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Head of the Lake

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 01/30/12, 10:44AM CST


Minnetonka at Edina rematch highlights the Hub's Top 10 games for Jan. 30-Feb. 4

Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri (19) scores one of his 20 goals this winter. Photos by Helen Nelson.

1. Minnetonka at Edina
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It’s time for the rubber match between two of the best teams in the state – and two intense Lake Conference rivals – when No. 2AA Minnetonka (17-3-0) travels to No. 5AA Edina (16-3-0) Saturday night at Braemer Arena.

Edina claimed the last meeting between the two teams, winning 3-2 at Pagel Activity Center on Jan. 19. The Hornets’ Andy Jordahl scored the game-winner with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining. Although the Skippers outshot Edina by a wide 39-24 margin, Willie Benjamin stood tall in goal with 37 saves.

The Hornets earned redemption after being shut out by Minnetonka in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division, 6-0 on Dec. 27 – the teams’ first meeting. The Skippers’ top line of Connor Thie, Max Coatta and Gophers commit Vinni Lettieri, combined for three goals and five assists that night – but was shut out in the rematch.

Yet with Thie (11-12-23), Coatta (21-20-41) and Lettieri (20-31-51) leading the way, Minnetonka still rolls three strong lines that will prove dangerous. The line of Sam Rothstein (15-22-37), Erik Baskin (13-19-32) and Jack Ramsey (7-14-21) is a tough and aggressive group, while hard-working Phil Katopodis (4-8-12), Justin Bader (6-6-12) and Jared Ridge (5-7-12) have scored some big goals as the third line.

Defensively, the Skippers rely on a sturdy quartet of Tommy Vannelli (4-11-15), Jimmy Schuldt (2-10-12), Michael Prochno (0-14-14) and Joe Schuldt (1-5-6). Coach Brian Urick has been alternating goalies, with Paul Ciaccio (9-1-0, 1.33, .920) and Matt Behounek (8-2-0, 2.44, .902) splitting duties.

Edina's Dylan Malmquist (20) during a celly.

In Edina’s victory over Minnetonka, coach Curt Giles moved sophomore Tyler Nanne (2-8-10) up from defense to a line with his brother, junior and University of Minnesota recruit Louie Nanne (11-4-15), and Miguel Fiedler (2-7-9). The move paid off immediately as the pair connected for a goal in the contest. In three games together, the trio has scored a goal in each game – all on Nanne-to-Nanne connections.

They should give the Hornets’ a strong second scoring line to go with the Dylan Malmquist, Connor Hurley and Jordahl line that has been buzzing all season. Just a freshman, Malmquist (17-13-30) leads Edina in goals, while the sophomore Hurley (16-21-37) is tops in points. Jordahl (4-14-18), a junior captain, holds the line together and is one of the few veterans on the squad.

Benjamin (12-3-0, 2.21, .919) has taken over as the Hornets’ No. 1 goaltender, starting 14 of the last 16 games. He’s been at his best in big games, making a combined 84 saves in Edina’s recent victories over Minnetonka and Wayzata (5-2 on Jan. 28). But Benjamin also gets plenty of help from a defensive corps that is led by junior Parker Reno (1-4-5), who has returned from missing all of last season due to injury. Reno is great in his own zone and is complimented by juniors Matt Nelson (1-7-8) and Ryan Hatch (0-3-3) and freshman Jack Walker.

In direct conflict to the way the teams are ranked, Edina actually leads the Lake Conference with a perfect 3-0-0 record (the Schwan Cup game doesn’t count in the standings), while Minnetonka is third at 2-2-0.

Minnetonka has been in its first “slump” of the season – if you could call it that. The Skippers have dropped two of their last four games (3-2 to Edina on Jan. 19 and 4-2 to Eden Prairie on Jan. 28) after rising to No. 1 in the rankings.

Willie Benjamin has started 14 of the past 16 games in goal for Edina.

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2. Roseau at Warroad
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The state’s best traditional rivalry continues Tuesday night, as Warroad (10-9-1) hosts its neighbors from just down Highway 11, Roseau (10-6-1). For one of the few seasons in the recent history of the series, neither team is ranked but both remain dangerous in the Section 8 race. In the first meeting on Jan. 12, the Rams surged past the Warriors with three unanswered goals in the third period to win 5-2. Sophomore Alex Strand (22-23-45) had his first varsity hat trick and leads Roseau in scoring along with fellow sophomore Zach Yon (18-21-39). For Warroad, Tommy Astrup (16-18-34) is atop the scoring charts just ahead of sophomore Kyle Sylvester (10-18-28). Watch the great young players in this game.

3. Eden Prairie at Edina
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It’s a big week for No. 5AA Edina (16-3-0), which before it hosts No. 2AA Minnetonka on Saturday also invites No. 6AA Eden Prairie (13-4-1) to Braemer Arena. But that’s just life in the Lake Conference. Eden Prairie thrust itself back into the state championship discussion with a 4-2 upset of Minnetonka in its last game on Jan. 28. But the Hornets have the head-to-head victory this winter, beating the Eagles 4-1 back on Dec. 17 in the Edina Holiday Classic. Edina might want to keep a close eye on senior Danny Halloran (10-3-13), who has had a habit of scoring big goals for the Eagles this season, including the game-winner against Minnetonka in the final minute.

