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Good as Gold

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 12/25/12, 11:00PM CST


Schwan Cup Gold quarterfinal matches up two No. 1s in the Hub's top games of the week

Edina's Connor Hurley (16) is widely considered the top NHL prospect in the state. Photo by Brian Nelson

1. Edina vs. St. Thomas Academy
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game (Schwan Cup Gold)

It's been said that this year's edition of the Schwan Cup Gold division tournament could be the best field in the history of the event. One look at where each of the eight programs is currently ranked and it would be tough to argue.

The supercharged eight-team field includes the top-ranked teams in both Class 2A (Edina) and Class 1A (St. Thomas Academy), the No. 2 (Minnetonka), No. 3 (Hill-Murray), No. 4 (Wayzata), No. 5 (Blaine) and No. 9 (Duluth East) programs in Class 2A and the No. 5 (Breck) in Class 1A. The octet has also combined to win the last five Class 1A state titles and two of the past five in Class 2A.

The quarterfinal match-ups beginning Wednesday, Dec. 26 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis read like a "Who's Who" of Minnesota high school hockey. Minnetonka faces Hill-Murray at noon, unbeaten Blaine squares off against Burnsville at 2:30 p.m. and Breck takes on Duluth East at 5:30 p.m. But the biggest of them all is in the nightcap where top-ranked Edina drops the puck against the best Class 1A has to offer, St. Thomas Academy.

Dylan Malmquist (20) is second on the Hornets in scoring with seven goals and 16 points. Photo by Katherine Matthews

Edina (9-0-0) has rolled through all comers through a difficult -- and busy -- early schedule of games. The Hornets have already won two tournaments this winter and are looking for a third title. They're coming off a sweep of their home Edina Holiday Classic last weekend, beating Grand Rapids 6-2, Elk River 4-1 and Eden Prairie 4-3. On Thanksgiving weekend, Edina won the annual Turkey Trot in Plymouth over Holy Family Catholic and Wayzata.

Coach Curt Giles hasn't taken it easy on his team.

But that was to be expected entering a season in which Edina has such high hopes. The Hornets returned a veteran group from last year's state tournament team, losing a pair of seniors and two players to early departures.  In fact, many of Giles' biggest concerns must have been how he was going to fit all the pieces together.

So far so good. All-State forwards Connor Hurley (10-11-21) and Dylan Malmquist (7-9-16) have blended perfectly on the top line with junior Tyler Nanne (5-7-12), who played defense much of last winter but has proven to be a Godsend up front. Hurley is considered the best NHL prospect in the state by many, a true playmaker with great vision and an accurate shot. Malmquist is a sniper with a quick release and Nanne has great hockey sense.

It doesn't seem fair that the Hornets' second line includes players such as All-State senior forward Andy Jordahl (7-4-11) and senior Bo Brauer (2-7-9), an Upper Midwest Elite stud the past two seasons.

It doesn't get any easier for opponents on the blue line, where Division I college prospects Matt Nelson (2-6-8) and Parker Reno (1-10-11) roam. Nelson has committed to Princeton, while Reno is slated to attend RPI. And with that pairing in front of big-game senior goaltender Willie Benjamin (7-0-0, 1.43, .929), the Hornets have proven to be nearly impenetrable so far.

With a record 10 state championships (counting the Edina East and West years together) and 34 state appearances, history of success is thick at Edina. The "New York Yankees" of Minnesota high school hockey are expected to win -- and hated by many when they do.

Sound familiar?

St. Thomas Academy sophomore Tom Novak (15) leads the Cadets in assists with eight and is tied with Christiano Versich in points with 13. Photo by Katherine Matthews.

It should to St. Thomas Academy fans, the Class 1A equivalent of Edina -- at least in terms of the derision of opposing fans. The Cadets have it a bit tougher, though, as they've taken heat for playing at the "small school" level and winning four of the last seven state championships, including the last two in a row.

Calls for the Cadets to move up with the "big boys" have followed them through those state titles. After this season, that's what St. Thomas Academy will do. Earlier this month, the school administration announced this would be the Cadets last season in Class 1A.

St. Thomas Academy (6-1-0) has celebrated by knocking off arguably its biggest rival, Hill-Murray, in a 2-1 thriller on Dec. 15 and stamping itself as the overwhelming favorite for a three-peat at the X in March. No team in Class 1A -- and few in Class 2A -- can match the depth and talent of the Cadets.

