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03/30/2010, 1:09pm CDT
By Loren Nelson, Editor

Duluth Denfeld goaltender Zach Thompson No. 1 on Hub's top freshmen list

Freshman standouts are a rarity in Minnesota boys high school hockey.

Freshman goaltenders? Forget about it.

Typically, there’s just not a lot of payoff in plugging a 14- or 15-year-old in the game’s most crucial position, then waiting for bigger, stronger, more mature players to exploit the kid’s every weakness.

Wise coaches know all too well that a young goaltender can get lit up like so much Vegas neon, the scars of the experience lingering like the smell of overripe equipment.

As such, less than a handful of the state’s 150-plus teams used freshmen as their primary goaltenders last season.

All of which makes the Zach Thompson Story as unexpected as it was amazing.

Entering last season, Duluth Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley knew he had a great young talent in Thompson, a freshman goaltender who had spent the previous two summers working with Minnesota Wild goaltenders coach Bob Mason.

Not even Smalley would have imagined Thompson would become his workhorse in net or post the kind of numbers (2.32 goals-against average, .921 save percentage) goaltenders four years Thompson’s senior would drool over.

“He’s about as calm as you would ever want to see,” Smalley said about Thompson. “Nothing really frazzles him out there.”

An early-season injury to sophomore goaltender Christian Coffman allowed for Thompson’s trial-by-fire initiation to varsity hockey. It would turn out that opposing shooters were the players most likely to end up with bruised egos.

“He’s the real deal, that’s for sure,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said about Thompson, who almost served as a one-man roadblock to the Hawks’ trip to the state Class A tournament.

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Thompson made 45 saves in the Hunters’ 3-2 loss to the heavily favored Hawks in the Section 5A championship game. Hermantown went on to reach the Class A championship game.

“That just shows that a hot goalie can make all the difference,” said Andover co-head coach Mark Manney, whose high-scoring Huskies managed only a 3-2 victory over Denfeld and Thompson early in the regular season.

“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Thompson said about his expectations heading into last season, which ended with the thrilling loss to Hermantown in front of a huge crowd in Cloquet. “It was a blast. The only thing that could have been better is if we could have made it to state.”

Thompson, who posted three straight shutouts in a late-December through early-January stretch of games, was so dominant that he not only tops the Hub’s list of 2009-10 freshmen, he also caught the attention of USA Hockey National Team Development Program coaches. Thompson was invited to attend the program’s evaluation camp that concluded on March 30. He declined.

“It took me a couple of days to figure out what I wanted to do,” said Thompson, whose twin brother, Alex, is a Denfeld forward. “I kind of realized I wanted to stick around and play with my buddies. There are a couple of them out in the driveway right now.”

Among Zach and Alex Thompson’s best friends is Levi Talarico, a freshman who scored a team-high 37 points for the Hunters last season. The return of the Thompsons and Talarico as well as an influx of players from a Duluth Central program that shut down after the season should make for a formidable Denfeld team that will move up to Class AA.

Zach Thompson said he plans to prepare for his sophomore season by making his usual appearance at the Roloson Mason goalie camp in Minneapolis in late June and playing “wherever I can, whenever I can.”

2009-10 Freshman scoring leaders

NAME SCHOOL POS G A PTS
Kyle Osterberg Lakeville South F 19 44 63
Grant Besse Benilde-St. Margaret's F 30 20 50
T.J. Roo Totino-Grace F 24 25 49
Max Coatta Minnetonka F 23 23 46
Levi Talarico Duluth Denfeld F 17 26 43
Hudson Fasching Apple Valley F 24 18 42
Connor Chambers Northern Lakes F 24 12 36
Jake Horton Tartan F 14 21 35
Tanner Picht Morris-Benson F 16 16 32
Alex Funk Rochester Lourdes F 15 14 29
Andrew Scofield Northfield F 17 11 28
Jason Samuelson Rochester Lourdes F 13 15 28
Nate Mettenburg Prairie Centre F 10 17 27
Zach LaValle Hill-Murray F 9 17 26
Adam Johnson Hibbing D 9 16 25
Ryan Tapani Providence Academy F 15 9 24
Mike Welch Redwood Valley F 10 14 24
Ryan Mattson Waconia F 11 12 23
Ian Johnson Park Rapids F 13 9 22
Tyler Cisar Moose Lake F 10 11 21
Mac Beyer Morris-Benson F 7 14 21
Luke Majerle Little Falls F 3 18 21
Connor Thie Hopkins F 7 13 20

