by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
The Breakdown takes its weekly look at the top 15 teams in Class A...
1. Little Falls (25-0-0)
The Flyers capped off the only unbeaten regular season in the state this year with big victories over Willmar (8-2) and St. Cloud Apollo (9-1). Ben Hanowski (57-53-110) set his second career record of the season against Apollo in the finale. After getting the career goal-scoring record back on Feb. 5 against Apollo, he hit up the Eagles for the state career scoring record last Thursday. Hanowski’s second goal of the game, a power play tally at 9:07 of the second period, gave him 379 points, one more than Red Wing’s Johnny Pohl amassed. He’s now at 380 points and counting as the Flyers begin tournament play at the top seed in Section 6AA.
2. Warroad (23-2-0)
The Warriors blitzed visiting Lake of the Woods (5-1) in their only game of the week. Brett Hebel (17-35-52) and Brock Nelson (35-23-58) continued their big seasons and lead the team in scoring. Warroad is a rugged team with plenty of size, yet they can also skate – a signature of past Warriors’ teams. Nelson has been a great goal-scorer. He’s huge and yet has very soft hands and knows how to find the net. Jason Goldsmith (22-2-0, 1.55 GAA, .911 save %) gets plenty of help in nets from defensemen like Michael Pieper (3-22-25), Tai Larson (2-14-16) and Carson Gray (6-11-17).
3. St. Thomas Academy (19-4-2)
With a roster full of underclassmen, this might have been considered a bit of a rebuilding year at St. Thomas Academy. Not so, as the Cadets won the Classic Suburban title by beating South St. Paul (5-0) and tying Mahtomedi (4-4) last week. Now they begin the Section 4A playoffs as the top seed over those same two clubs. It should be a great battle in arguably the toughest section in Class A. Juniors Christian Isackson (16-31-47) and Justin Crandall (22-24-46) and sophomore A.J. Reid (22-18-40) lead the scorers, while sophomore Taylor Fleming (2-22-24) is the top scorer among defensemen. Even in nets, the Cadets have an underclassman in junior Kurt Altrichter (11-3-1, 1.97 GAA, .912 save %).
4. Breck (21-3-1)
Breck completed its romp through the Tri-Metro with victories over St. Paul (7-1) and Blake (4-2) last week. In 14 conference games, the Mustangs outscored their opposition by a huge 107-10 margin and had six shutouts. Joe Rehkamp (17-37-54), Tyson Fulton (23-30-53), Mike Morin (22-16-38) and Riley Borer (16-13-29) did much of the scoring for Breck this season and will have to turn it up to begin the playoffs. Breck is the overwhelming favorite in Section 2A and have already beaten No. 2 seed Orono, 5-1. John Russell (15-3-1, 1.61 GAA, .934 save %) and Max McCormick (6-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .946 save %) have combined for eight shutouts in net.
5. St. Cloud Cathedral (21-2-1)
The Crusaders have ripped off 15 straight victories and haven’t lost since a 5-2 loss to Rochester Lourdes way back on Dec. 13. They’ve had plenty of impressive victories in that time, including over Warroad (4-2), Hermantown (2-1) and in the regular season finale over Duluth Marshall (5-2). Their strength is on defense, with U of M bound Nate Schmidt (21-24-45), Joe Nessler (5-25-30) and Jon Rowe as a very stout unit in front of junior goalie Nick Maiers (19-2-1, 1.51 GAA, .920 save %). He has eight shutouts on the year as the Crusaders have outscored their opposition by 89 goals in 25 games.
6. Hermantown (22-3-0)
Brandon Perrault (16-11-27) and Adam Krause (24-30-54) each tallied two goals as the Hawks ended their regular season in style with a 5-0 shutout of Hibbing. Their only three losses have been to teams ranked in the top-15 in International Falls, Cathedral and most recently, Red Wing on Valentine’s Day. Six different Hawks have at least 13 goals and eight have at least 21 points, showing the balance that will make them difficult to shut down in the playoffs. Hermantown gets a chance to avenge its loss to Cathedral, as the two teams are ranked 1-2 in the Section 5A playoffs.
7. Virginia/MI-B (20-5-0)
Virginia claimed both the Iron Range Conference title and the top seed in Section 7A with a surprising 7-1 rout of Hibbing last week. The Bluejackets actually led 1-0 midway through the second period until the Blue Devils exploded for seven unanswered goals. It was the ninth straight win for Virginia and avenged their only loss in the last 16 games (15-1-0 with only a 4-2 loss at Hibbing on Jan. 17). The Blue Devils continue to be paced by one of the highest scoring lines in the state in senior Chris Westin (29-38-67), sophomore Garrett Hendrickson (21-34-55) and junior Andrew Judnick (12-22-34). Junior defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (14-21-35) also can score, as can sophomore forward Travis Eddy (9-9-18), who had two goals against Hibbing.
