New Prague senior Joe Morris ranks among the state leaders in save percentage. Photo by Helen Nelson
Josh Spaniol guided Rochester Lourdes to the state Class 1A tournament in each of his first two seasons as the Eagles' head coach. Photo by Helen Nelson
Can anyone knock off three-time defending Section 1A champion Rochester Lourdes (17-8-0)? The Eagles again received the No. 1 seed and will be the prohibitive favorite to reach the X for a fourth straight winter.
Rochester Lourdes coach Josh Spaniol -- now in his third season with the Eagles -- hasn't known anything but ending his season at the X. Neither has his star juniors, Jason Samuelson (23-30-53) and Alex Funk (27-24-51). Joined on Lourdes' speedy and potent first line with senior Landon Farrell (14-29-43), the trio has combined for 64 goals, more than half the team's average of 5.1 per game. With that first line leading the way, it will be tough to break Lourdes' streak, although shutting them down will be key to an upset bid.
Beyond the trio, no one on the roster has scored more than nine goals and that comes from defenseman Karl Krecke (9-11-20). Fellow blueliners Justin Dewitz (8-24-32) and Griffin Slightam (4-10-14) are the next three leading scorers on the squad. While it's nice to get that kind of impact from defensemen, it does perhaps signal a need for Lourdes' second and third lines to pick up the scoring pace.
While most of the other section contenders have a solid No. 1 goaltender, Lourdes has consistently rotated Jesse Neumann (8-5-0, 2.81, .867) and Andrew Ellingson (8-2-0, 2.57 .869). Both have good numbers, but it will be interesting to see if one gets the nod over the other.
But can anyone else in Section 1A take advantage?
Rochester Lourdes senior Landon Farrell. Photo by Adam Crane
If anyone can challenge Lourdes, it will likely start from the crease out.
No. 2 New Prague (13-11-1) certainly has the veteran goaltender who can shut down Lourdes' prolific first line. Senior Joe Morris (11-9-1, 1.95, .931) has started in goal for the past four seasons -- including two section finals -- and has continued to get better. He's an athletic and challenging goalie who has a great mental make-up. In two meetings against Lourdes this year, Morris made 41 saves as the Trojans lost both by a combined three goals.
Sophomores Colton Schmidt (13-20-33) and Luke Lijewski (9-23-32) lead New Prague in scoring, but is one of just three Trojans with double-digit goals. The Trojans are much more likely to win a 2-1 game in a rematch with Lourdes. One key to that tight defensive game is another veteran, junior Cody Meyer (8-13-21), who has been a varsity contributor since his eighth-grade season.
No. 3 Northfield (13-10-1) also counts on goaltender Isaak Tjaden (12-10-1, 2.77, .919) as its anchor between the pipes. The Raiders have a veteran sniper in Andrew Scofield (25-13-38) who teams with Taylor Freiermuth (16-16-32) for a formidable 1-2 punch.
No. 4 Red Wing (12-12-1) got great goaltending from Preston Blaney (9-10-1, 3.22, .900) in two upsets of New Prague during the year, as he combined for 63 saves on 64 shots. The Wingers are paced offensively by a trio of double-digit goal scorers in Taylor Hanson (15-18-33), Alex Rezansoff (12-14-26) and Mike Stegora (16-8-24). Jack Strusz (9-8-17) is a veteran blue liner.
Fifth-seeded Mankato West (12-12-1) relied on Zach Fox (11-11-1, 2.26, .907) in goal and a solid defense led by Billy Bigham (2-16-18). The Scarlets averaged 3.7 goals per game and no one had more than the dozen put up by Ryan Jutting (12-12-24), the son of MSU-Mankato coach Troy Jutting.
The great goaltending just keeps coming. No. 6 LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter (19-6-0) had its greatest season in school history with 6-foot-3 goalie Chris Amsden (19-6-0, 1.56, .940) leading the state in save percentage and shutouts (8). Jack Swanberg (23-24-47) can put the puck in the net, as well.
No. 7 Albert Lea (11-12-1) could be an upset special with Levi Hacker (24-19-43) and a coach who has won more games than any other in state history, Roy Nystrom. No. 8 Faribault (7-17-0) faces No. 9 La Crescent (8-15-0) in a first-round game. The Lancers play a largely Wisconsin-based schedule and are more of an unknown. No. 10 Austin (4-20-0), No. 11 Waseca (8-14-1) and No. 12 Mankato East (4-20-0) round out the seeds in this huge section.
The three-time defending section champions look primed for a four-peat, largely powered by a speedy and talented first line of Landon Farrell, Jason Samuelson and Alex Funk. No other team in the section can match the firepower of the Eagles' top unit, which combined for 64 goals -- more than five other section teams had in total.
Red Wing may have a .500 record and just the No. 4 seed in Section 1A, but it would be wise for the other top seeds not to take the Wingers lightly. Second-seeded New Prague knows first hand how tough the Wingers can be, losing twice to them during the regular season by 2-1 and 1-0 scores. Junior goalie Preston Blaney started both of those games, making 63 saves on 64 shots.
2011 – Rochester Lourdes
2010 – Rochester Lourdes
2009 – Rochester Lourdes
2008 – Mankato West
2007 – Albert Lea
2006 – Mankato East
2005 – Albert Lea
2004 – Albert Lea
2003 – Rochester Lourdes
2002 – Rochester Lourdes
2001 – Rochester Lourdes
2000 – Rochester Lourdes
1999 – Red Wing
1998 – Red Wing
1997 – Red Wing
1996 – Red Wing
1995 – Red Wing
1994 – Farmington