4. Eagan at Hill-Murray
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Tuesday night’s game between No. 4AA Eagan (17-2-0) and No. 10AA Hill-Murray (12-5-0) may not have any conference or section implications, but it will be a great measuring stick for two teams that are looking for more respect in the state polls. After finishing third in Class AA last year, Eagan has ripped off 17 victories in 19 games – but is 0-2-0 against teams currently ranked in the top 10. The Wildcats allow only 1.5 goals per game with a strong defense led by Sam Wolfe (1-17-18), Connor McGovern (1-16-17), Eli May (6-8-14) and Derick Kuchera (6-8-14). Hill-Murray has won eight of its last nine games after an uncharacteristically slow start knocked it out of the top 10. Junior Blake Heinrich (4-15-19) is a rugged and hard-hitting defenseman and the anchor of the Pioneers’ defense.

5. St. Thomas Academy at Totino-Grace
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Over the past few years, Mahtomedi has provided No. 2A St. Thomas Academy (12-5-0) with its stiffest tests in the Section 4A playoffs. Could this be the year No. 7A Totino-Grace (12-6-0) reemerges as the Cadets’ toughest rival for a state bid? The Eagles have largely flown under the radar, but certainly not because of the exploits of the high-scoring trio of T.J. Roo (12-30-42), Andrew McDonald (23-17-40) and Derek Lodermeier (16-5-21). Totino-Grace can certainly score, but can it stop the Cadets? St. Thomas Academy has great balance with seven players with at least seven goals and none with more than the 12 by leading scorer Alex Johnson (12-14-26) and 2011 state tournament hero Andrew Commers (12-10-22).

6. East Grand Forks at Warroad

Another week, another big seeding game for Section 8A as No. 8A East Grand Forks (12-8-0) heads northeast to Warroad (10-9-1). The two teams are battling Thief River Falls atop the section rankings – and the Green Wave have the edge over the Warriors courtesy of a 3-2 overtime victory on Dec. 16. Leading scorer Zack Lawdermilt (21-17-38) scored all three goals in that game, but does the Green Wave go as he goes? He has only has one goal in the last six games – five of them losses. The Warriors are 0-3-0 against Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks so far – although all three were overtime losses -- and need a victory. Warroad will be coming off its big rivalry game with Roseau on Tuesday night.

7. Andover at Elk River
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Neither Andover (12-5-1) nor Elk River (10-7-2) gets much of a chance to prove itself in Section 7AA as both play in the huge Northwest Suburban Conference and only have five non-conference games. That makes their biannual matchups important for setting their respective places in the section seeding. In the first meeting on Jan. 14, the Huskies’ Calvin Rak (14-12-26) sent Andover home happy with an overtime winner in the 3-2 decision. Andover has been on fire, going 5-0-1 in its last six games with perhaps the most balanced team in the state. Rak is just one of eight Huskies with between 20 and 26 points. But goaltending may decide this battle, as two of the best in the state go head-to-head in senior Anders Franke (10-7-2, 2.23, .925) of Elk River and Andover sophomore Chase Perry (11-5-1, 2.63, .918).

8. Prior Lake at Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Two teams headed in opposite directions do battle in this South Suburban Conference – and Section 2AA – tilt. Prior Lake (12-7-0) is the team on the rise, winning seven of its last nine games and suddenly making itself a factor in both the conference and section race. The Lakers have found a scoring touch in Matt Crist (18-18-36) and Kyle Krueger (20-15-35), but do they have enough depth? No other player has more than eight goals. Burnsville (11-8-1) is stumbling down the stretch with just a 5-6-1 record since the holidays. But the game before that skid was an 8-3 victory against the same Prior Lake team in which sophomore sensation Tyler Sheehy (14-22-36) ripped in three goals.

9. Rochester Lourdes at Breck
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Two of Class A’s traditional private school powers meet in a non-conference game Saturday afternoon, as No. 9A Rochester Lourdes (12-6-0) travels up I-35 to visit No. 3A Breck (14-2-0). Lourdes has lost two of its last three games and is looking for a signature victory. If the Eagles get it, it will likely come on the speedy wheels of the top line of Jason Samuelson (16-23-39), Alex Funk (21-18-39) and Landon Farrell (10-21-31). They’ll have their hands full with Breck’s depth, though. The Mustangs are one of the highest scoring teams in the state at 7.6 goals per game and have two lines that are nearly interchangeable. Conor Andrle (14-28-42) and Grant Opperman (18-24-42) lead Breck in scoring, but eight other Mustangs have double-digit points and seven have at least eight goals.

10. New Ulm at Marshall

Down in the southwest corner of the state is the best game of the week – and perhaps best game of the season – in the Section 3A race. Two-time defending section champion New Ulm (10-10-0) should be put to the test by Marshall (13-5-1) which is in the race for the No. 1 seed this winter. Brody Peterson (34-19-53) has been a load for New Ulm’s opponents and ranks among the top scorers in the state. He’s coming off a five-goal outburst in a 6-2 victory over Chaska and has five other hat-trick games. Sophomore goaltender Mason Campion (11-4-1, 2.95, .895) and the Tigers’ defense will certainly be tested. Marshall took the first meeting between the two teams, 4-3 on Dec. 8 despite two goals from Peterson. Campion made 37 saves as the Tigers were outshot 40-22. Kiley Maki (11-4-15) had two goals for Marshall and leads the team in goals.