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Twice is nice for Skippers' freshman

By Loren Nelson, 12/22/09, 11:37AM CST


No. 1-ranked Minnetonka survives two tough tests, unveils yet another star in Coatta

Scoring a hat trick is a nice accomplishment. Doing it twice in three nights is a rare feat for even the greatest of goal scorers.

Doing it against two of the state’s best top teams? Does the name Dave Spehar come to mind?

Minnetonka’s Max Coatta didn’t match former Duluth East scoring whiz Spehar’s unfathomable 1995 achievement of three consecutive state tournament hat tricks, but the freshman did get his two tricks three nights apart against St. Thomas Academy and Blaine, two of the state’s elite teams.

Considering that Coatta had scored just one goal in five games before his stunning outburst, his knack around the net caught everyone by surprise.

OK, not everyone.

“Well, he’s been making plays all year long,” said linemate Max Gardiner, a Gophers recruit and the Skippers’ leading scorer. “He’s been nice to play with so, yeah, I guess I did expect him to do that.”

Coatta’s emergence allowed Minnetonka to not only hold its spot atop the Class AA rankings but rally from behind in both of the victories (5-2 over St. Thomas Academy on Dec. 19, 4-3 over Blaine on Dec. 21).

Despite losing to the Skippers, the Cadets remained No. 1 in the Class A rankings. Blaine, meanwhile, jumped all the way to No. 3 in Class AA in voting by coaches and media members from around the state that was done before Monday’s game.

Coatta, meanwhile, has raced up the scoring charts thanks to a gritty style of play reminiscent of that displayed by his brother, Sam, a four-year player for Minnetonka who finished his career as one of the school’s all-time top scorers.

“Max Coatta is just a little clone of his brother,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. “Hardest working kid on the ice. You know, when you go to the net and you play with Max Gardiner, good things are going to happen. He took advantage of his opportunities. He goes to the net hard.”

Of course, Coatta will be the star attraction when he hits the ice again against yet another top-ranked team. The Skippers don't play again until Dec. 28, when they square off against No. 9 Holy Angels in the quarterfinals of the Schwan Cup.

The game, fittingly, will be played on the state's biggest hockey stage, the Xcel Energy Center.

Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub managing editor, can be reached at 612-379-1030 ext. 126 or loren.nelson@tstmedia.com


