Senior forward Patrick Moore, left, leads No. 9-ranked Grand Rapids in scoring. Photo by Helen Nelson
Fast. Physical. Deep.
Even before Grand Rapids beat Edina 2-1 on Dec. 16 at the Edina Holiday Classic, the Thunderhawks were receiving rave reviews from their opponents.
Victories over Cloquet and Forest Lake to start the season built some momentum, but it was a resounding 7-1 triumph over a talented Virginia team on Dec. 7 that signaled this might be a special Thunderhawks squad.
Another runaway win, 8-3 over Warroad -- a team that prides itself on its stifling defense -- on Dec. 11 stamped the Thunderhawks as northern Minnesota’s power broker (along with Duluth East).
After that win over the Warriors, Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque acknowledged his team was on a roll but knew that the coming road trip to Edina (for holiday tournament games against the host Hornets, Eden Prairie and Elk River) would have much to say about where the Thunderhawks stood statewide.
“We’ll see how we do against the big boys,” LaRoque said.
The Thunderhawks are averaging close to five goals per game this season. Photo by Helen Nelson
After beating No. 3-ranked Edina and giving No. 2 Eden Prairie an early scare before losing 9-5, LaRoque was understandably pleased with his team’s play. Even in the loss to Eden Prairie, the Thunderhawks were a nonstop blur of black and orange, grinding out every shift at maximum speed.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the guys’ part,” LaRoque said after the loss. “They played hard.
“We would love to have an opportunity to play them later in the season and see where we are at.”
Of course, for Grand Rapids and Eden Prairie to meet again, it would have to be at the state Class 2A tournament.
For now, though, the Thunderhawks (7-1-0) are focused on another rugged opponent in Brainerd. The teams meet on Tuesday, Dec. 21.
Grand Rapids, thanks in large part to its win over Edina, finds itself placed solidly at No. 9 in the latest state Class 2A rankings.
In Class 1A, the biggest move was made by Hermantown, which climbed all the way to No. 3, in part because of an impressive 4-0 triumph over a quality Rogers team.
Unanimous No. 1 and deservingly so, considering the Trojans remain unbeaten and have defeated three top-ten teams (Edina, Duluth East and Apple Valley). Intriguing matchup with Roseville, a team getting top-10 votes, this week. Outstanding forward duo of Tony Cameranesi and Mario Lucia still putting up big numbers.
Loss to No. 3 Edina, 3-2 in overtime, not only was the first setback of the season for the Eagles, but marked the first time this season they hadn't scored six or more goals. Victory over gritty Grand Rapids team, 9-5, showcased Eden Prairie's explosive power play that is converting 44 percent of its chances.
If there was any doubt in Edina's capabalities, overtime triumph over No. 2 Eden Prairie proved Hornets capable of beating any of the state's top teams on any given night. Like last season, consistency is not an Edina trademark, as evidenced in surprising 2-1 loss to No. 9 Grand Rapids.
Victory over No. 8 Minnetonka on Saturday cemented Red Knights' status as top-five team. Sophomore Grant Besse, with seven goals in five games, is having superb season. There's plenty of balance here, as four B-SM players have three goals. Goaltender Anders Jecha, with a .949 save percentage, ranks among state leaders.
Junior Trevor Olson, with seven goals and 10 assists in six games, having breakout season as member of Greyhounds' top line with Jake Randolph and Dom Toninato. While early season schedule has been impressive, holiday tournament showdown with No. 3 Edina on Dec. 29 assuredly will cause some turmoil in the rankings.
Eagles return from North Dakota with more hardware, having won the Grand Forks Herald/Jason Stadstad Hockey Classic for the second consecutive year. Runaway 6-2 triumph over defending North Dakota state champion Grand Forks Central in title game was particularly impressive.
Blaze boast one of the state's top lines in Mike Dockry, Jace Childs and Cory Chapman, a trio that has accounted for 17 of the team's 26 goals. Burnsville, usually a defensively stingy team, is again solid in that department but is allowing opponents an average of 25 shots per game.
Loss to No. 4 Benilde-St. Margaret's dropped Skippers from ranks of unbeatens but didn't knock them out of the top 10. Minnetonka led 2-0 midway through the second period before the Red Knights rallied for the win. Upcoming opponents Stillwater (Suburban East) and Blaine (Northwest Suburban) rank among the leaders in their respective conferences.
Victory over No. 3 Edina vaults the Thunderhawks into the top 10. Grand Rapids' wild 9-5 loss to Eden Prairie is only blemish so far this season. Tuesday, Dec. 21 matchup with Brainerd, another northern power, looms on schedule. Scoring leader Patrick Moore (6 goals, 13 assists) tops deep group of skilled forwards.
Pioneers beat two quality opponents in Mahtomedi and Lakeville South by combined score of 10-3 but continue to slip in the rankings. Rivalry showdown with surging White Bear Lake on Thursday promises to be a thriller. Scoring leader Ben Bahe averaging a goal per game.
Honorable mention: Roseville, White Bear Lake, Eagan
Overrated or right where they belong? The Cadets get another chance to cement their No. 1 status when they play Minnetonka, but that game isn't until after the holidays. So-so schedule gets cranked up in January with series of top-flight oppnents inlcuding (mark this one on your calendar) Jan. 22 showdown with No. 2 Breck.
Bad year for Breck to finally be included in the top division of the Schwan Cup? We'll see. The "rebuilding" Mustangs have won three of their first four games by shutout. Sophomore Thomas Lindstrom is the team scoring leader with five goals and nine points.
How about those Hawks? They move all the way up to No. 3 in part because of their 4-0 triumph over a quality Rogers team. Garrett Skrbich and Jared Thomas, with a combined 15 goals, are deadly one-two punch. Connor Lucas has 1.33 goals-against average and sparkling .937 save percentage.
Talk about a team with a flair for the dramatic. Lourdes has won two of its last three games in overtime, including a 4-3 triumph over St. Cloud Cathedral that required a goal from Jason Samuelson with nine seconds remaining in the extra session. Alex Funk has team-leading seven goals and 15 points.
The Bears have some nice victories but none that could be considered worthy of pushing them to the top of the rankings despite their unbeaten record. Big matchup with Class 2A powerhouse Roseville on tap in the opening round of the Schwan Cup's Silver Division.
Early season losses to Roseville and Grand Rapids, big-school teams that have a combined 12-2-0 record, don't look as bad as originally thought. Dominating 7-3 win over Duluth Central last week indicates Blue Devils have cranked offense to full throttle.
Eagles have just one quality win (over Thief River Falls in their season opener) so it's tough to know where they should figure in the top 10. Back-to-back games in late-December and early January against Spring Lake Park and East Grand Forks should resolve any lingering questions.
Hilltoppers might have dropped out of top 10 if not for tie last Thursday with high-flying Hibbing. Judd Peterson has 10 goals in eight games, and defenseman Jake Bushey ranks second on team with four goals.Three goaltenders have divided the minutes, and none have a save percentage over .900.
Blue Jackets are unbeaten in their last four games, including tie with Duluth Marshall. Their only losses have come against state-ranked Minnetonka (No. 8 in Class 2A) and Little Falls (No. 10 in Class 1A). Adam Johnson's torrid scoring pace (nine goals, nine assists) continues.
Other than their three touchdown (21-0) win over Wadena-Deer Creek, the Flyers are in the midst of a series of tight games. In their last four games, three wins and a tie, the margin has been a combined four goals. Joey Hanowski off to blazing start with 11 goals in eight games.
Honorable mention: Duluth Central, East Grand Forks, Proctor, South St. Paul