Blake beat Totino-Grace 5-3 on Friday, Jan. 7, in a rare matchup of top-ranked metro area small-school teams. Photo by Helen Nelson
Hungry for top-level competition, the state’s biggest schools and most dominant programs have taken turns slugging it out this season.
Northern powers Roseau, Moorhead, Grand Rapids and Duluth East all have made trips to the metro area for games against top 10-ranked teams.
There have been plenty of cross-metro battles as well, highlighted by last week’s east-west showdown between Hill-Murray and Eden Prairie.
All that cross pollination has made the Class 2A rankings, with a few exceptions, fairly straightforward.
Not so with Class 1A, where the schedule is backloaded with many of the biggest showdowns between top-ranked teams. The two games between rivals Breck and Blake have yet to be played. No. 3 Breck’s game against co-No. 1 St. Thomas Academy also comes during the second half of the season. Rochester Lourdes plays both Breck and St. Thomas Academy, but, again, not until later.
Totino-Grace scored all three of its goals in the final period of a 5-3 loss to Blake on Jan. 7. Photo by Helen Nelson
There were a couple of intriguing matchups last week that provided a bit of clarity. No. 7 Duluth Marshall, which had suffered a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of co-No. 1 Hermantown was slipping in the poll and might have dropped out of the top 10 completely if not for a 5-1 rout of No. 10 Rochester Lourdes.
Blake, meanwhile, played two dominant periods before holding on to beat No. 6 Totino-Grace 5-3. The loss was the first of the season for the No. 6 Eagles. The No. 4 Bears, who have played several quality Class 2A teams, seemed much more equipped to set the frenetic pace required to win top-10 showdowns.
“We were ready for intense shifts; an intense game,” said Blake senior Donald Chute said after scoring twice against Totino-Grace. “I think we were more accustomed to going out and playing full bore every shift. It could be attributed to our schedule, but I’d like to attribute to it to our practice habits and the way we come out everyday ready to work.”
Speaking of tough opponents, the Bears face another rugged test on Friday when they host No. 10 (Class 2A) Minnetonka.
The Eagles are the state's undisputed No. 1 team after knocking off their latest highly pedigreed challenger -- No 3 Hill-Murray. Defenseman Nick Seeler's return to lineup restores Eden Prairie status as the team with the state's most dynamic group of blueliners. Giant killer Burnsville awaits on Tuesday.
Colossal comeback against Holy Angels just the latest in a season full of thrillers for the Hornets, who have won just two of their 12 games by more than one goal. Few teams can match Edina's balance and depth, which makes them especially dangerous in the third period.
The Red Knights' lineup is brimming with star power, and senior defenseman Patrick Daly comitted over the weekend to play at Wisconsin. The next big thing at B-SM just might be mighty sprite Dan Labosky, a 5-foot-6, 145-pound sophomore who ranks second on the team with 19 points.
If there was any doubt about the Pioneers' status as an elite team, their toe-to-toe thriller with No. 1 Eden Prairie proves Hill-Murray belongs among the top handful of state powers. Pioneers have incredible depth, especially at forward where any of the top three lines are capable of producing game-changing shifts.
The Trojans' back-to-back losses to Moorhead and Maple Grove after a 10-0-0 start might have represented nothing more than a speed bump. Junior Mario Lucia is providing consistent goal scoring -- he has 16 and has been held without a goal in just four of 13 games.
The Greyhounds routed crosstown rival Duluth Central 7-1 last week at Duluth's new Amsoil Arena in front of the largest crowd (4,478) to see a high school game this season. The big games don't stop for East, as it hosts No. 7 Grand Rapids and No. 1 Eden Prairie this week.
The Thunderhawks have lots of quality wins, but so far have defeated just one top 10 big-school team (Edina). Road games on Tuesday and Thursday against Hermantown (co-No. 1 in Class 2A) and No. 6 Duluth East will have playoff-like atmospheres.
The Wildcats have been up and down this season (mostly up), and have won six of their last seven. Included in that run was last week's huge win over Apple Valley, a triumph that gives the Wildcats the early edge in the Section 3AA seeding race. Schedule quality drops off a bit this week.
This is a team Jacques Lemarie would love. The Crimson don't score much (they average 3.42 goals per game) but they don't need much offense when their defense is allowing just two goals per game. Dylan Steman, with 14 assists, has been top playmaker.
The Skippers had a nice week, winning on the road at No. 8 Eagan and cooling fast-improving Moorhead with a victory at home. Senior Thomas Schutt and sophomore Vinni Lettieri emerging as top offensive threats. The linemates share team lead with 18 points.
Honorable mention: Apple Valley, Holy Angels, Burnsville.
Don't let the Cadets' three losses fool you -- all three were against top-10 big-school teams (Minnetonka twice and Duluth East). St. Thomas Academy has defeated two quality Class 2A teams (South St. Paul and Mahtomedi) in its last two outings.
The Hawks hold the distinction of being the last of the state's unbeaten teams. Runaway victory over No. 7 Duluth Marshall last week was particularly impressive. How tough is Hermantown's schedule? Grand Rapids, No. 7 in Class 2A, comes to town on Tuesday. Road trip to No. 1 (Class 2A) Eden Prairie is scheduled for early February.
The Mustangs apparently took out their frustration from an 0-3-0 showing over the holidays in the Scwan Cup Gold Division on the St. Paul Saints in a 14-1 triumph last week. Wesley Iverson is team goal-scoring leader eight, and four players are tied for second with six.
The Bears are quietly in the midst of a superb season, highlighted most recently by their triumph over No. 6 Totino-Grace. Goaltending tandem of Devon Johnson and Ryan Hayes has been rock solid. George Ordway and Donald Chute share team lead with 10 goals.
Shut down the high-scoring duo of Adam Johnson and Nick DeCenzo, and there's a strong likelihood you will be the Blue Devils. The only problem with that plan is that few teams have been able slow that tandem. Johnson leads the state with 52 points, and DeCenzo is right behind with 51.
After two listless periods, the Eagles came to life in the third in their loss to Blake last week. Multiple postponements pushed back several of Totino-Grace's toughest games, and there was an adjustment period to Blake's high-speed pace. Eagles will have to be in top gear from the start when they play No. 7 Duluth Marshall on Saturday.
A loss to Grand Rapids, a win over Rochester Lourdes -- the Hilltoppers continued their roller-coaster season last week. Lourdes had not lost to a Minnesota opponent before falling 5-1 to the Hilltoppers. Proctor and Totino-Grace are next up on Duluth Marshall's minefield of a schedule.
"Southern" road swing last weekend was a success with wins over Rochester Mayo and Albert Lea. It will be back to the heart of the Iron Range on Saturday when the Blue Devils travel to face No. 5 Hibbing in what is one of the state's best rivalries. St. Cloud State recruit Garrett Hendrickson and wingman Travis Eddy have combined for 30 goals.
The Flyers are unbeaten in their last 11 games, making them the state's hottest team outside of No. 1-ranked Hermantown. The Flyers have allowed a combined four goals in their last five games. Matchup with Brainerd on Tuesday will go long way toward determining the Central Lakes Conference champion.
The Eagles' loss to Duluth Marshall almost knocked them out of the top 10, but they could start climbing again with victories over high-scoring Mankato West and Delano. Forward duo of Alex Funk and Jason Samuelson has combined for 25 goals.
Honorable mention: Warroad, South St. Paul, Thief River Falls, Delano, East Grand Forks.