By Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
Game of the week
Hibbing/Chisholm at Virginia/MIB (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 17)
Call it winner take all in the final week battle between Iron Range Conference and Section 7A heavies Hibbing/Chisholm and Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl. The string of communities along Highway 169 is separated by less than seven miles (from the center of Buhl in the east to the center of Chisholm to the west). They’re likely separated by even less on the ice.
Hibbing wraps up the top seed in Section 7A with a victory, which would push its record against section foes to an impressive 8-1-0. Virginia, meanwhile, is on a terrific eight-game winning streak since its last loss and is 8-2-0 in the section. A victory likely gives them the top seed.
Hibbing took the first meeting between the Iron Range powers, 4-2 back on Jan. 17. The Bluejackets’ Ryan Hanegmon scored two goals, while top scorer Aaron Jamnick added a goal and an assist. Nathan Tromp made 24 saves on 26 shots for the victory. Chris Westin and Andrew Judnick each had a goal and an assist for Virginia.
The Bluejackets have won of the top snipers in the state in Jamnick (26-21-47), who leads the team in both goals and assists. He’s a dangerous penalty killer, as well, with eight short-handed goals on the season already. Jamnick, Hanegmon (12-11-23), Spencer Peratelo (9-15-24) and Ryan Johnson (9-11-20) have combined for 56 of the ‘Jackets 85 goals. Hibbing isn’t deep in scoring and averages 3.9 goals per game, not an overwhelming number.
The key players defensively for the Bluejackets are quite young. Sophomore defenseman Nick DeCenzo (6-8-14), the son of coach Mark DeCenzo, is the top scorer from the blue line and is already an excellent weapon for the Bluejackets. Meanwhile, sophomore Tromp (14-7-1, 2.62 GAA, .890 save %) has played nearly exclusive minutes in nets.
The Blue Devils are also a top-heavy scoring team, with the quartet of forwards Westin (28-38-66), Garrett Hendrickson (20-33-53) and Judnick (12-21-33) and defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (14-19-33) combining to do much of the offensive damage. Virginia has posted an impressive 5.6 goals per game, including 34 on the power play (24.1 percent).
Senior Will Lustig (14-5-0, 1.85 GAA, .913 save %) is a key in goal. He’s an experienced netminder who has been through the playoff grind in the past. During Virginia’s eight-game winning streak, they’ve allowed just 11 goals.
The Bluejackets have the edge in history, winning two state titles and qualifying for a dozen state tournaments in their storied past. Virginia is a relative newcomer to the state-wide scene, earning only a bid in 2005 with current Dallas Star Matt Niskanen. But the Blue Devils have had three players drafted by the NHL since then, giving coach Keith Hendrickson plenty of firepower.
Common opponents: The Iron Range Conference rivals have many common opponents other than themselves, including Grand Rapids (Virginia won 4-0, Hibbing lost 5-1 and 2-0), International Falls (Virginia lost 6-4 and won 5-2, Hibbing won 7-1 and lost 4-3), Eveleth (Virginia won 9-0 and 8-1, Hibbing won 8-1), Greenway (Virginia won 3-2 and 5-0, Hibbing won 9-0 and 1-0), Cloquet (Virginia lost 3-2, Hibbing won 1-0), Duluth Denfeld (Virginia won 2-1, Hibbing won 5-4), Albert Lea (Virginia won 3-1, Hibbing lost 4-1), Rochester Mayo (Virginia won 3-2, Hibbing won 5-2), Two Harbors (Virginia won 7-2, Hibbing won 8-2), and Duluth Marshall (Virginia won 4-3, Hibbing won 6-2).
Terrific 10 games of the week
2. Blaine at Maple Grove (7:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 19)
The Northwest Suburban proved to be more than a two-horse race between Blaine and Centennial when both Maple Grove and Elk River pulled off some late-season upsets. Now the Crimson get a chance to avenge a 6-1 defeat to the Bengals in mid-January – and stake their claim to the conference title.