Class AA Rankings

Rank Team Record Prev. Last Week This Week
1   Minnetonka
Two of the biggest back-to-back wins in school history were made possible by the diminutive Max Coatta, an undersized freshman who burst on the scene with hat tricks against St. Thomas Academy and Blaine. Hulking linemate and serious Mr. Hockey candidate Max Gardiner hasn't missed a beat in the last week as he's switched from sniper to set-up man, gift-wrapping at least two of Coatta's goals.
7-0-0 1 Beat Park (Cottage Grove) 9-0, Beat No. 1 (Class A) St. Thomas Academy 5-2, Beat No. 3 Blaine 4-3 Do not play
2   Bloomington Jefferson
Overtime loss to Eagan was a stunner, but voters in poll had no choice but to leave Jaguars at No. 3 or even bump them up a spot considering most of the rest of the Top 10 teams lost, too. Jaguars quickly switched back into blowout mode with 11-1 thumping of Eastview.
6-1-0 3 Lost to Eagan 4-3 in OT, Beat Eastview 11-1 Do not play
3   Blaine
Fear the Bengals. With Danny Harper in goal, this team is capable of beating anyone on any night. Harper made the save of the season so far on Monday against Minnetonka when, laying belly-first on the ice more than 20-feet from the goal, he flipped his back foot up soccer style and flicked the puck into the corner as it sailed over his backside.
5-1-0 6 Beat Champlin Park 6-2, Beat Anoka 8-2, Lost to No. 1 Minnetonka 4-3. at No. 7 Edina, Saturday, Dec. 26
4   Hill-Murray
After Minnetonka, Pioneers have been the best defensive team in the state. Hill-Murray allowed just six goals in its first seven games before a late Mahtomedi outburst in Dec. 19 game ruined the Pioneers' pristine defensive stat sheet. Still, Hill-Murray is one of the few Top 10 teams that remain unbeaten, posting a zero in the stat column that matters most.
7-0-1 4 Beat White Bear Lake 5-0, Beat Simley 6-1, Beat No. 5 (Class A) Mahtomedi 5-4 Do not play
5   Eden Prairie
Eagles took a tumble in the rankings after their loss to Edina at the Hornets' holiday tournament. Can anyone other than Kyle Rau and Mitch Rogge score consistently? Linemates have combined for 16 of the team's 26 goals. Good luck finding a defenseman better than do-it-all Dan Molenaar.
5-1-0 2 Beat Elk River 3-0, Beat Grand Rapids 3-2, Lost to No. 7 Edina 5-3 vs. Burnsville, Tuesday, Dec. 22
6   Wayzata
Given the difficult schedule they have played and the fact they are one of the few top unbeaten Class AA teams, Trojans aren't getting a bunch of respect. Balanced, deep group of fleet forwards led by Tony Cameranesi (13 points), Mario Lucia (10) and Scott Holm (10). Next, biggest chance to sway pollsters comes on Dec. 28 in St. Louis Park tournament opener against No. 8 Benilde-St. Margaret's.
5-0-1 7 Beat Apple Valley 6-2 at Roseville, Tuesday, Dec. 22
7   Edina
Hornets keep bouncing in and out of the rankings but will be here to stay for the foreseeable future if they can topple Blaine on their home ice Saturday. Have reeled off six straight victories after Nov. 28 loss to Wayzata. Beating rival and defending state Class AA champion Eden Prairie catalyst for Edina's big move up the rankings.
7-1-0 Not ranked Beat Grand Rapids 4-0, Beat Elk River 6-3, Beat Eden Prairie 5-3 vs. No. 3 Blaine, Saturday, Dec. 26
8   Benilde-St. Margaret's
Loss to Cretin-Derham Hall was a bit of a surprise for a team that has been as high as No. 4 in the rankings. Red Knights have too much firepower on offense to be discounted out of any game, and goaltender Jacob Meyers is capable of stealing a W by himself.
4-1-1 5 Lost to Cretin-Derham Hall 4-3, Beat Chisago Lakes 13-4 at Rochester Century, Tuesday, Dec. 22
9   Holy Angels
Stars have won their first three games by a combined 27-1 margin, but the schedule gets ratcheted up now with their next two opponents being Elk River and No. 1 Minnetonka. Gophers recruits Connor and Ryan Reilly, remarkably, don't rank among the team's top two in scoring.
3-0-0 8 Beat Northfield 8-1, Beat Prior Lake 7-0 vs. Elk River, Wednesday, Dec. 23
10   Cretin-Derham Hall
Big win over No. 8 Benilde-St. Margaret's puts the Raiders into the Top 10 for the first time this season. Top-heavy team relies heavily on the scoring of Bob Kinne, Jesse Perron and Tony Barbato, who form one of the state's most dangerous forward units. That line has accounted for all but seven of the teams' 24 goals.
6-0-0 Not ranked Beat Benilde-St. Margaret's 4-3, Beat East Ridge 6-2, Beat Forest Lake 4-1 Do not play

 ALSO RECEIVING VOTES: Duluth East, Elk River, Roseau.


