Class A section final preview
By Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
Now that the section finals have been set in Class A, we can take a brief look at the match-ups, many of which feature outstanding rematches from the past regular season. Games begin tonight in Section 5A and 7A and continue on through the Section 4A finals on Friday night.
#1 Red Wing (20-7-0) vs. #3 Rochester Lourdes (19-7-0)
The two southern powers met once during the regular season, but it was plenty early. Lourdes earned a 3-1 victory way back on Dec. 11 and outshot the Wingers 28-14. That loss sent the Wingers tumbling to a 1-3-0 start (including losses to Holy Angels and Breck). But they’ve certainly been on a roll since mid-January, winning 12 of their last 13 games. That coincides with the scoring run put on up by Blake Schammel, the Wingers’ leading scorer. Lourdes, meanwhile, has three 50-point scorers on its top line in Tyler Voigt, Taylor Funk and Cole Peterson. They’ve won eight of nine since a rough patch in late-January.
The Wingers’ Patrick Noesen has come up big in the two playoff wins, getting a hat trick and two assists in a 9-0 rout of No. 8 Northfield in the quarterfinals and the game-winning goal in a 5-3 win over No. 4 Albert Lea in the semifinals. Lourdes needed overtime to squeak past No. 6 Faribault in the quarterfinals, 3-2 on Cole Peterson’s two goals. But then the Eagles shut out No. 2 New Prague 4-0 in the semifinals.
#1 Breck (23-3-1) vs. #3 Mound-Westonka (17-10-0)
Section 2A is the only one in Class A that doesn’t have a regular season rematch in its title game. Breck of the Tri-Metro and Mound-Westonka of the Wright County Conference didn’t meet up this year. The Mustangs haven’t lost this calendar year, running off a 19-0-1 stretch since losing to Wayzata in overtime in the Schwan Cup on Dec. 30. Breck is great, but the Tri-Metro was down this year. On the other hand, the White Hawks had their battles with Orono and St. Cloud Cathedral in the WCC, but managed to edge Orono in the semifinals behind top-scorer Riley Horgan.
Breck easily got by No. 8 Delano/Rockford, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and then No. 4 Rogers, 7-3 in the semifinals. Mound-Westonka needed overtime to solve Michael Taffe and No. 11 Providence Academy, 4-3 in the quarterfinals, then upset No. 2 Orono, 6-3 in the semifinals.
#1 New Ulm (22-4-1) vs. #2 Hutchinson (19-7-0)
These two teams met on opening day, with Hutchinson earning a 4-1 victory behind two goals from Mitchell Cowger and 31 saves from goalie Zak Swenson. New Ulm lost two of its first three games, but hasn’t lost to an in-state high school team since, a 21-0-0 stretch of perfection. All-Stater Kyle Reinarts is the top scorer for the Eagles, and one of the top snipers in the state. Hutchinson began the year 10-1-0, but has been just 9-6-0 since that point, with two losses each to Red Wing and Holy Angels in Missota Conference play.
Zach Fisher has led the way for New Ulm through its first two playoff games, racking up two goals and an assist in an 8-0 victory over No. 9 Worthington/RL-B and the game-winner in a 5-3 semifinal win over No. 5 Litchfield/D-C. Hutchinson’s Riley Bengston recorded a hat trick in both of the Tigers’ victories, 3-1 over No. 7 Windom Area and 5-1 over No. 3 Willmar.
#1 St. Thomas Academy (21-4-2) vs. #3 Mahtomedi (19-6-2)
Mahtomedi gave the Cadets as much trouble as any other Class A team in the regular season, scoring nine goals in two Classic Suburban games. But they managed only a tie in the pair, losing 8-5 on Jan. 22 and tying 4-4 in the regular season finale, Feb. 20. The Cadets’ AJ Reid and Justin Crandall each tallied a hat trick in the first game as STA dominated in shots on net. It was the reverse in game two, as Mahtomedi outshot the Cadets 43-33. But they had to rally with three third-period goals to force a tie. Mahtomedi sophomore Ben Marshall had a goal and three assists in the first meeting and is as good as any offensive defenseman in the state.
