Nathan Roth (11) and Rochester Lourdes hope to get back to the X for the Class 1A state tournament for the fifth straight season. Photo by Helen Nelson.
Strength of schedules isn’t much of a, well, strength in Section 1A.
Most of Southern Minnesota’s small-school teams spend the regular season beating up on each other while sticking primarily to the confines of the Big 9, Missota and South Central conferences.
Rochester Lourdes is a notable exception.
The Eagles play an independent schedule, allowing them the freedom to criss cross the state playing high-caliber competition. Lourdes faced many of the state’s top-ranked Class 1A teams this season, including defending state Class 1A champion St. Thomas Academy, Breck, Totino-Grace, St. Cloud Cathedral and Duluth Marshall.
That murderer’s row of opponents doesn’t include the Eagles’ lineup of big-school foes, most notably defending state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 20-win Tartan, Holy Family Catholic and Prior Lake.
For Section 1A prognosticating purposes, Lourdes’ most important games were against Mankato West, New Prague (twice), Albert Lea, Red Wing and Northfield. The Eagles went 6-0-0 against section opponents, winning those games by a combined score of 27-9.
Lourdes (17-8-0) was the obvious choice to receive the No. 1 seed in the section.
Rochester Lourdes' Jason Samuelson. Photo by Helen Nelson.
The Eagles feature two fantastic senior forwards in Jason Samuelson (25-40—65) and Alex Funk (34-27—61). Samuelson and Funk, standouts for Lourdes since they were freshmen, rank No. 1 and 2 in career scoring for a program that has a history of producing top-end players.
Senior forward Ben Weir (13-8—21) and senior defenseman Karl Krecke (6-13—19) ranked third and fourth on the team in scoring. Senior Andrew Ellingson (12-4-0, 2.92, .874) has received the bulk of the playing time in goal.
No. 2 seed Mankato West (20-5-0) lost to Lourdes 3-2 on Jan. 8 in Rochester in what very well could be a preview of the section championship. The Scarlets finished second in the Big 9 behind Class 2A Rochester Mayo, a team they overwhelmed 7-3 late in the regular season. West suffered a 2-1 loss to Owatonna and snuck past Faribault 6-5 as it closed out the regular season in less-than-impressive fashion.
Like Rochester Lourdes, the Scarlets boast an abundance of firepower. Juniors Derek Frentz (33-30—63) and Galt Goettl (21-28—49) each scored seven power-play goals as West converted 36.2 percent of its opportunities.
No. 3 seed New Prague (15-8-2) was hit hard by graduation, then suffered the surprising off-season departures of two more top-end players before entering what appeared would be a bleak season.
How did the Trojans respond to all that adversity? They merely won the Missota Conference for the first time in program history. Highlighting the season was a crucial 5-3 victory over longtime Missota king Holy Angels on Feb. 5.
Mankato West's Scott McKissick. Photo by Loren Nelson.
New Prague closed the regular season with a flurry of games against section opponents, including a 4-1 loss to Rochester Lourdes followed by a 2-1 overtime win over Red Wing and 6-2 triumph over Northfield.
Juniors Austin Isaacson (12-14—26) and Austin Killian (11-11—22) are New Prague’s only double-digit scorers, although four other players scored at least six goals. Senior Evan Bisek (15-8-0, 2.26, .924) took over as the workhorse in goal and was outstanding in his first season playing significant minutes.
No. 4 seed Northfield (16-8-0) got massive production from senior Andrew Scofield (32-17—49), but junior Nathan Scolfield (10-19—29) and junior Logan VonRuden (7-24—31) were the only other players with more than eight goals.
Senior Spencer Jones (16-8-0, 2.63, .912) turned in a solid season in goal for a remarkably consistent team that didn’t have any signature victories or stunning losses.
One of the state’s largest sections (12 teams), 1A features a full slate of first-round games starting Tuesday, Feb. 19.
The most competitive of the play-in games, at least based on the seeds, figures to be No. 9 Mankato East (9-15-1) playing in Le Sueur against No. 8 Le Sueur-Henderson/St. Peter/Tri-City United (12-12-1).
Le Sueur-Henderson/St. Peter won both regular season meetings against East, including a 6-1 triumph on Feb. 1. The Bulldogs get outstanding goaltending from senior Chris Amsden (12-12-1, .2.27, .924), making them a threat to stage and upset or two in the postseason.
Albert Lea's Garret Matz. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
Mankato East lost five of six to close the regular season and scored just three goals in those five losses. Senior Carter Johnson (10-17—27), junior Shane Sellner (11-12—23) and senior Brent Adams (10-10—20) pace the Cougars in scoring.
The Tigers are led by Roy Nystrom, who is in his 47th season coaching high school hockey, including the last 40 in Albert Lea. Nystrom has a history of engineering playoff upsets, which could mean trouble for Northfield should the Tigers get past La Crescent.
No. 6 seed Faribault (11-14-0) squares off against No. 11 Waseca (8-17-0) for the right to play New Prague. Senior Connor Wierschem (6-15—21) is the Falcons’ top scorer and junior Isaiah Brogden (13-4—17) is the leader in goals.
Sophomore Cody Ulfers (16-13—29) is the Bluejays’ leader in goals and points.
The Wingers didn’t get their first win of the season until Jan. 22, but they went 4-6-0 to close the regular season and could be dangerous in the playoffs because of their rugged regular season schedule and history as one of southern Minnesota’s top programs. Seniors Alex Rezansoff (14-13—27) and Taylor Hanson (12-11—23) generate the bulk of Red Wing’s offense.
Think of the headline possibilities if Mankato West should knock off Rochester Lourdes in the section championship: Scarlets Fever! and Seeing Scarlet! immediately come to mind -- for better or worse. West looked like a precision machine in a 7-3 rout of Rochester Mayo late in the regular season, and if the Scarlets can match that performance when it counts in the playoffs they will end Rochester Lourdes' four-year run as section champs.
Few coaches have more tricks in their arsenal than Albert Lea's Roy Nystrom, who seemingly has been coaching the Tigers ever since ice was invented (actually, it's only been 40 years). Nystrom's teams typically find another gear in the playoffs, and that could be enough to get the Tigers past La Crescent and Northfield and into the section semis.
2012 – Rochester Lourdes
2011 – Rochester Lourdes
2010 – Rochester Lourdes
2009 – Rochester Lourdes
2008 – Mankato West
2007 – Albert Lea
2006 – Mankato East
2005 – Albert Lea
2004 – Albert Lea
2003 – Rochester Lourdes
2002 – Rochester Lourdes
2001 – Rochester Lourdes
2000 – Rochester Lourdes
1999 – Red Wing
1998 – Red Wing
1997 – Red Wing
1996 – Red Wing
1995 – Red Wing
1994 – Farmington