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Northeastern grudge match

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 02/06/12, 9:27AM CST


Section 7AA rivalry highlights the Hub's Top 10 games for Feb. 6-11

Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Duluth East's Trevor Olson (12) has returned to the lineup after an injury kept him out for the past few weeks. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

1. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton at Duluth East
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What’s the cliché? Throw out the records when these teams get together?

Yes, it is cliché, but for a phrase to gain that status, there has to be at least some truth behind it. And there certainly is when you mention the rivalry between No. 1AA Duluth East (20-1-0) and Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (16-7-0) – two neighbors separated by a few miles of I-35 off the very tip of Lake Superior.

East is heavily favored in the Monday, Feb. 6, game, particularly after beating the Lumberjacks 7-0 in the first meeting back on Dec. 15 behind a hat trick from senior Jake Randolph and a 14-save shutout from junior goalie Dylan Parker.

But the ‘Jacks have always played the Greyhounds tough. Just mention the name David Brown to Duluth East fans.

It will be tough for the Lumberjacks to pull off the same magic tonight, however. After suffering through several key injuries and absences, Duluth East coach Mike Randolph can finally field a full roster.

University of Nebraska-Omaha commit Jake Randolph (30-27-57) and University of Minnesota-Duluth bound Dom Toninato (23-29-52) anchor the ‘Hounds top line along with junior Ryan Lundgren (13-30-43). They’re arguably the top line in the state and have been gaining familiarity with each other since Lundgren was shifted up after Trevor Olson’s injury kept him out much of the season.

But Olson (3-7-10) is now back from his knee injury and gives the second line of Conner Valesano (8-17-25) and Alex Toscano (13-10-23) a sniper with a heavy shot. The ‘Hounds’ third line of Jack Forbort (7-9-16), Steven Holappa (4-6-10) and Hogan Davidson (4-4-8) is also dangerous, scoring nearly a goal a game.

Defensively, East now returns two regulars who missed portions of the season in Nate Repensky (2-11-13) and Beau Hughes. Their return bolsters a corps of blue liners that played well in their absence, led by junior Meirs Moore (6-28-34), sophomore Phil Beaulieu (3-15-18), Nate Kotter and Andrew Kerr.

Parker (11-0-0, 1.27, .930) also returned after a two-week absence to resume his outstanding play in goal. Still unbeaten in his varsity career, Parker has split time with senior Paige Skoog (9-1-0, 2.57, .887).

Karson Kuhlman (20) congratulates linemate Westin Michaud after a goal against Andover in the Heritage Holiday Classic. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

While East has great balance among its lines, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton has relied heavily on its underclass top line of sophomores Karson Kuhlman (24-26-50) and Beau Michaud (18-27-45) and freshman Westin Michaud (19-28-47). The trio – along with second-line gunner Adam Hanson (15-13-28) – has scored 76 of the Lumberjacks' 116 goals this season.

As young players, they’re still gaining strength and size, but their speed makes them dangerous anytime they’re on the ice. But it will be up to the rest of the Lumberjacks to make sure coach Dave Esse isn’t forced to overplay his top line and tire them out.

Cloquet defensemen Drew Dincau (2-16-18), Justin Hammann (3-13-16) and Tanner Robideaux (3-8-11) will be tested by East’s forwards, as will goaltender John Scheuer (14-7-0, 2.54, .905), a veteran of many of these rivalry games. He faced 51 shots in the teams’ first meeting and could see a similar amount of rubber tonight.

The scheduled 8 p.m. Cloquet/East game is the nightcap to a terrific doubleheader at Duluth’s Amsoil Arena, as Duluth Denfeld (9-10-2) also hosts No. 1A Hermantown (21-0-0) at 6 p.m. The Hawks defeated Denfeld 5-2 back on Dec. 22 en route to the Lake Superior Conference championship. Hermantown now has its sights set on an even bigger prize – the state Class A title.

