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Tri-Metro two step

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 02/13/12, 7:31AM CST


Showdown between Blake and Breck highlights the Hub's week ahead, Feb. 13-18

Blake's Spencer Naas (8) leads the team with 31 goals. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

1. Breck at Blake
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

The regular season winds to a close with a smaller schedule this week – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some awfully good games out there. We get to see a handful of conference and section seeding battles in the final days of the season, including in our top game of the week, which features both with No. 3A Breck (19-3-0) at No. 10A Blake (15-8-0).

The annual battle for the Tri-Metro Conference – and the top seed in Section 2A – is up for grabs in this second meeting of the year between the two schools. Breck leads the conference with a perfect 9-0-0 record. Blake is just one game back at 8-1-0 and a victory would bring the Bears into a dead heat with the Mustangs.

Breck claimed the first meeting this winter, beating Blake 8-5 on Jan. 26 despite being outshot 45-35 by the Bears. Freshman Keegan Iverson scored twice as the Mustangs held off a late Blake rally. Trailing 7-2 midway through the third, the Bears got goals from Christopher Chute, Max Harrington and Johnny Austin to make it interesting.

Expect another high-scoring game in the rematch as both teams have plenty of offensive firepower but have had questions about play in their defensive zone.

After being swept in three games at the Schwan Cup Silver Division over the holidays – which dropped Blake to 5-5-0 overall – the Bears have gone back to their winning ways. Blake has won 10 of 13 since the turn of the calendar and has lost only twice all season to Class A teams.

The Bears score 4.7 goals and allow 3.4 goals per game on the season. Underrated sophomore sensation Spencer Naas (31-18--49) leads the team in scoring and has speed to burn. He’s complemented by Zach Doerring (11-36--47), Johnny Austin (8-25--33), Christopher Chute (14-15--29) and Max Harrington (17-12--29), who have combined to score 81 of the Bears’ 109 goals.

Austin, a free-wheeling sophomore defenseman, and Harrington are the anchors of Blake’s defensive corps. Austin is already in his third year of varsity hockey and has been an offensive threat since the moment he stepped on the ice. Harrington had been known as a defensive defenseman until breaking out for 17 goals this winter. They support veteran goaltender Devon Johnson (13-8-0, 3.34, .879) who has played all but two games this winter in goal after splitting time last season.

Longtime Blake coach John Hamre is on sabbatical this winter after nine years, so the reins were turned over to his junior varsity coach for all nine of those seasons, Jon Sturgis.

Jack Kenney (37) made 40 saves in the first Breck victory over Blake. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Speaking of high-scoring teams, Breck has the most potent offense in the state at 7.9 goals per game. The Mustangs burst out of the gates this winter, winning their first 11 games before running into Moorhead on Jan. 14. Including that 5-3 loss to the Spuds, Breck has gone 8-3-0 since then with losses to St. Thomas Academy (3-2 on Jan. 21) and a shocking loss to Totino-Grace (7-4 on Feb. 9). The Mustangs led Totino 4-1 late in the second period before allowing six straight goals – including four straight from the Eagles’ Andrew McDonald.

Don’t expect the loss to linger, though. Breck is a veteran team with an experienced coach in Les Larson, who led the Mustangs to state titles in 2009 and 2010.

Offensively, Larson can cycle three very potent lines that include Mr. Hockey finalist Grant Opperman (26-34--60), Conor Andrle (21-41--62), Thomas Lindstrom (26-28--54), Wesley Iverson (24-24--48), Matt Colford (16-30--46) and Keegan Iverson (12-22--34). Larson recently split up the six top forwards to create even more depth. It’s a crew that has both great speed and physical play.

Defensively, the Mustangs are also a veteran team with hard-hitting senior Austin Rudnick (8-15-23) and Ben Tegtmeyer (2-10-12) leading the way. Sophomores Otto Haeg and Derek Wiitala also play key roles.

Senior Jack Kenney (14-3-0, 2.80, .893) has taken over the top goaltending spot after sharing time last winter. He’s been at his best in big games, including making 40 saves in the first victory over Blake.

These two teams have represented Section 2A at state for the past four years (Breck the last three years, Blake in 2008) and appear to be the odds on favorites to do so again in 2012.

