Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland led the Prowlers to the third-place trophy in Class A last winter. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
Logen Berg (14) and Warroad have played in numerous Section 8A finals. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
The stars are aligned for top-seeded Thief River Falls to repeat as Section 8A champions. They're just not wearing the black, gold and blue of the Prowlers.
All right, it may be an overstatement to say Thief River Falls (18-4-2) is a team devoid of star players. The Prowlers do boast of high-scoring and crafty Riley Soderstrom (21-21-42), rugged wings Evan Ose (13-18-31) and Austin Odberg (14-14-28), talented defenseman Chris Forney (5-14-19) and a veteran goaltender who should be familiar to hockey fans at the X, Jon Narverud (14-1-1, 1.94, .904).
But none are real household names around the state.
After losing 10 seniors -- some with star power -- off of last year's third-place Class 1A team, Thief River Falls was expected to take a step back as the roster was rebuilt. Instead, the Prowlers have shot off like a rocket.
"Let's hope we keep surprising people," said Prowlers' coach Tim Bergland after his team beat East Grand Forks on Valentine's night to sweep its regular season slate of Section 8A games.
"You give some other kids the opportunity to play," said Bergland of this year's team. "As long as they have the skill set, good things can happen."
Watching the Prowlers play, it's obvious a few things have allowed them to continue their winning ways.
The team plays hard. All the time. Thief River Falls also has depth across all three lines, a steady defensive corps and a goaltender who has been there, done that. It will be tough to beat the Prowlers -- as the rest of Section 8A can attest to -- but not impossible.
And of that Bergland is keeping his team wary.
"It's high school hockey. It's one and done," Bergland said. "We have to be ready to go."
Zack Lawdermilt (8) is one of the top scorers in the section. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
The Warriors, who have won seven of the last nine section titles, have twice taken the Prowlers into overtime but came up short each time. Warroad plays a dump and chase, hard-hitting game under first-year coach Steve Haataja that matches up well with Thief River Falls. Senior Tommy Astrup (24-24-48) has been on fire lately with 11 goals in his last six games and sophomore Kyle Sylvester (13-24-37) is a rising star. Hayden Timm (6-11-17) is the latest in a long line of steady Warroad defensemen.
East Grand Forks hasn't had as much luck against the Prowlers, losing both games while only scoring two total goals. The Green Wave need to get their terrific top line of Zack Lawdermilt (24-25-49), Kolton Aubol (18-11-29) and Tommy Hajicek (10-19-29) on track against Thief River Falls in order to challenge. Lawdermilt might be the most offensively gifted player in the section with outstanding, game-changing speed. Hunter Aubol (13-8-1, 2.47, .901) is a steady veteran in goal.
No. 4 Crookston (8-16-1) and No. 5 Park Rapids Area (13-12-0) will square off in the quarterfinals -- the third game between the two programs this year. Six-foot-5 Crookston freshman Paul Bittner (15-6-21), the son of coach Jon Bittner, has taken off lately with four goals in his last two games and leads the Pirates in goals. Kollin Erdman (8-16-1, 4.18, .882) is a veteran goaltender who can win games. Park Rapids Area features a 200-plus career point scorer in Sam Coborn (23-31-54), who seems to always find open space in which to do damage.
No. 6 Detroit Lakes (10-15-0) has gotten plenty of attention lately with YouTube sensation Alex Mason (14-24-38), who is more than a one-hit wonder -- and we do mean "hit." No. 7 Red Lake Falls (10-15-0) is anchored by the "Z" boys, defenseman Garrett Schmitz (23-16-39) and forward Dylan Zutz (12-25-37). No. 8 Lake of the Woods (6-17-0) has had an adjustment period after losing its coach and All-State goaltender. Doug Potts (6-13-0, 4.76, .886) has taken on the thankless job of replacing Alex Lyon in goal. No. 9 Kittson Central (9-15-0) is a young team on the rise, while No. 10 Bagley/Fosston (8-15-0) has had a good season from leading scorer Aaron Leintz (21-17-38).
|Thief River Falls||18-4-2|
The Prowlers came into the season as a bit of an unknown, largely because of the graduation of 10 seniors who helped lead the program to the third-place trophy in Class A last winter. Sure, everyone knew they'd still be good ... but how good? The answer is very good. Thief River Falls swept its Section 8A schedule, has a deep and talented roster, a veteran goaltender (Jon Narverud) and is the heavy favorite to repeat.
Winning seven of the last nine Section 8A titles makes it somewhat unfair to name Warroad as the bracket buster. But the Warriors were swept in four games by the teams above them in the seeding (No. 1 Thief River Falls and No. 2 East Grand Forks). The games were all close, though, including a pair of overtime losses to the top-seeded Prowlers. A bounce here or there could lead Warroad back to the promised land.
2011 - Thief River Falls
2010 – Warroad
2009 – Warroad
2008 – Warroad
2007 – Warroad
2006 – Thief River Falls
2005 – Warroad
2004 – Warroad
2003 – Warroad
2002 – East Grand Forks
2001 – East Grand Forks
2000 – Warroad
1999 – East Grand Forks
1998 – East Grand Forks
1997 – Warroad
1996 – Warroad
1995 – Warroad
1994 – Warroad