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Seeking the head of the (Classic) Lake

01/19/2010, 10:33am CST
By Tim Kolehmainen

The Week Ahead features top section showdowns

Edina at Minnetonka (7 pm, Saturday, Jan. 23)

When the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state get together, it’s sure to be the Game of the Week.

The top two teams in the Minnesota Hockey Hub’s Class AA rankings renew their Classic Lake rivalry this Saturday night at Pagel Activity Center. Just three weeks earlier, the No. 2 Edina Hornets (12-2-1) and No. 1 Minnetonka Skippers (15-0-0) met in the championship game of the Schwan Cup Gold division with Minnetonka earning a tight 3-2 victory. Surprise scoring sensation Justin Holl netted a pair of goals, while Thomas Schutt tallied the game-winner with 7:07 remaining in the third period.

Edina actually led 2-1 in the third period, but couldn’t close out the Skippers.

That game continues to be the closest anyone has come to beating Minnetonka this year.

The Skippers are who they were for that first meeting – and that includes the continued absence of star forward Max Gardiner, a University of Minnesota recruit who was hurt in the Schwan Cup Gold semifinal victory over St. Thomas Academy. Three weeks later, Gardiner still is tied for the team lead in points (11-18-29).

But in his stead, Minnetonka’s very strong defensive corps with three D1 recruits has added offense to its game.

Holl (12-5-17), a University of Minnesota recruit, has tallied seven goals in the six games since Gardiner was hurt. Coming into the season, he had just one goal total in the past two seasons. Holl is a very strong skater with a heavy shot from the blue line. Paired with NHL draftee and University of Wisconsin commit Troy Hesketh (2-10-12), it’s a formidable duo on the blue line. Meanwhile, shifty and explosive Andrew Prochno (6-23-29), a St. Cloud State recruit, has continued to add his offensive mark and has tied Gardiner for the team scoring lead.

Up front, the Skippers have also shown they have plenty more firepower than just Gardiner. Junior Derek Frawley (9-18-27), freshman Max Coatta (12-8-20) and senior Thomas Schutt (11-9-20) have carried on quite well.

With three-year starter Jim Kruger (12-0-0, 1.33, .938) in net, Minnetonka has no real weaknesses to exploit. Kruger recently became the program’s all-time goaltending victories leader with 35, surpassing Rob LaRue (1997).

If Minnetonka appears loaded with star players and top-level recruits, Edina may be just the opposite. The Hornets have been getting it done without much individual fanfare this season, quite a departure from last year’s star-laden team.

Entering the year, expectations for the Hornets were low after the graduation of Mr. Hockey finalists Anders Lee and Marshall Everson, NHL draftee Zach Budish and standouts Connor Gaarder and Brendan Baker. But Edina has ridden a “team-first” attitude all the way to the No. 2 spot in the rankings.

That’s not to say there isn’t talent in green and gold.

Senior forward Charlie Taft (11-7-18), the team’s leading scorer, has been ranked by the NHL Scouting Bureau, while junior forward Michael Sit (7-7-14) and senior defenseman David Jarrett (2-8-10) both represented the state on Select teams this past summer. Junior defenseman Max Everson was also a Minnesota Select choice, but has missed the past several games and may not play Saturday either.

In nets, Johnny Ankeny (8-1-1, 1.67, .932) and his back-up Connor Girard (4-1-0, 1.60, .927) have helped the Hornets become one of the stingiest defensive teams in the state.

 