In one night, hockey fans can see both No. 1 teams in the state.

Oh, and for those who don’t know the David Brown story – the Lumberjacks’ defenseman scored four goals as fourth-seeded Cloquet beat top-seeded Duluth East 6-5 in the 2008 Section 7AA semifinals. Brown, who is now at Providence College, tied the game with 2-1/2 minutes to go and then won it with 12 seconds on the clock.

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2. Benilde-St. Margaret's at Wayzata
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It’s a huge week in the Section 6AA seeding race for No. 9AA Wayzata (13-6-1), which makes an appearance in the Top 10 games of the week an amazing three times. This is the first test for the Trojans, a Monday night home game against No. 8AA Benilde-St. Margaret’s (15-5-0). It’s the only meeting of the year between the two section rivals and a matchup of the Red Knights’ potent offense versus the Trojans’ stout defense. Grant Besse (33-30-63), T.J. Moore (24-27-51) and crew score 7.7 goals per game for Benilde – the highest mark in the state. Wayzata only allows 2.1 goals per game with senior goaltender Alec Almquist (12-4-1, 2.01, .902) leading the way.

3. Lakeville South at Lakeville North
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The “Battle for Lakeville” gets an added boost as the winner of this game likely gets the No. 1 seed in the Section 1AA playoffs. Lakeville North (10-11-0) is the two-time defending section champion and beat Lakeville South (13-7-0) 4-3 in the first meeting on Jan. 7 when Blake Winiecki (21-23-44) scored with just 13 seconds remaining. Winiecki shares the Panthers’ goal-scoring lead with Evan Peterson (21-19-40). South has been the more highly-regarded team the past few years, but North has been its nemesis. If the Panthers can slow down the top line of Justin Kloos (29-38-67), Alex Harvey (19-25-44) and Patrick Lauderdale (13-14-27), they can continue to puzzle their neighbors to the south.

4. Wayzata at Eden Prairie
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Appearance No. 2 for No. 9AA Wayzata (13-6-1) in the Top 10 games of the week comes in a Thursday night tilt at No. 6AA Eden Prairie (14-5-1) – another Section 6AA rivalry game. Wayzata shocked the Eagles back on Jan. 21 with a 4-0 victory, getting goals from leading scorer Sam Majka (13-17-30), Alex Sorensen, Kenzie Vold (14-10-24) and Kage Tiller (7-13-20) and a 17-save shutout from Alec Almquist. While Eden Prairie isn’t the offensive juggernaut of past years, the shutout still burns the Eagles and coach Lee Smith. Sophomore Steven Spinner (18-10-28) and junior Andrew Knutsen (14-17-31) must come up big for the Eagles in the rematch. They’re the only double-digit goal scorers along with senior Danny Halloran (10-4-14).

5. Minnetonka at Wayzata
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And No. 9AA Wayzata (13-6-1) makes it three games in the top five with Saturday afternoon’s home game against No. 2AA Minnetonka (18-3-0). The two teams met just under two weeks ago with the Skippers taking a 5-1 victory on Jan. 26. The Trojans actually led 1-0 into the second period, but Minnetonka surged past with five straight goals, including a pair from Sam Rothstein (18-23-41) – who has been scorching hot with eight goals in his last five games. Rothstein and linemate Erik Baskin (14-22-36) have helped carry the Skippers. If Wayzata can pull off three victories this week, it could lift the Trojans into the discussion for a No. 1 seed in Section 6AA -- or with three losses, drop them into the No. 4 seed.