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2. Eden Prairie at Minnetonka
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth Live Webcast

Get ready for a spectacular – and well-attended – game on Thursday as No. 6AA Eden Prairie (16-5-1) tries to chase down No. 2AA Minnetonka (20-3-0) at Pagel Activity Center. The Eagles are the only team with a shot to catch the Skippers for the top seed in the Section 6AA playoffs, which have been called a mini-state tournament. Eden Prairie beat Minnetonka in their first meeting, 4-2 on Jan. 28. Senior Danny Halloran (15-20--35) broke a 2-2 tie with just 43 seconds remaining and Steven Spinner (20-10--30) added an empty netter. Sophomore goaltender Derrick LaCombe (8-5-0, 2.56, .907) also came up big with 28 saves. It was just one of three losses for Minnetonka, which responded by beating the other three Lake teams (Edina, Hopkins and Wayzata) in the last two weeks – although two went to overtime. Skippers’ seniors Sam Rothstein (19-24--43) and Erik Baskin (16-23--39) have been coming on strong.

3. Thief River Falls at East Grand Forks
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

This will be the likely deciding game in the Section 8A seeding as both No. 9A East Grand Forks (15-8-0) and No. 4A Thief River Falls (17-4-2) are unbeaten in the section – outside of the Prowlers’ 5-1 victory over the Green Wave on Jan. 24 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Leading scorer Riley Soderstrom (21-20--41) scored twice as the Prowlers outshot East Grand Forks 40-16. Veteran goaltender Jon Narverud (13-1-1, 2.00, .901) has quietly only lost one game all season. East Grand Forks also has its own silent star in senior sniper Zack Lawdermilt (24-24--48). It’s a family affair on the East Side, as well, as Kolton Aubol (18-11-29), Tommy Hajicek (8-19-28) and Tyler Hajicek (15-12-27) add scoring depth for the Green Wave while Hunter Aubol (13-6-1, 2.31, .907) anchors the team in goal.

4. Moorhead at Brainerd

No. 8AA Moorhead (17-5-0) is locked into the top seed in Section 8AA, or is it? Probably yes, but Brainerd (20-3-0) can put a scare into the Spuds in this rematch game. Moorhead claimed the first meeting 4-1 back on Jan. 10 as Brimsek Award finalist Michael Bitzer (17-5-0, 2.02, .925) made 34 saves on 35 shots. But Brainerd outshot Moorhead 35-20 in that game and has won nine straight since, including routing Roseau 7-2 last Saturday. There aren’t many trios more dangerous than Mitch McLain (34-28--62), Matt Pohlkamp (22-36--58) and Aaron Rich (25-31--56), who have played on a line together at times and who also have been split up to balance coach Jim Archibald’s lines. Moorhead has only scored six goals in its last three games, two of which were losses to Grand Rapids and Blaine.

5. Edina at Eden Prairie
OTSN.tv Live Webcast

Is No. 5AA Edina (19-4-0) in control in the Lake? Can No. 6AA Eden Prairie (16-5-1) catch the Hornets? Those questions will all be answered during a hectic final week of play in the tough Lake Conference. Edina has a half-game lead over Minnetonka and a full-game lead over Eden Prairie courtesy of a 4-0 victory on Feb. 2 in which goaltender Willie Benjamin (13-4-0, 2.25, .917) made 25 saves and the dynamic duo of sophomore Connor Hurley (20-24--44) and freshman Dylan Malmquist (22-17--39) combined for all four goals. The Hornets also beat the Eagles 4-1 back on Dec. 17 in the Edina Holiday Classic – a game that did not count in the Lake standings. Eden Prairie has its own rising star in sophomore Steven Spinner (20-10--30), who leads the Eagles in goals.