Top games of the week

Time/Date Visiting Team Home Team Stats
7:30 pm, Tuesday, Jan. 19   Duluth East   Elk River Stats and Play-by-Play
The top seed in Section 7AA will likely be the winner of this game, which is also a rematch of last year’s section final in which Duluth East won handily, 4-1. Expect a low-scoring game, as neither team has tremendous offensive firepower, save for perhaps Elk River’s Ben Jaremko, who has racked up 20 goals. Only Elks’ teammate Chad Hennum (10) has more than six goals on either team.
7:30 pm, Wednesday, Jan. 20   St. Thomas Academy   Mahtomedi Stats and Play-by-Play
Shock. Pain. Anger. No doubt the Cadets are past the first two of the stages of grief after Mahtomedi upset them 4-1 in the Section 4A finals last winter. But it’s that final stage that might power them against the Zephyrs Wednesday night. No Class A team can match St. Thomas Academy’s depth, but Mahtomedi has its own high-end players like slippery defenseman Ben Marshall. A huge game for both section seeding and the Classic Suburban race.
7:30 pm, Thursday, Jan. 21   Osseo   Centennial Stats and Play-by-Play
How tight is the Northwest Suburban race? Just three points separate the top six teams and they’ve already combined for nine ties in conference games. These are two of the contenders looking to prove their worth, the surprising Osseo Orioles and the up-and-down Centennial Cougars. Both have hovered near the top-10 much of the season and look like top contenders in Section 5AA for Blaine.
7:30 pm, Tuesday, Jan. 19   Bloomington Jefferson   Eden Prairie Stats and Play-by-Play
If Jefferson wants to jump back into the Lake Conference title chase, the Jaguars will need to start Tuesday night with a victory at Eden Prairie. Jefferson already has two conference losses and a tie in nine games, while the Eagles are a perfect 8-0-0. Watch for a terrific battle between Eden Prairie’s top line featuring Kyle Rau (24-16-40) and the offensive-minded Jefferson defensive corps.
7:30 pm, Tuesday, Jan. 19   Rochester Century   Lakeville South Stats and Play-by-Play
It’s a good week for getting an early read on the section playoffs, that’s for certain. Section 1AA’s top seed will likely come down to these two teams and it may just be decided Tuesday night. Century is the defending section champion, while Lakeville South has been a surprise, powered by a super line of underclassmen in sophomore Justin Kloos (17-14-31), freshman Kyle Osterberg (7-22-29) and sophomore Alex Harvey (13-9-22).
7:30 pm, Thursday, Jan. 21   Warroad   Thief River Falls Stats and Play-by-Play
Back on Dec. 22, Warroad continued its recent mastery of Thief River Falls with a 2-1 victory to take control of the top seed in Section 8A. It was just the latest in a series of one-goal victories for the Warriors over the Prowlers, including in each of the last two section tournaments. Thief River Falls gets its latest chance at revenge Thursday night, although they’d much rather take it in the section playoffs. It should be a fun battle between the Prowlers’ defense with goalie Zane Gothberg (9-4-0, 2.10, .906) and the Warriors’ top line of Brett Hebel, Brock Nelson and Nick Stoskopf, which has combined for 47 goals.
7:30 pm, Friday, Jan. 22   Virginia/MIB   International Falls Stats and Play-by-Play
Virginia would like to continue its statement as the top team in Section 7A. The defending section champions have already beaten Hibbing and International Falls earlier this season. Back on Dec. 18, the Blue Devils took a 5-3 win over the Broncos, with junior star Garrett Hendrickson (21-23-44) netting two goals and two assists. Frostbite Falls’ Glenn Walls (5-2-0, 2.00, .896) took the loss, but has been solid in nets otherwise while splitting time with Mike Hart (4-4-0, 2.25, .887).
7:30 pm, Thursday, Jan. 21   Duluth East   Duluth Denfeld Stats and Play-by-Play
It must be intra-city rivalry week, as two long-time traditional rivals and one new one get together over the upcoming seven days. With the upcoming closing of Duluth Central, the public school battle in Duluth will soon be down to just East and Denfeld – assuming, of course, those school names aren’t changed. Also of note: on Saturday at 2:30 pm, Kennedy and Jefferson have a long rivalry in Bloomington, although the Eagles haven’t been competitive with their cross-town rivals in a while. Thursday night at 7:30 pm, Woodbury plays East Ridge. The Royals topped East Ridge in their first meeting this year and will be favored again Thursday.
1:30 pm, Saturday, Jan. 23   Eden Prairie   Hermantown Stats and Play-by-Play
Both games will be played outdoors in Hermantown as part of 2010 Hockey Day Minnesota, a terrific 24 hours of hockey celebrating the state’s official passion. In the first game at 10 am, two teams looking to get on a roll entering the final month of the regular season hook up in Hopkins and Duluth Marshall. In the second game, two teams who are off to great starts look to keep in going in Eden Prairie and Hermantown.

 

Breakdown editor Tim Kolehmainen may be reached at tim@mnsportspreview.com.

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