New Ulm senior goaltender Blake Burgau is one of the best in Section 3A. Photo by Helen Nelson
New Ulm forward Kaleb Juntenen shared the team lead with 17 goals. Photo by Helen Nelson
Eau Claire Memorial has been Wisconsin’s No. 1-ranked for most of the season.
The Old Abes have defeated the two teams ranked directly below them (No. 2 Wausau West and No. 3 Notre Dame Academy) and have suffered just one loss all season. They are prohibitive favorites to reach their state tournament.
Why does any of this information belong in a preview of a southern Minnesota small-school section tournament?
Well, Eau Claire Memorial’s lone loss this season did not come against Wisconsin competition.
New Ulm, Section 3A’s top seed, beat Eau Claire Memorial 2-0 in late December in the Class A title game of the Rochester Kiwanis Hockey Festival.
A surprising outcome?
The night before they lost to New Ulm, the Old Abes had shut down Rochester Lourdes, which was undefeated at the time and is now ranked No. 3 in Class 1A. Lourdes, the top seed in Section 1A, lost to Memorial in that semifinal matchup by the same 2-0 score.
So, yes, New Ulm’s triumph was a bit of surprise.
Fueled by that signature win, New Ulm went 18-4-2 in the regular season. Three of those losses came in succession during a late-January slide, but the Eagles righted themselves with a six-game win streak entering the playoffs.
Junior Brody Peterson (17 goals, 24 assists) and senior Kaleb Juntenen (17 goals, 23 assists) are New Ulm’s scoring leaders, but it will be the play of senior goaltender Blake Burgau (2.06 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) that determines if the Eagles are playing well into March.
Luverne senior forward Connor Fitzer leads the sectin with 36 goals. Photo by Helen Nelson
While the New Ulm would, seemingly, be headed for a showdown with No. 2 seed Hutchinson (9-14-1) in the section final, this is a section bracket that, based on recent history, should be filled out lightly in pencil.
New Ulm reached the state tournament last season as the No. 3 seed, a feat Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (14-10-1) appears capable of duplicating despite a 2-4-0 finish to the regular season.
The Dragons, who split their two regular season games with New Ulm, feature four five double-digit goal scorers in Andy Haataja (15) and Quinn Impola, Erc Kivisto, Aaron Haataja and John Raisanen with 10 each. Senior goaltender Ryan Koivisto has shutdown ability, as he posted impressive regular season statistics (2.31 goals-against average, .910 save percentage).
No. 2 Hutchinson went 9-14-1 during the regular season, but the Tigers beat Litchfield twice and lost 1-0 to New Ulm early season.
No. 4 Marshall (15-5-3) has one of the section’s top goaltenders in senior Andrew Noble (1.99 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) and No. 5 Luverne (17-7-0) features the section’s top scorer in senior Connor Fitzer (36 goals, 28 assists).
Since the sections were realigned after the 2006-07 season, this has been perhaps the most unpredictable postseason tournament in the state. Last season's No. 3 seed, New Ulm, reached the state tournament last March. So why can't Litchfield, this year's No. 3, repeat the feat?
The Cardinals have a history of bracket busting, as they were the No. 7 seed last season when they stunned No. 2 Redwood Valley in the quarterfinals. Confidence shouldn't be a problem for Luverne, as it has won five of its last six and 12 of its last 14.
2010 – New Ulm
2009 – Hutchinson
2008 – Litchfield/D-C
2007 – St. Thomas Academy
2006 – St. Thomas Academy
2005 – St. Thomas Academy
2004 – South St. Paul
2003 - Simley
2002 – Red Wing
2001 – Mahtomedi
2000 – Farmington
1999 – St. Thomas Academy
1998 – Mahtomedi
1997 – Mahtomedi
1996 – Simley
1995 – Totino-Grace
1994 – Mahtomedi