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Cat fight in the Lake

02/01/2010, 5:08pm CST
By Tim Kolehmainen

The Week Ahead features a showdown between Jefferson and Eagan

Bloomington Jefferson at Eagan (7:30 pm, Thursday, Feb. 4)

Admit it. Unless you’re a die-hard Eagan fan (or perhaps the parent of a Wildcat), you never expected this game to have such meaning.

At the beginning of the season, Eagan was considered a team that had some rebuilding to do. The Wildcats had a good year in 2008-09, going 17-9-1 (12-7-0 in the Lake Conference), but lost its two top scorers (Tony Markstrom and Eric Thorn) and top two goaltenders (including All-Lake choice Trent Caspar) to graduation. Little scoring power and even less experience in nets returned, not a good combination in the powerful Lake.

On the other hand, Bloomington Jefferson was considered one of the early favorites to win a state title, powered by a deep returning lineup that included D1 defensemen Jeffrey Pauluk and Joe Faust. Other than losing Brimsek Award winning goalie Casey O’Connor, the Jaguars were loaded for a deep playoff run.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the X.

Eagan surprised many observers by winning the first meeting between the two teams, a 4-3 thriller back on Dec. 17, when the Wildcats were an unknown quantity and Jefferson was streaking. The early thought from the game was that it was just a hiccup on the Jaguars’ slate – nothing more.

But the Wildcats just kept on winning. Eagan lost only one of its first 17 games against Minnesota high school competition (15-1-1), but was humbled in its most recent game, an 8-2 loss to Burnsville. Still, Eagan finds itself ranked in the top-10 in the state in Class AA, in some polls ahead of Jefferson.

Sophomore Michael Zajac (12-17-29) leads a young team in scoring, but there is plenty of balance with eight players scoring at least five goals and a dozen with at least six points. The Wildcats aren’t a high-scoring team, notching just 3.79 goals per game, but they have been very stingy with only 2.32 goals against per contest.

Junior goaltender Tommy Bodecker (13-2-1, 2.07, .914) has been terrific in nets, not just shoring up a question mark from season’s start, but making it a team strength.

On the other bench, Jefferson started the new year off with a few hiccups, but has won three straight Lake Conference games in easy fashion, by a combined 29-4 over Chaska, Kennedy and Lakeville South.

When the Jaguars are on, they look darn near untouchable. Jefferson has scored 6.50 goals per game, one of the best marks in the state, while allowing just 2.11 per game. Senior (and UMD recruit) Caleb Herbert (17-24-41) leads the team in scoring, just ahead of Pauluk (5-34-39), Tyler Dietzler (17-16-33) and Faust (11-20-31), who has committed to Princeton.

The Jaguars have five players with double-digit goals already (including Ryan Siiro and Nick Nielsen) and a dozen with double-digit points (adding in Zach Knight, Johnny Roisum, Tim Donohue, Eric Freschi, Alex Nicholas and Jake Perpich). Jefferson can play its top two lines with little difference between them, as well as getting significant offense from the blue line.

Pauluk and Faust log as much ice time as any defensemen in the state and are both creative and dangerous. Justin Woodley (9-3-2, 2.28, .887) has taken over the majority of time between the pipes.

 