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Coming Next

A look at the state's best sophomores, including a detailed look at where the top 30 stack up.

Rank Player Team Pos Ht Wt Comment

1

Langlee_019_small Zach Thompson Duluth Denfeld G 6'1" 165 Mentally tough as well as technically sound, Thompson stepped in for injured sophomore Christian Coffman early in the season and was superb, posting a 2.32 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Thompson, who has worked with Minnesota Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason, turned down an offer to attend USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program’s U-17 evaluation camp in late March.

2

Hudsonfasching_small Hudson Fasching Apple Valley F 6'3" 190 Scored 24 goals to tie for second in the state among all freshmen, and he added 18 assists to lead the Section 3AA champion Eagles in scoring. Big, strong and smart with the puck, Fasching had four goals and two assists in six playoff games.

3

Besse__grant_medium_small Grant Besse Benilde-St. Margaret's F 5'8" 150 Former Wayzata Bantam star made smooth transition to high school level, as he was the top goal scorer among state freshmen with 30 in 27 games. He had three hat tricks and five other multi-goal games and was held without a point in just five regular season games as he finished with 50 points. Not yet an overpowering physical presence, Besse relies on his excellent speed and puck skills to generate scoring chances.

4

Kyle_osterberg_small Kyle Osterberg Lakeville South F 5'8" 150 Led all freshmen with 63 points, including a whopping 44 assists as the playmaker on the Cougars’ ever-dangerous first line. He scored his points in bunches, getting four or more eight times, including a six-point effort against Eastview in the regular-season finale.

5

Renewed9_small Max Coatta Minnetonka F 5'8" 160 Burst on the state scene with back-to-back hat tricks in high-profile games against high-powered St. Thomas Academy and Blaine. Playing on the No. 1-ranked Skippers’ top line, he finished with 23 goals and 23 assists. Coatta plays much bigger than his size, as he often takes a pounding while stationing himself in front of the net while waiting for rebounds.

6

Horton_small Jake Horton Tartan F 5'10" 170 Scored 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) to finish second on the Titans’ in scoring. His plus-23 plus/minus rating was second best on a team that played a rugged regular season schedule that included state tournament qualifiers Mahtomedi, Hill-Murray and Duluth East.

7

Lavalle_small Zach LaValle Hill-Murray F 5'10" 165 Scored eight goals and added 14 assists while playing solid defensively for a Pioneers team that reached the semifinals of the state Class AA tournament. Smooth, speedy skater who has great feel for the game, LaValle also saw limited action on the varsity as an eighth grader.

8

Langlee_034_small Levi Talarico Duluth Denfeld F 5'8" 150 Provided amazingly consistent offensive production, scoring at least one point in all but five of the Hunters’ 28 games. He finished with 17 goals and 26 assists to lead Denfeld, which was ranked in the top 10 in Class A for portions of the season, in scoring.

9

Tjroo_small T.J. Roo Totino-Grace F 5'11" 160 Led the Eagles in scoring with 49 points, and his 24 goals was tied for the second most scored by a freshman statewide. Was held without a point just once in Totino-Grace’s final 15 games, including playoffs.

10

Alexfunk_small Alex Funk Rochester Lourdes F 5'8" 160 Had just three points in the Eagles’ first six games, then got stronger and stronger as the season rolled along. He finished with a team-best 15 goals and was second in points (29). Funk’s emergence as an offensive threat helped propel Lourdes all the way to the state Class A tournament.

