A race that was expected to go down to the wire did just that, with Team North and Team Northwest finishing in a tie for the regular-season championship in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League.
Both clubs finished the regular season with 13-7-1 records, but Team North heads into the Elite League playoffs Oct. 29-31 as the top seed by virtue of winning its season series with Northwest, two games to one. That included a victory over Northwest on Oct. 24, the last Sunday of the regular season.
Team North earned its share of the crown with a three-game sweep on the final weekend that began with a 7-2 win over Team Southwest. North scored the first seven goals, including a pair by Duluth Marshall’s Jacob Bushey.
Then came the must-win game against Team Northwest, and coach Pat Guyer’s team fell behind 3-1 before Patrick Moore of Grand Rapids, Wes Judnick of Virginia and Garrett Skrbich of Hermantown each scored in a 65-second span of the second period (with South St. Paul’s Adam Barlow assisting on all three scores) to grab a 4-3 lead.
Moore’s second goal of the game and an empty-netter Duluth Marshall’s Judd Peterson sealed the 6-4 victory.
To guarantee a share of the title, however, Team North still needed to beat Great Plains on Sunday. That game was tied 1-1 midway through the third period before Hendrickson, Moore and Hunter Bergerson of Duluth East scored to break it open.
Team Northwest opened the final week of the regular season with a 6-2 win over Team Southwest. After falling behind 1-0, Northwest scored five straight goals – two by Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse – to take control.
Elk River goalie Anders Franke stopped 47 of 49 shots for the win. Team Northwest then set itself up for the showdown with Team North by beating Great Plains 4-3. Osseo’s Tim Bonner scored twice, while Elk River’s Ryan Jameko had a goal and an assist.
Even a tie against Team North would have given Team Northwest the outright championship, but the 6-4 loss – Team Northwest’s second loss in three games with North – dropped it to the second seed in the playoffs.
Also coming oh-so-close was Team Southeast, which swept all three games on the final weekend, only to finish one point short with a 12-7-2 mark.
Team Southeast opened the weekend with a 5-0 shutout of Shattuck-St. Mary’s as Burnsville goalie Bodhi Engum made 42 saves and A.J. Reid of St. Thomas Academy scored a pair of goals.
Team Southeast kept its title hopes alive with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Team Northeast. After falling behind 3-2 in the third period, Team Southeast rallied on the second goal of the game by Apple Valley’s Hudson Fasching and Burnsville’s Michael Dockry game-winner.
In the weekend’s final game, Team Southeast beat Wisconsin 3-2 on goals by St. Thomas Academy’s Zach Schroeder and Taylor Fleming and Apple Valley’s A.J. Michaelson.
For Team Wisconsin, it was the second loss in a weekend that began with the team in title contention. The two defeats dropped it to fourth place, four points out of first.
The lone victory for Team Wisconsin came Saturday when it beat Team Northeast 8-3. Garret Clement of Wausau West, Brett Skibba of Middleton and of and Simon Leahy of the University School of Milwaukee each scored two goals in the win, while Brad Navin of Waupaca added a goal and two assists.
Wisconsin’s title chances ended Sunday morning with a 4-2 loss to Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Middleton goalie Eric Smith almost stole the game against Southeast, stopping 47 of 50 shots in the loss.
Team Great Plains picked up a victory on the final weekend as goalie Bryan Nies of Grand Forks Red River stopped 34 shots in a 3-0 victory over Team Southwest. Shane Omdahl of Roseau, John Simonson of Grand Forks Central and Jordan Aamot of Grand Forks Central scored.
The Great Plains victory was was sandwiched around a 4-3 loss to Northwest and a 5-2 loss to Team North.
Team Southwest lost 7-2 to Team North, then fell 3-0 to Great Plains, and fell to seventh in the league standings. Team Northeast also had a rough final week, losing to Shattuck-St. Mary’s (4-2), Wisconsin (8-3) and Team Southeast (4-3).
NOTES: With three teams separated by just one point, it was the closest championship race in Elite League history. Three players – Team Southwest’s Kyle Rau of Eden Prairie, Team Northwest’s Tony Cameranesi of Wayzata and Team Wisconsin’s Brad Navin of Waupaca – tied for the league goal-scoring title with 16. Rau will have a chance to win the title outright when Team Southwest and Shattuck-St. Mary’s play a rescheduled game Oct. 27. … Cameranesi lead the league in scoring with 33 points (16G, 17A). Team Southeast, which finished a point out of first place, ended the season with a seven-game winning streak. It lost a pair of one-goal games to co-champion Team North, including an Oct. 9 game when it led 4-3 with less than 5 minutes to play, but lost 5-4. … Team North goalie Alex Lyon (Lake of the Woods) had the lowest goals-against average (2.76) and highest save percentage (.930) among goalies who played at least 10 games. Team Great Plains’ Michael Bitzer of Moorhead had a 2.98 GAA and .926 save percentage despite facing an average of 42.4 shots per game over his last nine starts.