Brody Peterson (5) has scored 41 goals to pace New Ulm's offense. Photo by Helen Nelson.
Luck of the draw? Not so much. If New Ulm didn’t have bad luck in
the annual seeding draw for the state hockey tournament, it would have no luck at all.
In each of the previous two years, the Eagles were tabbed as the quarterfinal opponent of a pair of eventual champions, Breck in 2009 and St. Thomas Academy last winter.
Both powerhouses rumbled to victories by double-digit goal differentials, sending New Ulm into the consolation bracket in humbling fashion.
No amount of lucky pennies, rabbits’ feet or four-leaf clovers could have helped the Eagles.
With a third consecutive Section 3A title in hand this season, New Ulm (17-11-0) probably expected another No. 1 seed to pull its name on seeding Saturday. Instead, the Eagles waited until fourth-seeded Thief River Falls drew them for the final quarterfinal game at 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 7 at the Xcel Energy Center.
Luck was finally on the Eagles’ side.
At least on paper.
“It’s easy to sit back and if we’d gotten Hermantown to say, "Oh boy, three years in a row with the top seed,’ ” Eagles’ coach Erik Setterholm said. “But told my guys at practice (Monday) that (seeds) one through four have all been top teams all season. There’s not a slouch in any one of them.
“If we don’t play the way we want to, it can get out of hand in a hurry.”
That’s been the story of New Ulm’s state tournament experience. In three prior appearances (1992, 2009 and 2010), the Eagles are 0-for-6. The previous two appearances have started with record-setting losses.
But that doesn’t deter Setterholm and a half dozen current Eagles who were part of both teams.
“We need to do what we’re good at and what got us to this point,” Setterholm said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, your game plan has to stay the same. The last couple of years, we’ve gotten away from that.”
Expect the Eagles to tighten play in their own zone, clearing the puck when possible and not coughing it up with bad passes. There has been a renewed emphasis on each point with the graduation of goaltender Blake Burgau, the anchor of the previous two state teams.
Setterholm said he didn’t know how his team would react to the loss of their leader between the pipes.
He rotated three goaltenders throughout the season, looking for one to grab the job. In the past two weeks, sophomore Brach Kraus (10-3-0, 2.07, .900) has done just that. He capped an excellent section tournament with 18 saves in a 2-1 victory over high-powered Luverne.
“He was pretty nervous (earlier in the season),” Setterholm said. “He’d watched a lot of our previous state games from the stands and always looked up to Blake as a mentor and role model. It was pretty big news for him to win that job.”
While Kraus is new to the state tournament experience, several other key Eagles are veterans of the X, such as defensemen Jeff Banal (14-39-53), Connor Stark (3-14-17) and Tim Kehren (4-10-14).
Up front, tourney veteran Brody Peterson (41-27-68) anchors a potent first line with Dylan Schreckenberg (19-36-55) and Judd Davis (16-23-39). Peterson is one of the state’s top goal-scorers and made an impression on teams such as Chanhassen and Rochester Lourdes, against whom he scored four goals each.
“When we went through a stretch of our season, our first line - Brody, really - was the only ones putting the puck in the net,” Setterholm confessed. “But down the stretch, we’ve gotten a lot of production out of our second and third lines. It’s easy for teams to stop one guy and one line. But when you get the second line to put the puck in the net, that’s your bread and butter.”
Of course, a little luck never hurt either.
While their draw is certainly better than the previous two years in which they got eventual champions Breck and St. Thomas Academy, Thief River Falls is no quarterfinal slouch. The Eagles again must hope for fortunate bounces and a strong goaltending effort in order to pull the upset.
Erik Setterholm has guided the Eagles to three straight state tournaments after an 18-year drought -- and also played on the Eagles’ first state team in 1992. New Ulm has the longest streak of conference titles in the state, winning the South Central every year since 2001-02. Prior to that, the Eagles claimed the Central Minnesota Conference crown from 1999-2002.
Head Coach: Erik Setterholm
Conference: South Central
Schools in Cooperative: New Ulm, Minnesota Valley Lutheran, New Ulm Cathedral, Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, Sleepy Eye, Springfield
Combined Enrollment: 946
Colors: Purple, White
Assistant Coaches: Mike Peterson, Chad Kraus
Home Ice: New Ulm Civic Center, New Ulm
State Tournament Appearances: 1992 (Tier I), 2010 (Class A), 2011 (Class A)
Section 3A playoffs