David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.
Still grinding away on Tourney Eve and, as promised, mining more nuggets from my past couple days of interviews with the Class 1A tournament coaches.
New Prague made a sterling tournament debut last year, finishing third, and the Trojans return with brick wall goaltender Conner Wagner having another stellar season.
While Wagner is a known entity, junior Alex Gregor is the Trojans player I’m most looking forward to seeing (again). Gregor’s 31 goals in a breakout season is almost double that of any teammate, and New Prague coach Chris Lonke isn’t trying to disguise the fact he’s their go-to scorer.
“He just knows how to put the puck in the net, a natural scorer,” Lonke said about Gregor, who scored 21 goals – including two in the state tournament – last season. “He improved his shot so he can score from different areas now.”
The 6-foot, 150-pound Gregor was called up to played on Team Southwest in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League last fall, and he had four goals and five assists in 20 games.
Lonke said the Trojans routinely play all four lines, and that his fourth line had two goals disallowed in the Section 1A championship win over Northfield. He said he'll probably alternate his third and fourth lines in the tourney opener against East Grand Forks.
Speaking of the defending Class 1A champion, East Grand Forks was plagued by key injuries all season. Super sniper Dixon Bowen, a Mr. Hockey candidate and North Dakota commit, and goaltender Josh Weber, who led the Green Wave to last year’s championship, were among the casualties who missed at least a couple of games.
The Green Wave are still without top-two defenseman Trevor Selk, although there’s a possibility he could be healed in time to play in the tournament. East Grand Forks coach Tyler Palmiscno, taking a page out of the NHL playbook, wasn’t offering specifics on Selk’s injury. “I don’t want anybody going after him,” Palmiscno said.
As for the possible carryover from last year’s tournament experience, Palmiscno doesn’t know what kind of advantage being a defending champion might offer.
“I have never done it before, so I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I’ll tell you at the end of the tournament.”
I teased in an earlier post to big breaking news (sort of) out of Breck. But starting to run out of gas tonight. Big day ahead tomorrow. Promise we will get to it.
Tag(s): Two-Man Advantage