Duluth East celebrates its victory in the championship game of the Schwan Cup Gold Division. Photos by Helen Nelson.
Duluth East's Jack Forbort (27).
1. Hockey Day Minnesota
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth TV Broadcast
The eyes of the state will be on Minnetonka’s Pagel Activity Center this Saturday, as the annual Hockey Day Minnesota doubleheader comes to town. Grand Rapids (10-5-0) will play White Bear Lake (8-6-1) at 10 a.m. followed by No. 2AA Minnetonka (15-1-0) against No. 1AA Duluth East (16-0-0) at noon.
Unfortunately, the site of the games has already been moved twice because of the unusually warm January weather across the state. Originally scheduled for the ice of Lake Minnetonka, the decision was made to move the games to an outdoor rink in the Excelsior Commons area. Then last week they were shifted indoors to Minnetonka’s home rink. This is the first time in the six-year history of the event, which his been held in Baudette, St. Paul, Hermantown and Moorhead, that any of the games were moved indoors.
In the first game, two of the top teams in their respective sections (Grand Rapids in 7AA, White Bear Lake in 4AA) will battle it out.
Grand Rapids lost its only two games last week, falling to the new No. 1 teams in each class (5-2 to Hermantown on Jan. 10 and 4-3 to Duluth East on Jan. 12) – but of course, there’s no shame in that. Sophomore Avery Peterson (10-13-23) has been surging, scoring five goals in the last three games.
White Bear Lake still leads the Suburban East Conference, but suffered a tough 3-1 loss to Hastings on Jan. 14 – its first loss in the SEC. Senior Mitch Morrisette (13-15-28) still leads the Bears in scoring, but has just one goal in the last four games.
Minnetonka's Tommy Vannelli (4).
Duluth East at Minnetonka
The second game is a rematch of the Schwan Cup Gold Division final, which East won 6-2 back on Dec. 28. It’s also the third meeting of the season between teams ranked No. 1 and 2 (in addition to the first East-Tonka game, the ‘Hounds also beat then-No. 2AA Maple Grove on Jan. 4).
Duluth East’s traveling road show continues to both draw in fans and rack up victories. Perhaps most impressively, the ‘Hounds have done both without fielding a full lineup in any game this season. In the latest victory – a 4-2 win at Eden Prairie – East was missing last year’s leading scorer (Trevor Olson), its top defenseman (Nate Repensky) and this year’s No. 1 goalie (Dylan Parker) for various reasons.
There have been a few constants, however, including senior Jake Randolph (23-21-44) who continues to cement his front-runner status for Mr. Hockey. Randolph and his center, Dom Toninato (17-24-41) are teamed with Ryan Lundgren (10-19-29) right now, forming a great first line. The second line of Conner Valesano (6-11-17), Alex Toscano (9-6-15) and Jack Forbort (6-7-13) is no slouch either.
Defensively, the ‘Hounds have been counting on Meirs Moore (4-24-28), Phil Beaulieu (3-10-13), Nate Kitter and Andrew Kerr while senior Paige Skoog (8-0-0, 1.88, .914) now gets his chance between the pipes.
If any team can match up with East’s scoring depth its Minnetonka, which rolls three strong lines. The junior trio of Vinni Lettieri (19-24-43), Max Coatta (15-20-35) and Connor Thie (10-11-21) leads the way in scoring, but the line of Sam Rothstein (10-17-27), Erik Baskin (10-15-25) and Jack Ramsey (6-12-18) is right behind. Hard-working Phil Katopodis (3-8-11), Justin Bader (5-6-11) and Jared Ridge (5-6-11) have scored some big goals as the third line, as well.
What East was able to do against Minnetonka in the first game was negate the Skippers’ scoring power by possessing the puck. The ‘Hounds forwards cycled the puck low in the ‘Tonka zone and kept them from breaking out with any speed. That will have to change in the rematch and it’s up to a defensive corps of Tommy Vannelli (4-10-14), Jimmy Schuldt (2-10-12), Michael Prochno (1-10-11) and Joe Schuldt (1-4-5) to jumpstart it.
The Skippers have been alternating goalies, with Paul Ciaccio (8-0-0, 1.17, .929) and Matt Behounek (7-1-0, 2.29, .904) splitting duties. Both saw action in the first East game, as the ‘Hounds burst out to a 5-0 lead in the second period.
2. St. Thomas Academy at Breck
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
The top two Class A private schools in the state and perennial championship contenders who have combined to win the last four Class A titles (St. Thomas Academy in 2008 and 2011, Breck in 2009 and 2010) renew their rivalry. No. 2A Breck (11-1-0) just lost its first game of the year (5-3 at Moorhead on Jan. 14) and it will be interesting to see how the Mustangs respond to adversity. Grant Opperman (16-18-34) continues to pace Breck in scoring and used his speed to score on the power play and shorthanded against Moorhead. No. 3A St. Thomas Academy (9-3-0) has won four in a row since the holidays, allowing only four goals with a shutout by both Ian West (4-0-0, 1.61, .916) and David Zevnik (5-2-1, 2.31, .858).
3. Edina at Minnetonka
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth Live Webcast
The Lake Conference schedule starts this week with a great matchup between two top-five teams in No. 5AA Edina (13-3-0) and No. 2AA Minnetonka (15-1-0). The Hornets look for some redemption after being shutout by Minnetonka in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division, 6-0 on Dec. 27. They’ll have to slow down the top line of Connor Thie, Max Coatta and Vinni Lettieri, who combined for three goals and five assists that night – and 44 goals on the season. The Pagel Activity Center has been tough on visiting teams over the past five years, as well. Edina is paced by 13 goals each from sophomore Connor Hurley and freshman Dylan Malmquist.