6. Blaine at Centennial
MyFoxHockey Live Webcast

Blaine (15-8-0) against Centennial (10-9-3) is a traditional rivalry between two Northwest Suburban Conference squads and also important for the Section 5AA seeding – even if the Aus family connection is no longer in place. Blaine coach Dave Aus and his team have rallied in recent weeks, winning four of its last five games. The Bengals also have a 6-4 victory over the Cougars back on Jan. 14 to lean on as junior defenseman Michael Brodzinski (12-19--31) scored twice. Blaine is the six-time defending Section 5AA champion, but will be seeded no better than No. 2 behind Maple Grove . Centennial, which said goodbye to longtime coach Erik Aus (Dave's cousin) this past offseason, is just 1-2-2 in its last five games. Hans Gorowsky (15-13--28) leads the Cougars in goals, while Adam Lovick (12-24--36) is the team’s leading scorer.

7. Burnsville at Eagan
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
FoxSportsNorth Live Webcast

No. 3AA Eagan (20-2-1) has wrapped up the South Suburban Conference title and the top seed in Section 3AA, but Burnsville (14-8-1) would like nothing better than a victory to get some momentum for the Section 2AA playoffs. The Blaze have allowed only three goals in winning three straight after a tumultuous January. Cory Chapman (20-27--47) leads a balanced offense that has five players with 14 or more goals, while sophomore Teemu Kivihalme (8-21--29) has developed into a premier two-way defenseman. Eagan rocked Burnsville 8-2 in the first meeting on Jan. 14 as Zach Glienke (20-14--34) had a hat trick. The Wildcats stumbled in their last game, allowing five third-period goals in a 6-6 tie at Bloomington Jefferson. Senior forwards Will Merchant (22-20--42) and Michael Zajac (19-23--42) were both recently named Mr. Hockey finalists.

8. Little Falls at Hermantown
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

This spotlight game features two teams that are favored to get to the state tournament – and a game that could be a preview of a potential state quarterfinal game. They’re also two of the best defensive teams in Class A, at least statistically speaking. No. 1A Hermantown (23-0-0) is allowing only 1.6 goals per game and is within reach of an undefeated regular season. The Hawks’ defensive corps of Brian LeBlanc (14-15--29), Jared Kolquist (8-20--28), Jake Zeleznikar (7-13--20) and Owen Stauber (1-9--10) is as strong as any in the state – and can certainly add offense. Senior Jared Thomas (23-42--65) is a Mr. Hockey finalist. Little Falls (16-8-0) has lost two straight since a 13-game winning streak in which it allowed just 12 goals. The Flyers don’t have the star power of Hermantown but play a solid team defense in front of goaltender Michael Stumpf (16-8-0, 2.19, .908).

9. Rochester Mayo at Rochester Century

Two of Rochester’s public schools play for all the marbles in the Big 9 Conference as Rochester Mayo (15-8-0) takes on Rochester Century (16-5-2) Tuesday night. Century has a one-point lead in the conference standings over Mayo although the Spartans claimed the first meeting back on Jan. 14, 3-1, behind 27 saves from goaltender Case Hanson (8-7-0, 3.04, .901). Ryan Martin (13-7-20) leads Mayo in goals while Adam Alcott (8-25-33) is the Spartans’ scoring leader. Since the loss to Mayo, Century has been on a roll, going 5-0-1 with four of those victories by shutout. Senior goalie Erik Wennberg (13-4-2, 2.30, .902) had three of those shutouts, although he only had to face a total of 19 shots in those three games (8-0 over Faribault, 4-0 over Winona and 9-0 over Mankato East).

10. St. Cloud Cathedral at Rogers
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Can anyone stop unbeaten and top-ranked Hermantown from getting back to state out of Section 5A? If so, it will likely be one of these two teams, who figure to get the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, perhaps depending on the result of this game. No. 7A St. Cloud Cathedral (18-4-0) has won eight straight since losing to Hermantown on Jan. 13, outscoring its opponents 64-10. The Crusaders are scoring 6.3 goals per game, led by senior Danny Johnston (26-24--50) and suddenly hot Mitchell Fritz (17-13--30), who has 14 goals in his past five games. Rogers (16-6-1) is unranked but is 10-1-1 since Jan. 3, allowing more than three goals just once in that span. The goaltending tandem of Keaton Mumm (7-2-1, 2.31, .915) and Robby Vukelich (9-4-0, 2.52, .901) is a veteran tag team. Both teams lost to Hermantown in head-to-head meetings by the same 2-1 score.