Justin Kloos, the state's Class 2A scoring leader, makes his final run at a state tournament berth when the Section 1AA playoffs begin. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
Lakeville North's Evan Peterson is the Panthers' top goal scorer and ranks second in points. Photo by Helen Nelson
During the regular season, the "Battle for Lakeville" is a hotly-contested series between two schools that just a few short years ago were part of a single building -- Lakeville South and Lakeville North. But it's in the postseason that the rivalry really ramps up.
The two Section 1AA powers have run headlong into each other in each of the past four section tournaments, three times in the final. South won the first meeting back in 2008, but North has come out on top in each of the past three, including upsetting the higher-seeded Cougars in the section final the past two years.
South (17-8-0) again earned the No. 1 seed this winter on the strength of an 8-1-0 closing stretch, including a 4-2 victory over North (12-13-0) on Feb. 9.
The Cougars have the most powerful offense in the section, scoring 5.6 goals per game. Mr. Hockey finalist Justin Kloos (34-47-81) is the catalyst and the highest-scoring player in Class AA. A University of Minnesota recruit, Kloos is very crafty with the puck and sees the ice well. Often overlooked, teammate Alex Harvey (28-32-60) is a true sniper who takes advantage of open space created by Kloos. Sophomore Patrick Lauderdale (16-18-34) rounds out the Cougars' top line.
Defensemen Joe Freemark (10-24-34) and Charlie Heller (1-16-17) give South a strong pair of blueliners that will support goaltender Hunter Ziniel (12-6-0, 2.58, .889). But it's offensively where South must make its mark.
Second-seeded North has traditionally relied on its defense and goaltending during its playoff runs. In the last three playoff victories over South, the Panthers have allowed just three total goals.
But this year's squad has a different look. The Panthers rotated three goalies during the regular season and allowed 4.2 goals per game. But they also scored 4.2 goals per game with their own powerful first line of Blake Winiecki (24-26-50), Evan Peterson (25-21-46) and Charlie Hayes (15-15-30).
Fans could be in for a shoot-out this time around.
Senior defenseman Alex Whited (20) captains Owatonna. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
No. 3 Rochester Century (14-6-2) has been largely overlooked in the excitement of the rematch in Lakeville, but the Panthers could put a crimp in those plans. Century claimed the Big 9 Conference title and had won six straight games until a closing loss to Roseville. Goaltender Erik Wennberg (13-5-2, 2.44, .901) has been very good, as has a balanced scoring attack with five players in double-digit goals and 10 with double-digit points. Hayden Ashworth (10-21-31) and Dominick Jacobs (11-20-31) are tied for the lead in points.
No. 4 Rochester Mayo (16-8-0) finished a close second in the Big 9 and also has scoring depth across the lineup. Adam Alcott (8-26-34) leads the Spartans in scoring, but another five teammates have more goals, led by Ryan Martin (15-7-22).
No. 5 Rochester John Marshall (13-10-2) is paced by junior Gavin Sandwick (14-23-37) and goaltender Jacob Garvey (8-6-2, 2.23, .901), while No. 6 Owatonna (14-8-3) has a strong trio of Justin Brown (17-14-31), Soren Colstrup (15-15-30) and Matt Ratzloff (16-13-29). Victor Simones (6-15-2, 3.53, .901) is capable of stealing a victory or two in goal for No. 7 Farmington (7-16-2).
For the past few years, Lakeville South has been the favorite in Section 1AA, but the high-powered Cougars' offense has run into a roadblock in Lakeville North and goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren is gone, leaving the door open for the top seed to make its long-awaited return to the X. It will be tough for 1AA foes to stop the Cougars' top line of Justin Kloos, Alex Harvey and Patrick Lauderdale.
The champions of the Big 9 Conference have certainly been overlooked, as most of the state has focused on the two Lakeville schools. But the No. 3 Century team has the capability of surprising both with balanced scoring and the strong goaltending of Erik Wennberg. At playoff time, having a top goalie gives the Panthers a definitive advantage.