Top games of the week

Time/Date Visiting Team Home Team Stats
7:30 pm, Monday, Feb. 1   Roseau   Warroad Stats and Play-by-Play
The classic rematch between these two Northwest powers gets billing as one of the top games of the week (and arguably could have been the best, but has already been featured once). In that first meeting back on Jan. 14, the Warriors surged past Roseau, 5-2. But don’t be fooled by the final score. The game was tied 2-all with 2:07 to play before Warroad struck for three goals, two by Adam Shaugabay and two on an empty net.
8 pm, Saturday, Feb. 6   St. Thomas Academy   Hill-Murray Stats and Play-by-Play
Since losing to the Pioneers back on Jan. 7 (4-2), St. Thomas Academy has run off eight straight victories and remains the top-ranked team in Class A. It’s also their only conference loss in 11 games, while Hill-Murray remains a perfect 11-0-0 in the Classic Suburban. The Pioneers have won 10 straight games and are one of the stingiest defensive teams in the state (1.53 goals per game) while both teams average nearly six goals a game on offense. This one is for bragging rights in the CSC and among the East metro private schools.
7 pm, Thursday, Feb. 4   Eden Prairie   Burnsville Stats and Play-by-Play
How hot is Burnsville? The Blaze are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games (after a 2-5-2 start), outscoring their opponents 50-13. They’re coming off an 8-2 rout of Eagan and are beginning to pick up notice as a team to fear in the Section 2AA playoffs. Blaze junior goaltender Bodhi Engum (7-5-2, 2.09, .923) is playing like one of the best goaltenders in the state, but he’ll get a stiff test from the bullies of the Lake Conference in Eden Prairie and their blistering hot scoring ace, Kyle Rau (34-26-60). The Eagles are 9-1-0 in their past 10 games, losing only to Eagan on Jan. 26.
3 pm, Saturday, Feb. 6   Wayzata   Edina Stats and Play-by-Play
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Edina, which is just 2-4-2 since the turn of the year and has been stymied offensively recently. The Hornets have just five goals in their past four games and need to break out of their funk before the playoffs begin. Wayzata isn’t exactly the program to do it against. The Trojans have already beaten Edina twice (4-2 on Nov. 28 and 1-0 on Jan. 21) and are the only team to not lose against No. 1 Minnetonka (tying the Skippers 1-all last Saturday afternoon).
7 pm, Thursday, Feb. 4   Alexandria   Sartell-St. Stephen Stats and Play-by-Play
After years of being dominated by Little Falls, Section 6A just might come down to these two programs this winter. Alexandria was considered by many to be the favorite and is on a four-game winning streak. Sartell is a senior-dominated team that sees its chance for a state bid right now and is also on a four-game winning streak. The teams played to a 5-all tie back on Dec. 19, with both teams rallying from a two-goal deficit during the game. Expect the rematch to be just as hotly contested.
7:30 pm, Thursday, Feb. 4   Andover   Elk River Stats and Play-by-Play
The top seed in Section 7AA is likely going to be claimed by the winner of this game. The Elks have the leg up after having already beaten the Huskies (6-3 on Dec. 5) and contender Duluth East (3-2 on Jan. 19), while Andover just tied East on the Greyhounds’ home ice (2-2 on Jan. 29). Andover’s diminutive but quick Cal Decowski (21-37-58) is one of the most exciting players in the state, but has been outscored by Elk River’s underrated Ben Jaremko (27-15-42).
7:30 pm, Tuesday, Feb. 2   Irondale   Spring Lake Park Stats and Play-by-Play
Just when Spring Lake Park was starting to earn some notoriety by winning its first 14 games and looking forward to a showdown with Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Irondale spoiled all the Panthers’ fun. The Knights stopped the streak with a 4-3 win on Jan. 7, sending the Panthers to four losses in six games – and back into the pack of Section 4A. Spring Lake Park just might be up for the rematch. The Panthers are young, but are led by senior defenseman Chris Benson (11-16-27), who has played more games than anyone in Panthers’ history – and that includes NHLer David Backes.
7 pm, Friday, Feb. 5   Roseau   Brainerd Stats and Play-by-Play
Roseau might be mentally exhausted after taking on longtime rival Warroad on Monday night, but the Rams better watch out for Brainerd. These Warriors have an even better record (15-2-0) and haven’t lost since getting shut out by Moorhead on Dec. 19 – a streak of 11 straight victories. They’re eyeing a top-two seed in Section 8AA and trying to break the stranglehold the Spuds and Rams have had in the past decade and a half. Brainerd senior goaltender Reid Mimmack (13-1-0, 1.62, .926) is one of the state’s best kept secrets.
7 pm, Monday, Feb. 1   Mankato East   Mankato West Stats and Play-by-Play
The two cross-town rivals are struggling in the Big 9, combining to lose their first nine conference games. But as they say, throw the records out the window in any game between these two. History is on West’s side, as the Scarlets took a 4-3 decision from East on Dec. 22. The Cougars actually led 3-0 after one period, but West came roaring back with four second-period goals.

 

The Breakdown

 

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

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