Lakeville North leans against the bench to listen to coach Trent Eigner. Photo by Helen Nelson
Lakeville North's Jack Diercks. Photo by Helen Nelson
Three years and 36 section playoff points later, the schools from Section 1AA can finally breathe a little easier.
It’s about time a run to the Xcel Energy Center won’t have Justin Kloos in the way.
Now that the Lakeville South graduate and 2012 Mr. Hockey award winner is working his way towards playing for the University of Minnesota, Section 1AA suddenly looks more wide open than ever.
Rival and No. 1-seed Lakeville North is probably the happiest of any team to see Kloos go. The Panthers were torched 7-1 last year in the section finals in large part due to Kloos’ four points. With him no longer in the picture however, the Panthers (8-16-1) are the favorite to return to the state tournament for the third time in four years.
From a glance at their record, the Panthers may not look like a worthy team, but due to their strength of schedule, they are prepared for anything their section has to offer.
Quality wins over Rochester Mayo, Apple Valley, and Eden Prairie helped push the Panthers to an impressive 4-1-0 start to the season before they crumbled and lost six straight to round out November. The rest of the season wasn’t much kinder, but a 7-2 pounding of Lakeville South and close losses to No. 3-ranked Duluth East and No. 10-ranked Prior Lake look impressive when compared to the track records of other 1AA squads.
Junior forward Tristen Hazlett leads a balanced Lakeville North attack in points (9-20—29) while senior forward Jack Diercks has the top spot in goals (12-11—23). From there, junior Conner Hyden (10-4—14) and sophomore spark plug Jack Poehling (9-7—16) bear the scoring load for the Panthers.
While meager against some of the tougher competition – just 2.56 goals per game – the Panthers have been able to score 4.75 goals per game in wins. This offense should be more present in the playoffs than the more futile one.
Rochester Mayo's Matt Rogers. Photo by Loren Nelson
Another new concept for Section 1AA is the possibility that a team without the name “Lakeville” might make it to the Xcel Energy Center. The last time that happened was Rochester Century's state tournament trips in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
This year’s No. 2 seed isn’t Rochester Century, but Rochester Mayo, and the Spartans (20-5-0) have had a year to remember. Legendary coach Lorne Grosso – who is in his 45th season as the head coach of the Spartans – seems determined to bring Rochester Mayo to a section championship for the first time since 2000.
The high scoring duo of seniors Ryan Martin (16-18—34) and Adam Alcott (15-20—35) spearhead a veteran offense where nearly all contributors are upperclassmen – most of whom are seniors. That should make the Spartans a hungry squad looking for wins before they graduate.
Another interesting wrinkle for the Spartans is the offensive firepower they bring from the blue line. Defensemen Tommy Fjelsted (9-15—24) and Will Holtan (9-14—23) are third and fifth respectively in scoring for Rochester Mayo while still backing up senior goaltender Case Hansen has had a fantastic season (20-5-0, 2.07, .905).
The Spartan’s record may be impressive, but the lack of any signature wins makes a 1-0 loss to Hibbing/Chisholm in early January or a 3-2 victory over South St. Paul their best performances of the season.
Lakeville South's Drew Byers. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
No. 3-seeded Lakeville South (9-16-0) comes in close behind the Spartans, bearing a much different tone than the squad that surprised No. 1-seeded Duluth East and won the third place trophy in the state tournament last year. The Cougars got peppered by good teams this season and fell apart a bit toward the end. A 7-2 loss to Lakeville North in February and a season-ending 7-0 defeat at the hands of Burnsville were stingers.
Still, the play of the freshman Nick Swaney (12-13—25) and junior Patrick Lauderdale (13-9—22) are bright spots that begin to make up for the hole left by Kloos and defensive anchor Joe Freemark. Goaltender Tyler Schumacher is hanging tough between the pipes (8-15-0, 3.81, .878) despite losing defensive help as well.
After those top three, the water gets a little murky. No. 4-seeded Farmington (12-12-1) shows lots of promise, beating a high-powered Holy Angels team 3-2 and hanging tough with some other good squads. Sophomore Justin Novak bears the scoring load (11-17—28) while freshman Erik Holmstrom leads the defensive corps (1-8—9).
The biggest question mark for the Tigers is goaltender, where they split time between several goalies. None have been bad, but none have been outstanding, and consistency is something to strive for in a playoff atmosphere.
Farmington will square off against No. 5-seeded Rochester John Marshall (13-12-0) which has evidently forgotten what losing looks like after reeling off eight straight wins to end the season. The Rockets have gone 10-1-0 since Jan. 15 when they lost 3-2 to Rochester Mayo. Scoring is the name of the game for the Rockets who have eight players with double digits in points, topped by senior Nick Paulsen (16-23—39).
No. 6 seed Owatonna (13-11-1) takes on Lakeville South paced by senior forward Matt Ratzloff (23-16—39) who leads the team in scoring by 11 points and goals by 14. Rochester Mayo battles seventh-seeded Rochester Century (7-18-0) and top scoring senior Dalton Travis (10-10—20). At just 1.92 goals per game, the Panthers will have to muster more offense to have a shot at knocking off the Spartans.
No. 8-seeded Winona (8-15-2) faces No. 9-seeded and greatly improved Dodge County (9-13-2) on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Bud King Ice Arena in Winona to round out the section in a play-in game. Winona’s Nick Rowe (13-7—20), a senior defenseman, should look to take over the game.
Sure it's weird that the favorite here doesn't even have a winning record. But look at the teams that Lakeville North has beaten or played well against compared to Rochester Mayo and the picture is clearer. Lakeville South has a shot, too, but after getting trounced by the Panthers 7-2 on Feb. 2, Lakeville North still has the upper hand.
The Rockets are the hottest team in Section 1AA by far. Firing on all boosters, Rochester John Marshall has won 10 of its last 11 and should have tons of momentum carrying into sections. If they can get past Farmington in what figures to be a tough first-round matchup, they Rockets definitely have a chance at some upsets.