4. Warroad at Thief River Falls
There are huge Section 8A implications between the two teams that have represented Minnesota’s northwest corner at the state tournament for the past nine years. The No. 6A Prowlers (11-3-1) edged Warroad 3-2 in overtime back on Dec. 20 in Warroad – one of two defeats Warroad (8-6-1) has to its top section rivals (including East Grand Forks). Senior Austin Odberg (10-7-17) netted the game-winner in overtime against the Warriors and is one of two double-digit goal scorers along with Riley Soderstrom (11-11-22). Thief River Falls plays it tight to the vest, scoring just 3.9 goals per game and allowing 2.6. That fits right into Warroad’s game plan, as it scores 3.7 and allows 2.7 goals per game. Tommy Astrup (12-15-27) is the only double-digit goal scorer for the Warriors.
5. Hill-Murray at Eden Prairie
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
MyFoxHockey Live Webcast
No. 9AA Hill-Murray (9-4-0) has been surging since early-season struggles knocked it from the top-10 while No. 7AA Eden Prairie (9-3-1) jumped right back into the top-10 with a quick start that surprised many observers who expected the defending state champions to struggle after huge graduation losses. The Eagles don’t have the high-powered offense of past years, but have been very solid with youngsters stepping into prominent roles, such as co-leading goal scorer Steven Spinner (10-6-16) and sophomore goaltenders Derrick LaCombe (6-3-0, 2.24, .917) and Jake Gerdes (3-0-1, 3.73, .863). Hill-Murray has won five straight, including two consecutive shutouts by goaltender John Dugas (6-3-1, 2.32, .913) and Travis Neubeck (2-1-0, 2.09, .951).
6. Duluth Denfeld at Hibbing/Chisholm
Duluth Marshall looks to be the class of Section 7A, but these two teams could be right on the ‘Toppers’ heels. Will junior Adam Johnson (18-17-35) be back after missing the Bluejackets’ tight victory over Virginia/MIB? His return could spell trouble for Duluth Denfeld (8-5-1), which has lost four of its last six games after a fast start. Junior Levi Talarico (12-17-29) paces the Hunters in scoring. Hibbing/Chisholm (8-8-0), the defending Section 7A champion, has been up-and-down thus far and hasn’t had more than a two-game streak – either winning or losing. The Bluejackets came up with a big 5-4 victory over Virginia/MIB without their superstar leading scorer, though, as Billy Wherland racked up two goals and Tyler Carlson made 46 saves.
7. Prior Lake at Eagan
Joe Pankratz certainly appears to have Prior Lake on the right track. The Lakers (9-6-0) have beaten Wayzata, Lakeville South and Bloomington Jefferson already this season – but No. 4AA Eagan (12-2-0) would make an even bigger statement. Prior Lake currently sits third in the South Suburban Conference, which is led by Eagan. The Lakers dynamic duo of Matt Crist (14-12-26) and Kyle Krueger (15-10-25) is pacing the offense, while Kyle Miller (9-6-0, 3.07, .894) has been an anchor in nets, facing more than 30 shots a game including a high of 38 saves in the victory over Wayzata on Dec. 13. Miller will certainly be tested by Eagan, which scores 5.6 goals per game led by Michael Zajac (15-14-29) and Will Merchant (14-13-27). The Wildcats are just as strong defensively, giving up only 1.4 goals per game.
8. Lakeville South at Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Two teams that have been up-and-down recently look to get back on track as we head into the second half of the season. South (8-5-0) is 3-3-0 in its last six games while Burnsville (9-6-1) is 4-5-1 in its last nine games. The Blaze lost their most recent game to Eagan, 8-2. Offense hasn’t been an issue, as five players have double-digit goals paced by 13 each from Cory Chapman (13-19-32), Hunter Anderson (13-17-30) and Mason Wyman (13-17-30), but the Blaze must tighten up in their own zone. During its last nine games, Burnsville has allowed 40 goals. Goal-scoring is something South certainly can do. Led by its high-scoring duo of Justin Kloos (17-25-42) and Alex Harvey (14-11-25), the Cougars net 5.5 goals per game.
9. Robbinsdale Cooper at Robbinsdale Armstrong
The traditional rivalry between Cooper and Armstrong has largely fallen in favor of the Falcons – except for last year’s 2-0 shocker, the first Cooper victory over Armstrong in 18 years. Tom Monteiro (14-11-25) scored one of the two goals in that game and leads the Hawks in scoring this winter. See a pony tail on Cooper’s goaltender? That’s freshman Angel Hillstrom (5-6-1, 5.62, .774), the only known girl playing varsity boys’ hockey this winter. Cooper (5-9-1) enters the game on a tough 0-4-0 stretch in which its allowed 43 goals – a skid that immediately followed a four-game winning streak. Armstrong (4-9-1) is on a three-game losing skid in which it’s only scored three goals. The Falcons count heavily on senior goalie Michael Greenberg (3-9-2, 4.17, .871) as they only average 2.2 goals per game.
10. Silver Bay at Two Harbors
Another traditional rivalry between two towns 20 miles apart on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The Mariners won the first “War on the Shore” at home on Jan. 3, 5-0 behind a 26-save shutout from freshman goaltender Alex Murray (6-4-0, 2.78, .906) and two goals from Shane Billings (13-7-20). Murray is well-known in hockey circles, as he earned a spot at the National Advanced 15 camp this offseason. Silver Bay (9-6-0) also has a top sniper in sophomore Luke Small (19-10-29), whose 5-foot-5 size is reflected in his name. He has eight goals in his last four games. Senior goalie Micky Smith (1-10-2, 6.23, .858) made 48 saves in that first game for Two Harbors (1-10-2) and faces more than 45 shots per game on average. He’ll have to come up big for the Agates in the rematch.