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Tussle on the tundra

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 01/28/13, 11:30PM CST


Classic showdown between Warroad and Roseau highlights The Week Ahead

Roseau's Alex Strand (5) celebrates a goal against Moorhead earlier this winter. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.

1. Warroad at Roseau
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It’s known simply as “The Game.”

No other introduction is needed for the greatest rivalry in Minnesota high school hockey – and perhaps high school sports in general nationwide – the biannual Roseau versus Warroad classic.

It’s been featured in numerous television and newspaper accounts across the country. NBC Sports did a behind the scenes video look at last year’s game. The New York Times committed nearly 2,000 words of valuable space to the game in 2007.

Olympians, NHLers and Hall of Famers have been on opposing benches at “The Game.”

Warroad boasts of Henry Boucha and the Christian family and its amazing run of Olympians. Roseau can claim Rube Bjorkman, the Broten brothers and a sizeable clan of other NHL alumni.

Both current coaches – Jay Hardwick at Warroad and Andy Lundbohm at Roseau – were standouts at their respective schools and later went on to play Division I college hockey.

The two northwestern Minnesota dynasties clash for the second time this season on Tuesday night at Memorial Arena in Roseau. And as always, it’s expected to bring out big crowds from the two towns separated by just 22 miles of Minnesota Highway 11.

Ben Smieja (15) has 10 goals and is third on the Warriors in scoring this winter.

No. 5 Warroad (15-5-1) took the first game in its home rink, 4-3 in overtime.

Jared Bethune made his first appearance in “The Game” a memorable one, scoring at 3:44 of the extra session to give the Warriors the victory. The rangy sophomore is part of a successful youth movement under Hardwick, who is in his first year as head coach.

Bethune (20-21-41) leads the Warriors in scoring, just ahead of fellow sophomore Kobe Roth (20-16-36), but the two couldn’t look more different on the ice. Whereas Bethune has some size and bulldoggedness to him, Roth is undersized yet quick and explosive. They’ve been a great complement to the returning Warriors, such as seniors Ben Smieja (10-18-28) and Casey Anderson (5-12-17) and junior Kyle Sylvester (13-13-26).

Nick Jaycox (3-14-17) and Zach Johnston (1-13-14) have taken over as stalwarts on the blue line – an annual strength for Warriors’ teams. Jaycox has good speed while Johnston is steady and rarely out of position. That’s key for the Warriors in their own defensive zone, where they’re giving up only 2.62 goals per game. Senior goaltender Justin King (14-5-1, 2.72, .909) has come up big in his first year as a varsity starter, including 25 saves in the first victory over the Rams.

The successful blending of youth with veterans has helped Warroad remain a strong contender in Section 8A – along with Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks. But that section placement is also a reason many feel this rivalry isn’t quite as intense as it once was. Shortly after high school hockey was divided into two classes in 1993-94, Roseau opted up into Section 8AA. It’s been many years since the two met in the playoffs.

A.J. Hogenson (17) is one of several key defensemen for Roseau.

Roseau (11-7-1) has similar stats to its close neighbor this season, scoring 3.63 goals per game (versus 3.62 for Warroad) and allowing 2.68 goals per game (versus 2.62).

But victories have been more difficult to come by for the Rams, who outside of a five-game winning streak on either side of the holidays, hasn’t been on any streak (winning or losing) longer than two games. For a team that was expected to have plenty of offensive firepower, the Rams have struggled to score goals recently, having been shut out three times in their past five games.

But that’s nothing a victory over Warroad can’t cure.

Juniors Zach Yon (23-19-42) and Alex Strand (16-21-37) have been asked to carry a big load on the first line along with either Alex Halstensgard (4-10-14) or Alex Ziegler (4-9-13).

Yon, the son of former Gopher Bill Yon, has great speed and a wicked shot. Strand is more of a playmaker who can “stickhandle in a phone booth,” according to Lundbohm.

Ziegler has top-end speed and Halstensgard is a glue player with terrific toughness. But among forwards, there isn’t another player with more than two goals and the remaining forwards have combined for just eight. So far this winter, it’s been shut down that top line and shut down the Rams.

Tanner Okeson (10-15-25) and Cole Bjugson (4-9-13) have given the Rams a boost from the blue line, as both defensemen are among the top seven in scoring. Okeson is big and intimidating with great wheels that he uses to create offense, while Bjugson is an intense, hard-working player.