3. Minnetonka at Edina (7pm, Saturday, Feb. 21)
The final regular season game of the season for the MyFoxHockey folks should be for all the marbles in the Classic Lake. Minnetonka has the edge after shocking the Hornets 4-1 back on Feb. 5. Edina hasn’t lost since that game, while Hopkins shocked the Skippers two days later to give Edina a chance to tie for the conference crown.
4. St. Thomas Academy at South St. Paul (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 17)
It’s doubtful that even should the Packers beat visiting St. Thomas Academy that they’d be able to catch the Cadets for the Classic Suburban title. But it would throw the Section 4A race into confusion. The teams tied 1-all in their first meeting on Jan. 17, despite the Cadets holding a 42-13 shot advantage. Packers’ goalie Adam Wilcox made 41 saves.
5. New Prague at Red Wing (7pm, Tuesday, Feb. 17)
The order in the Missota won’t change after this game, although the two best teams not named Holy Angels will want a win to propel them into the playoffs. Red Wing won the first get-together, 5-3 on Jan. 23 behind two goals and two assists from Josh Mensing. Both are battling Lourdes and Albert Lea in a great four-team race for the top seed in Section 1A.
6. Wayzata at Hopkins (7pm, Thursday, Feb. 19)
The first of three MyFoxHockey games this week just might help sort out the Section 6AA seeding – but probably not. With five teams ranked in the section, it’s been a toss up all season. Wayzata took the first in the series, beating the Royals 3-1 on Jan. 31 behind two goals from Danny Walsh.
7. Duluth Marshall at St. Cloud Cathedral (1pm, Saturday, Feb. 21)
Two of the premier Class A private schools collide on the regular season’s final day when Duluth Marshall heads down to St. Cloud Cathedral. The Hilltoppers are firing on all cylinders now with the return of Zach Mausolf, who has tallied six goals in his first three games back. Marshall will have plenty of a challenge from the tough Cathedral defense, led by Nate Schmidt.
8. Lakeville South at Lakeville North (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 17)
The battle for Lakeville just might signal who can give Rochester Mayo a run at the Section 1AA title. It hasn’t been a stellar season for either program, as they’ve combined to post a 15-31-0 record and are in eighth and ninth place in the Lake Conference. North won 4-3 over South back on Jan. 10 on two Mike Hartwell goals.
9. Rochester Mayo at Albert Lea (7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 17)
In the second game of a split double-header, the Big 9’s top two teams butt heads. On Valentine’s night, Mayo dropped Albert Lea 5-2, with all the goals scored by its top line of Alex Whitney, Tom Alexander and Brad Fisher. The rematch is just three days later, but on the Tigers’ home ice this time. As a side-note, the first game was the 600th victory of Mayo coach Lorne Grosso’s career.
10. Roseau at Grand Rapids (7:30pm, Friday, Feb. 20)
One of three MyFoxHockey games of the week during this final seven days of the regular season, this northern match-up pits two traditional powers that have struggled through mediocre seasons. Both have the ability to get hot in the playoffs, however, and make a run to the X. This game should be a boost for the winner.
Player of the week
Eric Thayer (Tartan)
With starting goalie Alex Gierke out with an injury, Thayer sure picked a good week to step up. The junior goalie took to the starting job with gusto as Tartan beat state-ranked Hill-Murray (4-2) and Mahtomedi (3-1) last week. Thayer stopped 80-of-83 shots in the two games.
The victories propelled the Titans into the top-15 for the first time this season, while knocking both of their Classic Suburban rivals out of the top-15 for the first time.
Thayer was an unlikely hero as he had posted just two victories on the season heading into the week. Even with the two top games, his numbers are still relatively unimpressive (4-5-0, 4.05 GAA, .879 save %). But he’s certainly coming on strong at the right time, as are the Titans, who just might have something to say about the Hill-Murray/White Bear Lake stranglehold on Section 4AA.
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