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Rockin' in Rapids

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 01/09/12, 9:45AM CST


Section 7AA showdown in Grand Rapids highlights Hub's top games of Jan. 9-14

Trevor Olson (12) returned after missing the first eight games of the season, giving Duluth East an even more powerful forward lineup. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen

1. Duluth East at Grand Rapids
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Expect a rocking, standing-room only crowd at the IRA Civic Center Thursday night as No. 1AA Duluth East (13-0-0) heads to Grand Rapids (10-3-0). The hype for this big Section 7AA rivalry game started a week ago and has only been growing in intensity – much like the conflict between these two teams.

The question everyone is asking is, “Can Rapids challenge East?”

But after recent results, the question might be revised to, “Can anyone challenge East?”

No. 1AA Duluth East (13-0-0) has beaten all comers, including the best teams in the state. Coach Mike Randolph isn’t afraid to challenge his ‘Hounds with a tough schedule that has featured No. 2AA Minnetonka, No. 3AA Maple Grove, No. 8AA Moorhead, No. 9AA Burnsville and No. 3A St. Thomas Academy – all within the last two weeks. The ‘Hounds have rolled them all by a combined 25-12 score.

Perhaps most impressively, East hasn’t been at full strength all season. Senior Trevor Olson (3-5-8) missed the first eight games with a knee injury and when he returned, senior defenseman Nate Repensky (1-10-11) dropped out of the lineup with a swollen wrist. Both are among East’s best players and were expected to be anchors of the ‘Hounds surge toward a state title.

In their stead, East has gotten plenty of production from other players. Senior Jake Randolph (19-17-36) has added a goal-scoring touch to his already impressive playmaking ability, while juniors Ryan Lundgren (9-13-22), Conner Valesano (6-10-16) and Alex Toscano (8-5-13) have picked up their scoring. Combined with Olson, senior Dom Toninato (11-22-33) and junior Jack Forbort (5-7-12) and the ‘Hounds go more than two lines deep with scoring threats.

Defensively, junior Meirs Moore (3-17-20) and sophomore Phil Beaulieu (3-7-10) have become No. 1-caliber blueliners and will only be better when Repensky returns (he’s apparently angling for the Jan. 21 Hockey Day Minnesota game against Minnetonka).

Junior Dylan Parker (8-0-0, 1.25, .933) has stepped up in goal with six straight starts.

Cody Mann (16) celebrates a goal for Grand Rapids, which hosts No. 1AA Duluth East Thursday night at the IRA Civic Center. Photo by Helen Nelson

Grand Rapids (10-3-0) has won five straight games since a 0-3-0 trip to the Edina Holiday Classic in mid-December knocked it from the state rankings. And despite what Twin Cities hockey fans might believe, it hasn’t been a cakewalk. The Thunderhawks beat No. 4A Duluth Marshall, No. 7 Mahtomedi and Bemidji in that stretch – and they host No. 2A Hermantown Tuesday in a “warm up” game.

The return of University of Minnesota recruit and junior defenseman Jake Bischoff (2-13-15) from injury has certainly helped stabilize the Thunderhawks. In the five-game winning streak, they’ve only allowed nine goals -- and Bischoff has two goals and nine assists in that span. Bischoff allows Jordan Stejskal (3-5-8), David Horsmann (4-9-13) and Curtis Simonson (3-8-11) to slide into more comfortable roles on the blue line. Senior Patrick Flaherty (6-2-0, 1.49, .934) has started three of the last four games in goal.

Offensively, Travis Underwood (14-8-22) paces Grand Rapids in goals and is tied with Nate Mondry (9-13-22) for the team lead in points. Sophomore Avery Peterson (7-13-20), Cody Mann (9-7-16) and Reid Holum (5-7-12) add offensive punch, but the Thunderhawks may need to develop more depth to roll with East’s top forward lines.

Rapids will be hungry to avenge last year’s stunning Section 7AA final loss, a game the Thunderhawks led until the final minute of the third period.

Game of the Week

'Week Ahead' Archives

Other top games

2. Benilde-St. Margaret's at Minnetonka
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth Live Webcast

This one should be fun. Two of the highest-powered offensive teams in the state clash in a very important Section 6AA seeding game. Former Minnetonka coach Ken Pauly takes his Red Knights into Pagel as the visitors against young Brian Urick and the Skippers. No. 6AA Benilde (8-3-0) averages 6.3 goals per game, led by T.J. Moore (11-11-22), Grant Besse (10-20-30) and three other players with nine goals each. No. 2AA Minnetonka (12-1-0) pumps in 5.7 goals per game behind the dynamic duo of Vinni Lettieri (12-19-31) and Max Coatta (14-16-30). Expect a somber beginning, however, as there may be a quiet moment in support of paralyzed Red Knight Jack Jablonski.

3. Edina at Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Big section seeding games abound this week, including this matchup between the two top Section 2AA contenders, No. 5AA Edina (12-2-0) and No. 9AA Burnsville (8-4-1). After a blazing start to the season, Burnsville is just 3-3-1 in its last seven games and needs a victory to leapfrog the Hornets in the seedings race. Burnsville hasn’t had trouble scoring goals, as it already has five players in double-digit goals led by Hunter Anderson (13-15-28). But the Blaze have been allowing 3.5 goals per game. Meanwhile, Edina has been stout defensively in front of Willie Benjamin (9-2-0, 2.02, .915), who has grabbed the starting goaltending position. Freshman Dylan Malmquist (12-7-19) leads the young Hornets in scoring.