Junior Ryan Anderson (10-7-1, 2.62, .906) has seen nearly every minute in goal.

Kobe Roth (5) celebrates a goal earlier this winter against East Grand Forks.

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2. Centennial at Blaine
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Big implications both in the Northwest Suburban Conference and in the Section 5AA race are tied into this game. No. 9 Blaine (13-4-1) has the upper hand right now, as the Bengals are a perfect 11-0-0 in conference play, including a 2-1 overtime victory over Centennial way back on Dec. 8. Tyler Cline scored in the third period to send the game to overtime and Alex Copa ended it a minute, 43 seconds into the extra session – oddly, the defenseman’s only goal of the season so far. Cline leads the Bengals in scoring with 16 goals and 32 points, just ahead of Brandon Notermann with 13 goals and 26 points. Cougars’ goaltender Patrick Munson was brilliant in defeat in the first game, making 55 saves. He’ll have to play big again as No. 8 Centennial (15-3-2) is chasing the Bengals down the stretch courtesy of ties against Andover and most recently, Champlin Park. Brothers Ryner and Hans Gorowsky have combined for 29 goals and 68 points.

3. Edina at Minnetonka 
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So much for that mid-season slide. No. 5 Minnetonka (14-4-1) has certainly recovered nicely from a 2-4-1 stretch on either side of the holidays. The Skippers ripped through the first round of the extremely difficult Lake Conference schedule with a perfect 4-0-0 record, including a 4-3 victory at Edina on Jan. 17. While the scoring still hasn’t come in bunches – aside from Max Coatta and his team-leading 18 goals – Minnetonka has tightened up defensively. In the past five games, all victories, the Skippers have allowed nine goals. And keep in mind, that’s against some very potent offenses, a tribute to the defensive corps led by Gophers recruit Tommy Vannelli. No. 6 Edina (15-4-0) also hit a rough patch on either side of Christmas, going 3-4-0 in a seven-game span from Dec. 26 to Jan. 17. But the Hornets have regained their health – and apparently their scoring touch. In the last three games, Edina has racked up 20 goals. Andy Jordahl, Connor Hurley and Dylan Malmquist each have four goals in that span.

4. Totino-Grace at St. Thomas Academy
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Hockey fans could be looking at a preview of the Section 4A final when No. 3 Totino-Grace (14-2-1) travels south across the Twin Cities to face No. 1 St. Thomas Academy (15-2-1). Not only are they arguably the two best teams in the section, they may be the two best in the state in Class 1A. The Cadets have lost just once since Dec. 6, a 15-game span, and have beaten some of the best Class 2A has to offer. The two-time defending state champions are the clear favorite to make it three in a row before they move up to Class 2A next winter – and they’re anchored by a stout defense (1.33 goals per game) and a goaltender looking to win his third state title in David Zevnik. Meanwhile, Totino-Grace is on a seven-game winning streak in which it has scored 47 goals. T.J. Roo and Derek Lodermeier have combined for 46 goals and 103 points already this winter.

5. East Grand Forks at Warroad

No. 4 East Grand Forks (15-2-2) was the last team without a loss in the entire state, but then lost two in a row just a week ago while giving up an uncharacteristic 10 goals. The Green Wave appear to have quickly righted themselves, though, as they have back-to-back shutouts in the last two victories – their eighth and ninth shutouts of the year. East Grand Forks has been stingy all season, allowing just 1.53 goals per game, with most of the minutes played by senior goaltender Tanner Lindstrom. He made 21 saves back on Dec. 14 when the Green Wave beat Warroad 5-3 to take early control in Section 8A. No. 5 Warroad (15-5-1) has recovered nicely to remain a threat in the section race (along with Thief River Falls), with underclassmen leading the way. Sophomores Jared Bethune and Kobe Roth each have 20 goals, while junior Kyle Sylvester is next with 13 tallies.