11

Frankiemork_small Frankie Mork Holy Angels D 5'6" 155 Didn’t produce a lot of points (one goal, 13 assists) but did finish among the Stars’ leaders in plus/minus with a plus 30. Supremely skilled, Mork needs only to gain size and strength to emerge as one of the state's top defensemen.

12

Parkerreno_small Parker Reno Edina D 6'0" 175 Was a regular in outstanding state Class AA champion Hornets’ defensive rotation that limited opponents to eight goals in six playoff games. Focusing on a defensive role, he had three goals and six assists and just four penalty minutes all season.

13

Connor_small Connor Chambers Northern Lakes F 5'11" 190 His 24 goals tied for second most statewide among all freshmen, and he added 12 assists. Son of Northern Lakes coach Shawn Chambers, a former NHL defenseman, Connor finished third on the team in scoring. Played the first eight games of the season at defense before being shifted to forward.

14

Ryanjohnson_small Adam Johnson Hibbing D 5'9" 140 Scored four of his nine goals in a single game (an 11-2 triumph over Eveleth-Gilbert). The son of former UM-Duluth star Dave Johnson, he finished with 25 points to rank fifth in scoring on a Bluejackets team that reached the Section 7A title game.

15

Mariobianchi_picture_small Mario Bianchi Holy Angels F 5'6" 150 Small but deeply skilled, Bianchi had 10 goals and seven assists to lead the Stars’ bumper crop of freshmen in scoring.

16

Andrew_scofield_small Andrew Scofield Northfield F 6'0" 170 Parlayed exceptional rink savvy and nose for the net into team-best 17-goal season. Also had 11 assists and shared the team lead in scoring.

17

Carney__lance_small Lance Carney White Bear Lake D 5'9" 150 Played a regular shift for the Bears, who reached the Section 4AA finals after allowing just two goals in their opening two playoff games. Carney had one goal and seven assists and went a stretch of 24 games without taking a penalty.

18

Jasonsamuelson_small Jason Samuelson Rochester Lourdes F 6'0" 160 Scored 13 goals and added 15 assists for the Eagles, helping propel them to the consolation championship of the state Class A tournament. He finished third on the team in scoring.

19

Lounanne_small Lou Nanne Edina F 5'9" 150 Moved up from the junior varsity to a full-time varsity role late in the regular season and provided a spark that helped ignite the Hornets on their state Class AA championship run. He scored three goals in the Hornets’ final six regular season games, including the third-period goal that forced overtime in a confidence-boosting 5-4 comeback win over Minnetonka.

20

Forney__chris_small Christopher Forney Thief River Falls F 6'2" 165 Was a key forward on a Prowlers team that amassed 19 wins and reached the Section 8A final. He had five goals and 11 assists to finish fifth on the team in scoring.

Keep an eye on . . .

Michael Brodzinski, D, Blaine; Chase Broten, F, Roseau; Christopher Chute, D, Blake; Zach Foesch, D, St. Francis; Patrick Graham, D, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Zach Hartley, F, Holy Angels; Ian Johnson, Park Rapids; Nathan Kovach, G, Waconia; Karl Krecke, D, Rochester Lourdes; Dan Labosky, F, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Luke Majerle, F, Little Falls; Ryan Mattson, F, Waconia; Nate Mettenburg, F, Prairie Centre; Cody Meyer, D, New Prague; Hunter Miska, G, North Branch; T.J. Moore, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Ben Newman, F, Little Falls; Jacob Peterson, D, St. Cloud Tech; Tanner Picht, F, Morris-Benson; Gunner Regan, St. Thomas Academy ; Garrett Reibling, F, Holy Family Catholic; Austin Sattler, F, St. Thomas Academy; Ryan Tapani, F, Providence Academy; Connor Thie, F, Hopkins; Mike Welch, F, Redwood Valley

Tag(s): Hub Exclusives  News Archive  The Full Nelson