammel (18-21-39) just 33 seconds into the second period. Red Wing has won all of the games its been favored in, but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump against the teams ahead of it, losing its seven games to Holy Angels (twice), Breck, Rochester Lourdes, Totino-Grace, Mahtomedi and South St. Paul. They get one final chance before playoffs when they host Hermantown this Saturday.
This week: Tuesday at Shakopee (7pm), Thursday at Northfield (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Hermantown (2pm).
15. (tie) New Ulm (15-4-1)
Do I think Red Wing would beat New Ulm head-to-head? Yes, I do. But I had to find a way to get the Eagles into the top-15 rankings for what they’ve accomplished. Since opening the season with two losses in three games, New Ulm is 14-2-1 with their only defeats coming to out-of-state opponents in a holiday tournament (4-2 to Superior on Dec. 29) and 5-4 to Ft. Frances on Dec. 30). But still they went unrecognized until beating an equally hot Sartell-St. Stephen (3-1) in their most recent game. All-Stater Kyle Reinarts (27-26-53) has followed up his selection with another great year and leads the Eagles in goals, assists and points. New Ulm is a high-scoring team, averaging 6.0 goals a game. Kaleb Juntunen (17-14-31), Cody Kohn (11-16-27), Adam Loose (12-13-25) and Zach Fischer (13-10-23) all have double-digit goal totals.
This week: Tuesday at LeSueur-Henderson (7:30pm), Thursday at Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (7pm), Friday at Dodge County (7:30pm).
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