It starts in goal, where two-time state champion netminder David Zevnik (6-1-0, 1.05, .948) anchors the team. He's a perfect 12-0-0 in the playoffs the past two years and will be very tough to beat for any opponent. His defensive corps that includes seniors Tony Bretzman (1-7-8) and Wyatt Schmidt and juniors Jack Dougherty (1-7-8) and Zach Weier and sophomore Seamus Donahue doesn't give foes much room to operate in the Cadets' defensive zone, either.

Offensively, St. Thomas Academy is just as loaded with last year's first-year freshman sensation Tom Novak (5-8-13) being joined atop the scoring charts by this year's first-year sophomore sensation Christiano Versich (7-6-13). Both have great hockey IQ and are crafty -- if undersized -- players. Gunnar Regan (5-2-7), tough Matt Perry (3-3-6), explosive Henry Hart (3-3-6), playmaker Alex Johnson (2-3-5) and Cretin-Derham Hall transfer Jack Stang (0-5-5) are capable of big offensive efforts on any given night.

Not only are these two teams the top-ranked in their respective classes, they may also be the deepest and most talented. There appear to be no obvious weaknesses on either squad.

This could be an instant classic and a great way to cap the Schwan Cup Gold division quarterfinals.

St. Thomas Academy defenseman Jack Dougherty has been a key member of a stingy blue line crew. Photo by Katherine Matthews.

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2. Hill-Murray at Minnetonka
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game (Schwan Cup Gold)

Another Schwan Cup Gold division quarterfinal matchup finds its way into our Top 10 games of the week -- and it won't be the only other one in a terrific field of teams in this year's tournament. Since losing to St. Thomas Academy on Dec. 15 for its only loss of the season, Hill-Murray (8-1-0) is rolling, winning its last three games by a combined 18-1 score. Preventing goals is something the Pioneers have done better than any team in the state, as they have given up only eight on the season. Goalie John Dugas (8-1-0, 0.88, .957) has out-of-this-world numbers. Minnetonka (7-1-1) has also been a stout defensive team but at 2.00 goals per game, those numbers seem almost pedestrian in comparison. The Skippers are on a two-game winless streak (losing to Stillwater and tying Moorhead) before the holidays.

3. Blaine vs. Burnsville
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game (Schwan Cup Gold)

I think a theme has been set this week, as the third Schwan Cup Gold division quarterfinal occupies our No. 3 slot in the Top 10 games of the week. Unbeaten Blaine (6-0-1) already has one resume-building victory on its schedule so far (beating Benilde-St. Margaret's, 6-5 on Dec. 15) and a good showing in the Gold division would certainly add to that. Brandon Notermann (7-7-14) and Tyler Cline (8-5-13) have combined for 15 of the team's 34 goals so far. Burnsville (5-3-0) has a victory over Eden Prairie as its best effort, but has lost to the other three Top-10 teams on the early schedule. Cole Borchardt (6-16-22) has been a great addition and leads the Blaze in scoring.

4. Breck vs. Duluth East
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game (Schwan Cup Gold)

Two perennial powers who are still searching for their spot among the state's elite this winter round out the quarterfinal round of the Schwan Cup Gold division -- and the top four of our games of the week. Breck (4-1-0) has played some tight games, as four of the five have been decided by two or fewer goals. The Mustangs lost plenty of talent from last year's powerful squad, but veteran Matt Colford (6-7-13) leads the offense and new goalie Henry Johnson (4-1-0, 2.73, .912) has been as good as promised. Duluth East (4-2-0) has been outshooting its opponents but hasn't always been able to bury the biscuit, resulting in a pair of early-season losses. In fact, the Greyhounds have nearly doubled their opponents' shots (211-117). In an odd stat, goalie Dylan Parker (2-2-0, 2.00, .877) already has suffered twice as many losses (two) as all of last winter.

5. Holy Angels vs. Centennial
(Schwan Cup Silver)

There are plenty of other top tournament quarterfinal games over the holiday break, so we'll try to spread the wealth throughout the rest of our Top 10. The most intriguing matchup in the Schwan Cup Silver quarterfinals looks to be Holy Angels against surging Centennial. The Stars (1-2-1) have hit a rough patch with losses to Eden Prairie and Benilde-St. Margaret's and a tie against Chaska in the last three games, but they have had plenty of success in the Silver bracket recently. On the other hand, Centennial (6-2-0) is rolling with four straight victories. Goaltender Patrick Munson (5-2-0, 2.00, .949) may be one of the best unheralded netminders in the state. Other quarterfinal games pit Prior Lake against Apple Valley, Stillwater against Andover and Lakeville South against Roseville.

6. Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Lakeville North
(Sports Authority Holiday Classic)

Which Benilde-St. Margaret's team will show up for the quarterfinal round of the Sports Authority Holiday Hockey Classic in St. Louis Park? For that matter, which Lakeville North team will? It will be interesting to see what we get in this game. The Red Knights (6-2-0) were everyone's preseason favorite but have had ups and downs. Right now, it's looking up as BSM has outscored its last three opponents by a combined 19-2. Blake transfer Spencer Naas (14-7-21) and Grant Besse (14-6-20) are as good a 1-2 goal-scoring punch as any in the state. North (4-4-0) is the likely favorite out of Section 1AA, but has stumbled with three straight losses, including a 5-1 beatdown by rival Lakeville South in the last game. The Panthers have already started three goaltenders (Ryan Bissonett, Pierce Wilson and Will Dupont). Other quarterfinal games include Bloomington Jefferson vs. Wayzata, Eden Prairie vs. Moorhead and Elk River vs. Maple Grove.

7. Hopkins vs. Roseau
(Roseau Holiday Classic)

It isn't going to be an easy path for Roseau to win its own holiday tournament -- or even get out of the first round. The Rams face arguably the second-best team in the field in the quarterfinals in Hopkins. Don't sleep on the Royals (8-3-0), who have been off to a terrific start. Hopkins has won four straight since narrow one-goal losses to Bloomington Jefferson and Hermantown, games that could have gone either way. Sam Dalton (5-1-0, 1.50, .944) and Josh Kuehmichel (3-2-0, 1.99, .929) have been outstanding in goal. Josh Laven (5-12-17) is leading the team in scoring in his inaugural varsity campaign. Roseau (3-3-1) has gone the opposite direction with three losses in four games. But the Rams are explosive offensively, especially Zach Yon (7-6-13) and Alex Strand (5-8-13). Other quarterfinal games pit Chisago Lakes against Lake of the Woods, Coon Rapids against Minot (ND) and Mandan (ND) against Alexandria.

8. Elk River vs. Maple Grove
(Sports Authority Holiday Classic)

The Sports Authority Holiday Hockey Classic boasts arguably the second-best field among holiday tournaments and this game is a good example why. By all indications, it will be a low-scoring slugfest. Elk River (5-4-0) stumbled at the Edina Holiday Classic last week but has played tough under first-year coach Gordie Roberts -- as was expected of the Elks. Elk River will need to pick up its scoring, as its averaging just 2.78 goals per game. Jake Jaremko (6-5-11), Chase Springman (5-5-10) and Tim Sanford (6-3-9) have combined for 17 of the team's 25 goals. Maple Grove (3-6-0) was expected to be rebuilding this winter and its record may show that, but the Crimson have also been a tough out despite scoring only 2.33 goals per game.  Other quarterfinal games include Bloomington Jefferson against Wayzata, Eden Prairie against Moorhead and Benilde-St. Margaret's against Lakeville North.

9. Andover vs. Stillwater
(Schwan Cup Silver)

Another intriguing Schwan Cup Silver divison quarterfinal is Andover versus Stillwater, two programs looking for a statement victory to propel it into the new year. Andover (4-4-0) was a Section 7AA finalist last year and returned a veteran lineup but has struggled out of the gate this winter. The Huskies have won three of four but aren't burying the puck at the rate expected. Junior goalie Chase Perry (4-4-0, 2.88, .903) can carry the team, though. Stillwater (3-3-1) has also struggled to score goals but shocked observers with a 1-0 triumph over Minnetonka last Thursday. Defenseman Jake Cass (2-4-6) leads the Ponies in scoring. Other quarterfinal games pit Prior Lake against Apple Valley, Holy Angels against Centennial and Lakeville South against Roseville.

10. Bloomington Jefferson vs. Wayzata
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game (Sports Authority Holiday Classic)

When the year began, not many hockey fans expected either of these programs to be knocking on the door of a state tournament berth. Not that both couldn't be quality teams, but they were both buried in tough sections: Bloomington Jefferson (6-1-0) in Section 2AA and Wayzata (7-1-0) in Section 6AA. Now it looks as if both sections are even deeper. Jefferson has essentially reversed its pre-Christmas record from last year behind goaltender Grant Martens (5-1-0, 2.82, .905). The Jaguars didn't win their first game last winter until January. Wayzata has won a ton of low-scoring, tight games but other teams may catch on. Matthew Freytag (8-4-12) has been terrific in his first varsity season but is the only Trojans' player with more than two goals. Other quarterfinal games include Maple Grove against Elk River, Eden Prairie against Moorhead and Benilde-St. Margaret's against Lakeville North.