6. Duluth Denfeld at Duluth Marshall
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Sneaky good – or just plain sneaky? Depending on your home rink, that’s probably the best way to describe No. 10 Duluth Denfeld (13-6-0), which has surprised a few of its more heralded neighbors already this winter and could make it a clean sweep of the city with a victory at No. 9 Duluth Marshall (8-10-0). The Hunters have already shocked Duluth East for the first time since 1995 and knocked off Hermantown, both games riding the hot goaltending of senior Zach Thompson. The only team that stands in the way of a sweep is Marshall, which also is battling the Hunters for the top seed in the Section 7A playoffs. The Hilltoppers have a subpar record, but have played a very difficult schedule that has resulted in seven losses in their last eight games (six of those have been to teams ranked in the top-10 in Class 1A). Kris Mckinzie is the only skater with double-digit goals (he has 11) and is tied for the team point lead with Jeremy Lopez.

7. Burnsville at Eagan
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The top two teams in the South Suburban Conference meet up for a second time when No. 10 Burnsville (11-7-1) visits No. 7 Eagan (15-3-1). They played back in mid-December – a 4-2 Wildcats’ victory – which is currently their separation in the conference standings. Cullen Willox scored twice in the third period to break the game open and goaltender Andrew Lindgren made 33 saves on 35 shots for Eagan. Coach Mike Taylor’s club is hot, posting a 14-1-1 record since early December (the lone blemish is a surprising setback against Eastview on Jan. 12). Despite graduating a huge senior class, scoring has not been an issue with Willox, Zach Glienke, Jack Jenson and Jesse Gabrielle leading the way with a combined 67 goals and 150 points. Burnsville also comes in surging after an up-and-down start. The Blaze have won four straight – including a 2-1 victory against Eastview – and have allowed just four goals in that span. Underclassmen such as Cole Borchardt, Tyler Sheehy, Brock Boeser and defenseman Teemu Kivihalme have paced a young Burnsville team.

8. Breck at Thief River Falls

The Prowlers’ train is rolling now – and it ain’t stopping for anyone. Graduation losses lookied like they would be too much to overcome for No. 14 Thief River Falls (12-6-0) when it went 2-6-0 in its first eight games. Instead, the Prowlers and coach Tim Bergland have ripped off 10 straight victories, including nice wins over Warroad, East Grand Forks, Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Marshall – all teams in the Class 1A top-10. Logan Engelstad has grown into a true sniper with 20 goals, while Chris Forney is as good as any defenseman in Class 1A. No. 2 Breck (14-3-1) also had to endure its share of graduation losses, but the Mustangs have been humming on all cylinders all season. The only team to beat Breck since Dec. 4 – in either class – has been St. Thomas Academy in two one-goal losses. As expected, veterans Matt Colford and Thomas Lindstrom have carried the scoring load with a combined 41 goals and 82 points, while Henry Johnson has been very good in goal.

9. Holy Family Catholic at Mound-Westonka

It’s a much-anticipated rematch between the best of the Wright County Conference, as No. 16 Holy Family Catholic (13-4-0) visits No. 20 Mound-Westonka (11-9-0). The first game between the two programs was an absolute war – and that term isn’t used lightly – with the Fire emerging with a 3-2 victory on Jan. 8. Garrett Riebling scored twice as Holy Family Catholic overcame an early 2-0 deficit. The game ended in controversy as a potential tying goal from Mound-Westonka was waved off with three seconds remaining. Andy Seats played well in goal for the White Hawks, making 38 saves. There are several NHL prospects in the game, with Mound-Westonka’s 6-foot-4 tandem of Jack Brandstetter and Ben O’Borsky showing off their impressive size and skill while Holy Family Catholic has super sophomores Shane Gersich and John Peterson along with a host of other top young players.

10. Lakeville North at Lakeville South

Since Lakeville split into two schools in 2005, the rivalry between North and South has certainly been ramping up. Lakeville’s “civil war” has extended into the Section 1AA playoffs each of the last four years, with North upsetting South the first two years in the section final and South getting revenge last winter. Both teams again appear to be headed for a showdown in late February. Lakeville South (8-10-0) won the first meeting this winter, 5-1 on Dec. 20 behind two goals from Weston Baumann, but has been up-and-down much of the season. Scoring has been an issue, as only Baumann and Patrick Lauderdale have double-digit goals -- and the Cougars are averaging 3.33 per game. Lakeville North (7-11-1) started fast with four wins in its first five games, but has since gone just 3-10-1. The Panthers have also struggled to bury the puck, averaging just 2.68 goals per game with Jack Diercks the only player with more than seven goals.