4. Warroad at Roseau
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

No rivalry in the state has the history and tradition of the biannual Warroad-Roseau matchup, but with the teams now in different classes (Warroad in A, Roseau in AA), some of the luster is admittedly gone. This week, the two northwestern superpowers play in Roseau in the first of their two meetings this season. Both programs started the season slowly, but have rebounded since the holidays. Warroad (7-5-1) has won three of its last four games and hasn’t allowed more than three goals since a Dec. 10 loss to Grand Rapids. Tommy Astrup (12-11-23) has seven goals in the past four games. Roseau (7-3-0) has won six straight and only allowed eight goals in that stretch. Sophomores Alex Strand (14-17-31) and Zach Yon (12-17-29) have powered the offense.

5. Duluth East at Eden Prairie
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
OTSN.tv Live Webcast

It’s tough to believe a rematch of last year’s Class AA state championship game is just our fifth-best game of the week, but that’s a good indication of how many great games there are this week. No. 7AA Eden Prairie (9-2-1) may be the defending champion, but isn’t the favorite against No. 1AA Duluth East (13-0-0), which has been absolutely rolling through the other top teams. The Eagles graduated nearly the entire starting roster from last year’s championship game, which means that newcomers have been key to this year’s reloading effort. Veteran Andrew Knudsen (10-11-21) and sophomore Steven Spinner (10-6-16) lead Eden Prairie in goals, while sophomore Derrick LaCombe (6-2-0, 2.00, .919) has been very strong in goal.

6. Hermantown at Grand Rapids
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

It’s a big week for both of these northeastern Minnesota teams but for different reasons. Grand Rapids (10-3-0) has been flawless except for three losses against top teams in the Edina Holiday Classic in mid-December – but that’s been enough to keep the Thunderhawks on the outside of the rankings. This game against No. 2A Hermantown (12-0-0) and another against No. 1AA Duluth East will be the Thunderhawks' next chance to prove they belong among the elite teams (and having Gophers recruit Jake Bischoff back on the blue line will certainly help). Meanwhile, Hermantown is cruising along as just one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the state but hasn’t played a team with the depth of Grand Rapids yet. Could this be the Hawks’ first loss? With Jared Thomas (12-21-33) and Chris Benson (12-7-19) leading the way, Hermantown is scoring 7.2 goals per game.

7. Eagan at Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

The top two teams in the South Suburban Conference butt heads as No. 4 Eagan (10-2-0) visits No. 9 Burnsville (8-4-1). The Wildcats are a perfect 6-0-0 in conference play with Michael Zajac (13-13-26) and Will Merchant (13-11-24) anchoring a strong offense, but also helping a defense that allows just 1.5 goals per game. Freshman goaltender Andrew Lindgren (5-0-0, 1.40, .892) remains unbeaten in his varsity career, sharing time with senior Christian Butler (4-2-0, 1.50, .913). Burnsville is 5-0-1 in conference and trailing Eagan by a single point after tying Apple Valley last Saturday. Both teams are looking for signature victories, as Eagan is 10-0-0 against unranked teams but 0-2-0 against teams in the top-10 while Burnsville has been .500 (3-3-1) since mid-December.

8. Maple Grove at Edina
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth Live Webcast

Two of the state’s top-five teams collide in a Thursday game that will be webcast on two outlets, as No. 3AA Maple Grove (13-1-1) visits No. 5AA Edina (12-2-0). The Crimson were knocked back a spot in the rankings last week, losing their first game of the year to No. 1AA Duluth East, 4-1. But they rebounded well with a pair of 8-0 victories in Northwest Suburban Conference play (over Osseo and Coon Rapids). Senior Dylan Steman (15-14-29) leads Maple Grove in scoring, including five goals in the last two games, but junior defenseman Jordan Gross (11-16-27) certainly adds offense from the blue line. These two teams played back on Nov. 26 in the championship game of the Plymouth Turkey Trot, with Maple Grove earning a 3-0 victory on two goals by Spencer Bell and a 23-save shutout by Kyle Koop.

9. New Prague at Chanhassen
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

One of these teams could very well end Holy Angels' run of dominance in the Missota Conference. New Prague (6-6-0) has lost to the Stars (7-4 on Dec. 10) but is a tough defensive team that has allowed only 13 goals in the nine games since, including four shutouts. That’s a credit to senior goaltender Joe Morris (6-4-1, 1.94, .927) who has been starting for the Trojans for what feels like a decade – at least in the mind of their opponents. Chanhassen (7-2-0) is in just its second season as an independent program, but the Storm certainly don’t play like it. They’ve already beaten Holy Angels (6-5 on Dec. 15) and feature the dynamic scoring duo of Connor Kelly (14-11-25) and Nate Traina (7-11-18).

10. Elk River at Andover

Neither Elk River nor Andover gets many chances to prove itself in the Section 7AA seeding, as both play in the Northwest Suburban Conference, which is composed mostly of teams from Section 5AA. So when they match up head-to-head twice a year, it almost feels like a playoff game. Elk River (7-5-1) already has one big victory in section play, beating Grand Rapids in the Edina Holiday Classic (3-2 on Dec. 17). Senior Anders Franke (7-5-1, 2.26, .926) has played every minute in goal for the Elks and is a key veteran on a young team. Andover (8-5-0) has split its two section games, losing to Duluth East (6-1 on Dec. 6) and knocking off Cloquet in overtime (3-2 on Dec. 29 in the championship game of the Heritage Holiday Classic). Senior Calvin Rak (9-10-19) has been rolling lately, with six goals in his last four games.