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Three's a crowd

By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub Editor, 02/21/13, 10:00AM CST


Section 5AA preview: Maple Grove figures to challenge top seeds Blaine, Centennial

Dallas Gerads (38) and Blaine swept Andrew Bertrand, left, and Centennial in the regular season. Photo by Loren Nelson

Blaine's Tyler Cline. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Section 5AA was supposed to be all about Blaine and Centennial, the bitter north metro rivals who seemingly were on a collision course to meet in the championship.

Maple Grove? As recently as a week ago the Crimson were mostly an afterthought. 

Maple Grove lost almost all of its top players from last season’s section championship team, then was rocked by an off-ice incident in mid-December that spurred a school investigation and led to two-game suspensions of 13 players.

There was little reason to believe the Crimson (14-11-0) would be more than a speed bump in the section playoffs until they sent shockwaves through the section on Feb. 14 with a wild 7-5 victory over powerhouse Blaine to close out the regular season.

Sophomore Josh Passolt and junior Nate Erickson each scored twice against the Bengals, and junior Sam Valerius registered five assists.

The section race is a whole lot more interesting now that Maple Grove has elbowed its way into the conversation. The Crimson were seeded third in a vote of the section coaches and appear to be on course for what could be a dynamite section semifinal showdown with No. 2 Centennial.

Valerius (18-16—34), Passolt (11-22—33) and Erickson (13-10—23) are Maple Grove’s top scorers, and senior Joe Franta (4-13—17) anchors the defense. 

Sophomore Calvin McKenney (8-1-0, 2.14, .919) was in goal for the upset victory over the Bengals, when he made 28 saves. 

No. 1 seed Blaine (19-5-1) rebounded from the loss to Maple Grove by beating Lake Conference champion Minnetonka 3-2 in overtime in its regular season finale.

Make no mistake, the Bengals remain the team to beat. Blaine has phenomenal team speed, and a superb sniper in junior Tyler Cline (25-21—26). The offense doesn’t stop there. Junior Joey Lau (14-22—36), Dallas Gerads (20-16—36), junior Brandon Notermann (17-18—35) and senior Jesse Norling (13-17—30) all are proven scorers.

Junior Bailey Ketola (12-4-1, 2.51, .888) has shouldered most of the workload in goal.

Centennial's Patrick Munson. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Centennial (19-4-2) has lost just once since late January, a stretch of 15 games. That setback, an 8-3 thumping against Blaine, was the Cougars’ second loss this season to the Bengals.

The good news for Centennial? It swept its season series with Maple Grove.

Seven players have scored nine or more goals for the Cougars, who are led by junior Ryner Gorowsky (18-30—48) and senior Hans Gorowsky (20-21—41). Most integral to Centennial’s success has been the superb play of senior goaltender Patrick Munson (14-4-2, 2.54, 924).

No. 4 Champlin Park (9-13-3) skated to a 3-3 tie with Centennial in late January and swept its two games with first-round opponent and No. 5 seed Anoka. Junior Luke Dalman (16-10--26) is the top goal scorer, and junior Bryce Plunkett is the leader in points (9-18—27). Senior Tyler Nelson (6-9-1, 3.63, .898) saw most of the playing time in goal.

Champlin Park's Calvin Spencer. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

No. 5 Anoka (5-19-1) had just five wins, but three of them came by shutout. The Tornadoes scored less than two goals per game (1.92) and have just one player, senior Chase West (10-7—17), with more than six goals.

No. 6 Irondale (10-14-1) finished the regular season by winning two of its final three games. Senior Jack Tuomie (8-8—16) is the top scorer, and senior Esko Aukee (8-14-1, 2.74, .903) had a solid season in goal.

No. 7 Coon Rapids (4-17-4) is led by two double-digit goal scorers in junior Seth Johnson (11-15—26) and senior Samuel Naegele (11-6—17).

No. 8 Osseo (3-19-2) has been a fixture in the section semifinals in recent years, but the Orioles would need a huge first-round upset over Blaine to advance that far again this season. Sophomore Mason Hautala (6-6—12) is Osseo’s top scorer.

Hub Prediction

The Bengals can overwhelm opponents with their speed and depth, nice assets this time of year when high-pressure games come one after the other. It's safe to assume Blaine hasn't forgotten the historic 15-1 beatdown they suffered at the hands of Maple Grove in last year's section championship.

Bracket Buster

Maple Grove made headlines for all the wrong reasons during the regular season, but a string of playoff wins would go a long way toward getting the focus back on hockey. The Crimson certainly have the talent to compete with, and beat, any section foe.

Past Champions

2012 – Maple Grove
2011 – Blaine
2010 – Blaine
2009 – Blaine
2008 – Blaine
2007 – Burnsville
2006 – Eagan
2005 – Holy Angels
2004 – Holy Angels
2003 – Holy Angels
2002 – Holy Angels
2001 – Eastview
2000 – Bloomington Jefferson
1999 – Holy Angels
1998 – Bloomington Jefferson
1997 – Bloomington Jefferson
1996 – Apple Valley
1995 – Bloomington Jefferson
1994 – Bloomington Jefferson

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