8. Thief River Falls (19-4-2)
The Prowlers need overtime, against East Grand Forks in the regular season finale, but when Kent Peterson (19-19-38) scored just 46 seconds into the extra session, it extended their unbeaten string to 10 straight games (9-0-1). Thief River Falls has an expected showdown with the team that has handed it half its losses (Warroad) as the two teams are seeded 1-2 in Section 8A. Lucas Dillon (24-29-53) is the team’s top scorer. But it’s junior goaltender Zane Gothberg (18-4-2, 1.49 GAA, .937 save %) who just may be the key to the Prowlers’ upset hopes. He nearly beat the Warriors in last year’s Section 8A tournament, making more than 50 saves in a game Warroad eventually won 2-1 in multiple overtimes.
9. Alexandria (20-4-1)
The Cardinals finally suffered a loss by more than one goal in their regular season finale, losing 2-0 to visiting Moorhead. Alexandria’s other three losses all came by a single goal to top-ranked Little Falls (twice) and No. 5 St. Cloud Cathedral. That’s how slim a margin it is for the Cardinals, who could be ranked in the top-3 with a little more offense. They’re extremely strong in nets with senior Matt Hemingway (20-4-1, 1.41 GAA, .937 save %), who is arguably the best goaltender in the state. He’s not big, but he knows all his angles and plays a great technical game. Tyler Resch (28-11-39) is the big goal-scorer for Alexandria, which has only two other players in double-figure goals: Thomas Williams (13-25-38) and Tyler Iverson (10-4-14).
10. South St. Paul (17-5-3)
The Packers have the misfortune of being seeded No. 2 in Section 4A behind the team that just beat them 5-0 last Tuesday, St. Thomas Academy, the defending Class A champions. But to say South St. Paul doesn’t have a chance is incorrect. Earlier this season, the two teams tied 1-all behind a sterling effort from sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox (15-5-3, 2.23 GAA, .913 save %), who stopped 41-of-42 shots. Senior defenseman Zach Palmquist (14-25-39) is one of the 10 Mr. Hockey finalists and is headed to Mankato next season.
11. Red Wing (18-7-0)
Coach George Nemanich challenged his team with a very tough schedule and his Wingers have responded in recent weeks, reeling off a 10-1-0 stretch that includes victories over Hermantown, New Prague (twice), Hutchinson (twice) and Albert Lea. The Wingers haven’t lost since falling 6-3 at South St. Paul on Jan. 13. Blake Schammel (24-28-52) and Patrick Noesen (20-24-44) have led the way on offense, while Josh Mensing (13-21-34) and George Noesen (14-16-30) have also hit double-digit goals.
12. Mahtomedi (16-6-2)
After a one-week hiatus, Mahtomedi is back in the rankings courtesy of its 4-all tie with St. Thomas Academy in the final regular season game last Friday night. The Zephyrs have too many victories against top competition to ignore, including wins over Breck, Red Wing, Totino-Grace, Hill-Murray, Tartan and ties with STA and Maple Grove. That’s the resume of a top-15 team. Sophomore defenseman Ben Marshall (16-26-42) is already a Gopher commit and can take over a game from the blue line. Brandon Zurn (20-19-39) lead the team in goals while Charlie Adams (15-32-47) is the top scorer.
13. International Falls (16-7-2)
The Falls scores 5.5 goals a game with only one player with so many as 20 (Willie Corrin at 20-20-40). That’s the sign of a well-balanced team that could make some noise in the playoffs, even in the very tough Section 7A race. I-Falls got the No. 3 seed behind Virginia and Hibbing, which means a third game with the Bluejackets is on the horizon. Hibbing won the first on the season’s opening day (7-1) and the Broncos won the second (4-3) on Feb. 5. I-Falls goes into the playoffs on a down note, though, as they were thumped 7-3 by Roseau last Tuesday.
14. Rochester Lourdes (17-7-0)
The Eagles climb back into the rankings courtesy of some upsets and a four-game winning streak that was capped by a 3-2 win over Totino-Grace in the regular season finale. There’s plenty of talent at Lourdes, including a high-scoring front line of Tyler Voigt (28-27-55), Taylor Funk (30-21-55) and Cole Peterson (16-33-49). Voigt just became the all-time leading scorer at Lourdes, surpassing a 21-year old record of Pat Arendt. After Tuesday’s game against La Crescent, Voigt had 71 goals and 83 assists for 154 points. Arendt finished his career in 1988 with 151 points.
15. New Ulm (20-4-1)
This Eagles’ team capped off a 19-game winning streak against in-state high school teams with victories over Waseca (7-2) and Windom (8-2) last week. They also earned the top seed in Section 3A and the role of favorites to represent the much-maligned section at state. Kyle Reinarts (32-37-69) can fill it up and was All-State honorable mention last season, but he gets plenty of help from Kaleb Juntunen (21-19-40), Adam Loose (15-16-31), Tom Novak (9-20-29), Mitch Traulich (11-17-28), Zach Fisher (13-10-23) and defenseman Cody Kohn (14-23-37).
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