6. Mahtomedi at St. Thomas Academy

The history between these two programs doesn’t necessarily have the quantity of some, but it certainly has the quality. Mahtomedi (13-9-0) bucked No. 2A St. Thomas Academy (15-5-0) twice in the last three years in the Section 4A playoffs, knocking off the heavily-favored Cadets en route to two straight state tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010. The Cadets got back on their horse last year, though, winning the program’s third state title in six years. Pete Krieger (10-22-32) scored two goals as St. Thomas Academy won 5-3 in the first meeting this year on Jan. 7. Krieger shares the scoring lead with defenseman Eric Schurhamer (10-22-32) just ahead of Alex Johnson (14-17-31) and freshman Tom Novak (13-16-29). Mahtomedi must get big production from its top line of Tanner Jordan (23-28-51), Johno May (21-16-37) and Patrick Kegley (11-21-32) – veterans who played in the Zephyrs’ last state tournament as sophomores.

7. Moorhead at Bemidji
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At the beginning of the season, this late season tilt between No. 7 Moorhead (16-4-0) and Bemidji (13-9-0) was expected to be for a No. 1 seed in the Section 8AA playoffs. But with the Spuds’ great start and the Lumberjacks’ up-and-down season, it appears as if Moorhead has all but wrapped it up. But a top seed doesn’t guarantee a state tournament berth. Back on Dec. 8, Moorhead needed an overtime goal from sophomore Aaron Herdt (8-8-16) to beat the Lumberjacks, 2-1. Bemidji comes into the game off a tough 3-2 loss to Roseau and scores just 3.6 goals per game – but it is balanced with four players scoring between 11 and 13 goals, led by John Forseth (13-16-29). It could be tough to solve the Spuds’ defense and goalie Michael Bitzer (16-4-0, 1.93, .928), who ranks in the state’s top 10 in victories, goals against and save percentage and is the favorite for the Brimsek Award.

8. White Bear Lake at Stillwater
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The top two teams in the Suburban East Conference go head-to-head as White Bear Lake (11-9-1) visits Stillwater (11-7-2). The Bears have a one-point edge on the Ponies for the conference lead and also have a leg up in the Section 4AA seeding courtesy of a 4-1 victory on Jan. 12. Bears’ goaltender Anthony Zappa (3-2-0, 1.88, .910) only had to make 11 saves as his team controlled play in the game. Zappa and state tournament veteran Jared Schletty (8-7-1, 2.71, .870) share goaltending duties for White Bear Lake. Stillwater has a strong lead horse in goal in Blake Cates (10-5-1, 2.24, .915) and he’s needed as the Ponies score only 2.8 goals per game and have one player with more than seven goals, Jeff Flicker (8-6-14). Mitch Morrisette (17-20-37) leads the Bears in scoring ahead of sophomore sensation Jake Wahlin (10-20-30).

9. Hill-Murray at Lakeville South

Both Hill-Murray (14-6-0) and Lakeville South (13-7-0) have been flirting with the Class AA Top 10 rankings much of the year, dipping in and out of consideration. The Pioneers responded to a loss to Eagan by scoring 27 goals in two Classic Suburban routs last week as Jake Guentzel (16-34-50), Zach LaValle (18-23-41) and Charlie Sampair (24-15-39) went wild with 13 goals and 28 points in the two games. Hill-Murray won’t score quite like that against South, but it could still be a high-scoring affair. The Pioneers average 6.1 goals per game while the Cougars score 5.8 goals per game and feature likely Mr. Hockey finalist Justin Kloos (29-38-67), who just surpassed 200 career points.

10. Andover at Blaine
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The two Northwest Suburban Conference teams chasing Maple Grove do battle as Andover (15-5-1) visits Blaine (12-8-0) Saturday night at Fogerty Arena. Blaine has played in the last six state tournaments as the representative from Section 5AA, but the Bengals seem to be headed in the wrong direction as the playoffs loom. Blaine has dropped five of its last eight games – a streak that began immediately following a wild 7-6 victory over Andover on Jan. 5. The two teams combined for nine third-period goals and featured hat tricks by Blaine’s Tyler Cline (10-13-23) and the Huskies’ Calvin Rak (19-16-35). Since that game, Andover is 8-0-1 (with the tie coming against Maple Grove) and appears ready to grab the No. 2 seed in the Section 7AA playoffs.