It’s quite a showcase game to kick off the 2009-10 season, when Breck opens its Class A title defense with a visit to Mahtomedi, which has its own designs on a state title this winter. Both clubs are among the top-five in the state in Class A (Breck at No. 1 and Mahtomedi at No. 5) and the winner should both solidify its place in the rankings and bring into questions the other team’s position.
The Mustangs return 20 letterwinners and have to be considered the odds-on favorites to repeat, particularly with calm and collected goaltender John Russell in nets again.
Coach Les Larson did a great job getting last year’s youngsters to mesh into a formidable team in his first season behind the bench at Breck. Now with another year of experience, the Mustangs appear to be even stronger this winter – a scary thought for the other Class A teams in the state.
It starts in nets for Breck, which boasts Russell (21-3-1, 1.62), a three-year starter who had fans chanting his name during the final minutes of the state championship game last year. Despite being outshot 36-24 by Warroad, Russell kept the Warriors at bay and allowed Breck to win. Larson calls Russell arguably the best goaltender in the state, and he earned All-State honorable mention after the season.
Russell is supported by a defense that returns five regulars who can play both offense and defense. Seniors Mike Mooney (9-18-27), Ben Gislason (3-17-20), David Crowe (4-10-14) and Joe Zeidler (1-8-9) and sophomore Austin Rudnick (5-10-15) make a formidable blue line crew.
Up front, All-Tri-Metro seniors Tyson Fulton (28-36-64) and Mike Morin (27-20-47) anchor the offense along with fellow seniors Riley Borer (22-15-37), Chase Nystedt (9-21-30), Cameron Born (10-7-17), Brendan Yates (7-5-12), Charlie Borer and Jake McCormick; juniors Shayne Ciernia and David Zosel and sophomores Nate Traina (8-10-18) and Wes Iverson (9-7-16). They’re deep and balanced.
Mahtomedi upset St. Thomas Academy in the section playoffs to get to state, but then lost both games once there. The Zephyrs have good offensive firepower, including junior rushing defenseman Ben Marshall, who has committed to the Gophers.
Marshall may miss his defensive counterpart, All-Classic Suburban defender Mike McDonald (3-17-20), who graduated along with high-scoring Brian Houdek (15-23-38) and Ben Holker (14-11-25). McDonald, who is with the USHL’s Sioux City this winter, was a defensive defenseman who helped contrast with Marshall’s puck-rushing ways. Seniors Jordan Dittberner and Blake Martin have the experience to help cover that role.
Mahtomedi will retain much of its scoring ability up front, where All-Classic Suburban snipers Charlie Adams (19-35-54) and Brandon Zurn (26-24-50) return for their senior seasons. Sophomore Tanner Jordan (13-9-22) also looks like a natural goal scorer with great potential.
“(Adams) has great hands and a shot. Look for him to have a monster year,” said coach Jeff Poeschl. “(And Zurn) is quick and smart, a natural goal scorer.”
Goaltender Brad Wohlers (17-6-2, 2.78) had some ups and downs during the regular season, but was instrumental in the Zephyrs' big playoff run. He’ll have some competition for the starting spot from sophomore Sawyer Marshall (3-2-1, 2.77). Poeschl expects it to be a very competitive battle.
|2||Elk River at Andover (7:30 pm, Saturday, Dec. 5)||
With apologies to Duluth East, fans will get an early look at two teams who have been considered among the favorites in Section 7AA. Tony Sarsland’s Elk River program is a perennial contender many pick to be the state representative, while Andover is a dark horse candidate with goaltender Matt Ray and forward Cal Decowski leading the way.
|3||St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Sartell-St. Stephen (7 pm, Friday, Dec. 4)||
Sartell-St. Stephen is poised to take advantage of the graduation losses of Little Falls in Section 6A with a strong senior-laden club led by Matt and Ryan Nahan, Austin Plaine and Andy Worzala. They’ll get an early test with one of the best programs in Class A in St. Cloud Cathedral, which lost much of its defensive corps but remains a top team with snipers like Jordan Palusky and Alex Koopmeiners. Expect a shootout.
|4||Wayzata at Duluth East (2:30 pm, Saturday, Dec. 5)||
Wayzata looked strong to start the season with a victory in its Turkey Trot tournament, beating Edina in the title game. The tests continue with a trip up to Duluth to face the Greyhounds at the Heritage Center. East suffered steep graduation losses, but coach Mike Randolph’s program never rebuilds, it only reloads.
|5||Hibbing/Chisholm at International Falls (7:30 pm, Tuesday, Dec. 1)||
Two of the annual contenders for the Section 7A title hook up early in the season as Hibbing visits Frostbite Falls Tuesday night. The Bluejackets looked impressive in winning two games on opening weekend, while I-Falls will open its season in this game.
|6||Warroad at Mound-Westonka (7:30 pm, Friday, Dec. 4)||
Is Mound-Westonka for real? The White Hawks shut out Virginia in their barn last weekend, but was it the case of a hot goaltender (Aaron Davis with 45 saves) carrying the day? The answer may come Friday night when Warroad rolls into town for a game. The Warriors have two of the top returning scorers in the state in Brett Hebel and Brock Nelson.
|7||Centennial at Wayzata (7pm, Thursday, Dec. 3)||
Centennial started strong last year before fading a bit and missing the state tournament. It’ll be tough for the Cougars to get off to a blazing start with a season opener against Wayzata, but should they do so, expect recognition to follow. Centennial certainly does have top returning talent. Wayzata plays its second of three straight ranked teams.
|8||South St. Paul at St. Paul Johnson (7:30 pm, Tuesday, Dec. 1)||
Two of the “old time” hockey powers in the state butt heads Tuesday night when South St. Paul visits St. Paul Johnson. The Packers and Governors are two of the true statesmen programs who helped build the sport to what it is today. And both can still play some excellent hockey. Keep an eye on SSP goaltender Adam Wilcox, a Gophers’ commit already as a junior.
|9||St. Francis at East Ridge (7:30 pm, Thursday, Dec. 3)||
A game that many fans will pass right by, but FSN thought enough of the game to open its television schedule with it. Why? Well, it’s the first game in the history of the East Ridge program under coach Doug Long. That’s enough to attract attention, but then add in the high-flying duo of Joey Benik and TJ Belisle for St. Francis and you have a top-ten game.
|10||US Women’s National Team at Hopkins (7 pm, Saturday, Dec. 5)||
C’mon, you’re curious, aren’t you? If you want to see how the best women’s hockey players in the world match-up against a good Minnesota high school boys’ team, here’s your chance. Alex Fons, Archie Skalbeck and the Royals host the US Women’s National Team.