Class A Rankings

Rank Team Record Prev. Last Week This Week
1   St. Thomas Academy
Cadets looked to have more than enough firepower to hang with Class AA behemoth Minnetonka, then star forward Christian Isackson exited with a shoulder injury. Shortly thereafter, St. Thomas Academy's 2-0 lead began to disappear. Still, this team is the clear class of Class A and maybe the second best team in the state, regardless of class. Might get another crack at Skippers in semifinals of Schwan's Cup on Dec 29.
4-1-0 1 Beat North St. Paul 4-2, Lost to No. 1 (Class AA) Minnetonka 5-2 Do not play
2   Breck
Orono had lost just once, to 5-2 to No. 3 Warroad to open the season, before Mustangs came in and rolled to 13-1 triumph in one of the most impressive victories of the season. With three good lines, six solid defensemen and one of the state's elite goaltenders in John Russell, Breck belongs in top handful of teams in the state regardless of class.
3-1-0 2 Beat Orono 13-1 Do not play
3   Warroad
Warriors have been a fixture at No. 3 in the rankings, but that position is in jeopardy with Thief River Falls and game-stealer Zane Gothberg coming to town. Linemates Brock Nelson and Brett Hebel have traded hot streaks to start the season. Nelson's 11 goals places him just outside the top 10 in the state in that category.
5-1-0 3 Beat Bemidji 6-3 vs. Thief River Falls, Tuesday, Dec. 22
4   Hermantown
Hawks have allowed just seven goals in five games. Last week's win over Superior, then undefeated and ranked No. 2 in Wisconsin, was a nice one. Biggest test yet comes in battle for northeastern Minnesota small-school supremacy on Tuesday against Virginia.
4-1-0 4 Beat Superior, Wis., 4-2 vs. No. 6 Virginia, Tuesday, Dec. 22
5   Mahtomedi
Loss to big-school power Hill-Murray snapped four-game winning streak but can be counted as moral victory, if there really is such a thing. Late rally made that game a thriller and served notice that the Zephyrs, as St. Thomas Academy can attest to from last season's playoffs, are capable of beating anyone.
4-2-0 6 Beat South St. Paul 4-2, Lost to No. 4 (Class AA) Hill-Murray 5-4 Do not play
6   Virginia
Blue Devils have had their ups and downs during hectic early season schedule but lately have been on a roll, putting together a five-game unbeaten string. Big showdown with No. 4 Hermantown on Tuesday features not only two of the state's best Class A teams but two of the state's best forwards in Hermantown's Adam Krause and Virginia's Garrett Hendrickson.
6-2-1 7 Beat Duluth Denfeld 7-5, Beat International Falls 5-3 at No. 4 Hermantown, Tuesday, Dec. 22
7   Thief River Falls
Goaltender Zane Gothberg has allowed more than one goal just once in his last five starts. The North Dakota recruit will face future college teammate Brock Nelson in a huge playoff-preview showdown on Tuesday.
4-1-0 9 Beat Bemidji 3-2, Beat International Falls 1-0 at Warroad, Tuesday Dec. 22
8   St. Cloud Cathedral
Offense has been merely OK so far this season, and that lack of consistent scoring led to an upset loss to Rogers and a surprisingly tight game with rebuilding Little Falls.
4-2-0 5 Lost to Rogers 4-1, Beat Little Falls 2-0 at Sauk Rapids-Rice, Tuesday, Dec. 22
9   Alexandria
Cardinals had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick type of week, being involved in every type of outcome (blowout win, tight loss, tie). Dec. 29 showdown with southern Minnesota Class A power and former Top 10 mainstay Faribault will say much about which team belongs where in the rankings.
3-1-1 8 Lost 3-2 to Willmar, Beat St. Cloud Apollo 10-3, Tied No. 10 Sartell-St. Stephen 5-5 Do not play
10   Sartell-St. Stephen
Tie with Alexandria only muddied the Class A picture in the western part of the state. Sabres aren't blowing teams out, but they are proving to be exceedingly difficult to beat.
4-1-1 Not ranked Beat Little Falls 3-2, Beat St. Cloud Tech 6-4, Tied No. 9 Alexandria 5-5 at Rogers, Tuesday, Dec. 22
10   Duluth Marshall
Do not be fooled by the Hilltoppers' relatively pedestrian record; two of their three losses have come against Class AA powerhouses Minnetonka and Hill-Murray. Coming off big week in which they outscored their opponents 28-3.
4-3-0 Not ranked Beat Silver Bay 12-2, Beat Hibbing 3-1, Beat St. Paul Academy 13-0 Do not play

 ALSO RECEIVING VOTES: Faribault, Hutchinson, International Falls.