The Cadets have showed plenty of firepower in winning their first two playoff games, rolling past No. 9 Chisago Lakes Area, 10-1, and beating No. 4 Totino-Grace handily, 7-3. A.J. Reid had three goals and three assists in the two games. Mahtomedi’s Brad Wohler has had a great playoff thus far in nets, shutting out No. 6 St. Paul Academy, 4-0, and closing down No. 2 South St. Paul, 4-1. Wohler combined to allow just one goal on 46 shots – but he’ll be tested by the Cadets.
#1 St. Cloud Cathedral (24-2-1) vs. #2 Hermantown (24-3-0)
Two of the state’s top teams meet in another rematch in Section 5A, as St. Cloud Cathedral edged Hermantown, 2-1, on Jan. 26. Alex Koopmeiners had a goal and an assist as the Crusaders outshot the Hawks, 33-16. Expect a tight game again. Cathedral is best known for its stout defense, which includes Nate Schmidt, Joe Nessler and Jon Rowe in front of goalie Nick Maiers. Hermantown is a balanced team that is solid all around under coach Bruce Plante and knows how to win.
Cathedral’s offense has been on fire in the playoffs, particularly Jordan Palusky, who has six goals in the two victories. The Crusaders beat No. 8 Pine City/Rush City, 9-0, and No. 4 Sauk Rapids-Rice, 8-4. Hermantown has had a tougher road, beating No. 7 Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson, 6-2, and edging No. 3 Duluth Denfeld, 4-2.
#1 Little Falls (27-0-0) vs. #2 Alexandria (22-4-1)
These two teams know each other very well. They met twice in the Central Lakes slate, with Little Falls winning by a single goal each time to keep its perfect season alive. On Dec. 12, the Flyers won 4-3 at home on Wesley Waytashek’s third-period tally. On Jan. 22, Waytashek struck again for the game-winner – and the game’s only goal – 22 seconds into the third period of a 1-0 victory. Another one-goal game in the rematch wouldn’t be out of the question. Little Falls features the firepower of one of the state’s best offenses and arguably its most dangerous sniper in all-time state scoring leader Ben Hanowski. Alexandria is a stout defensive team with arguably the state’s top senior goaltender, Matt Hemingway.
Little Falls has continued its perfect season with an 11-0 rout of No. 8 Prairie Centre Area and a 5-2 win over No. 4 Fergus Falls. Ben Hanowski has also continued his record-setting season with eight goals and five assists in the two games. Alexandria pulled itself into the rematch with a 9-2 victory over No. 7 Wadena-Deer Creek and a 5-1 win over No. 3 Sartell-St. Stephen.
#1 Virginia/MIB (22-5-0) vs. #2 Hibbing/Chisholm (16-9-1)
The two Iron Range Conference rivals are just a few miles apart on Highway 169 and are perhaps even closer on the ice. Hibbing took the first of two meetings, winning 4-2 on Jan. 17 on two goals from Ryan Hanegmon. The Blue Devils paid them back in the season finale, however, rolling to a 7-1 victory on Feb. 17 that earned them the No. 1 seed in the Section 7A playoffs. Virginia’s top line of Chris Westin, Garrett Hendrickson and Andrew Judnick is dangerous, but they got help in that second game from the second line led by Travis Eddy (two goals and an assist).
Virginia slew the beast in the semifinals, beating No. 4 Duluth Marshall, 4-3. One round earlier, they posted a 5-0 shutout of No. 9 Silver Bay/Cook County. Hibbing began its playoffs with a 6-0 blanking of No. 7 Two Harbors and then edged No. 3 International Falls, 4-2, on two goals from sniper Aaron Jamnick.
#1 Warroad (25-2-0) vs. #2 Thief River Falls (21-4-2)
Two more conference rivals square off in the Section 8A finals when the Mariucci Conference’s Warroad Warriors and Thief River Falls Prowlers see each other for the third time. Warroad claimed each of the first two games, winning 3-1 on Jan. 8 and 5-1 on Jan. 22. Brock Nelson tallied four goals in the two games as the Warriors were one of the few teams to solve Prowlers’ goalie Zane Gothberg this season.
Warroad has looked unstoppable through two rounds, blowing past No. 9 Kittson Central, 11-0, and No. 4 Crookston, 9-1. Brock Nelson led the way with five goals and four assists. Thief River Falls came into the finals with a 5-2 win over No. 7 Park Rapids Area and a 6-1 surprise over No. 3 Bemidji. Kent Peterson tallied a hat trick and two assists against the Lumberjacks.
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