Super Bowl or Not, High School Hockey Prevails

John Gilbert

Now that the Baltimore Colts have outlasted the San Francisco 49ers for a dramatic 34-31 Super Bowl victory, we can focus in on the stretch drive in hockey at the high school and college levels.
   Two major showdowns this week are already in the books, as Duluth East beat Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 3-2 Monday night in one of the best, high-intensity games of the season. It was a showdown between the Duluth area’s top two Class AA teams, and since East had beaten the Lumberjacks 5-2 earlier, Cloquet was waiting for revenge, with a jammed-full arena providing a home-ice advantage.
    Tuesday night, the same motivation, and fan turnout, filled Hermantown’s arena, where the Hawks were determined to prove they again are the top Class A team in the area, and convincing evidence was needed to overturn an earlier 5-4 upset loss to Denfeld. In this case, Hermantown pulled it off, but it was not as easy as the final 7-1 score seemed to indicate.

Hermantown’s Scott Wasbotten broke a scoreless tie by rushing in on a breakaway to beat Denfeld’s Zach Thompson at 0:13 of the second period -- ignitilng a 5-goal period for the Hawks.  -John Gilbert
Hermantown’s Scott Wasbotten broke a scoreless tie by rushing in on a breakaway to beat Denfeld’s Zach Thompson at 0:13 of the second period -- ignitilng a 5-goal period for the Hawks. -John Gilbert


    Denfeld was fresh off winning another big grudge match, having thumped Marshall 8-3 at Mars-Lakeview Arena, so they were hardened from playing and succeeding on the road. In most years, if Denfeld could say it had beaten Duluth East, or Hermantown, or Marshall, or Warroad, the Hunters might have called the season a success. But this year, the Hunters have beaten all those traditional rivals and is equipped to do some damage at sectional playoff time.
    The best thing about all these games is there was plenty of drama before anything was decided. At Marshall, Alex Thompson and linemate Levi Talarico both scored in the first period for Denfeld, but Marshall countered both goals for a 2-2 standoff after one period. They dropped the puck for the second period, and Denfeld’s Matt Mattila crossed the blue line, cut left, and rifled a 50-foot blast high into the left edge at 0:06. Less than three minutes later, Alex Thompson stuffed a wraparound goal, then Ried Lemker drilled a power-play goal at 8:11, and Talarico knocked in a rebound at 9:11. On his next shift, Talarico completed his hat trick at 11:37, firing off a great pass form Patrick Potswald. In less than 12 minutes, Denfeld had pumped in five goals, volleying 20 shots in the period to put the game away.
    At exactly the same time, Cloquet went to Hermantown, and the Hawks shut down the high-flying, but thin, Lumberjacks 4-1 in yet another very big rivalry game.

Duluth East’s Ryan Lundgren reacted quickly to convert a pass from Alex Toscano and score on Cloquet’s Zack Strom, starting the Greyhoiunds 3-2 comeback victory.  -John Gilbert
Duluth East’s Ryan Lundgren reacted quickly to convert a pass from Alex Toscano and score on Cloquet’s Zack Strom, starting the Greyhoiunds 3-2 comeback victory. -John Gilbert


   None of that mattered when Cloquet hit the home-ice to face East, and the Lumberjacks went to work right away, with goals by Tanner Robideaux and Beau Michaud to take a startling 2-0 lead on an East powerhouse that was in the process of winning 10 straight games. The Greyhounds, however, never get ruffled. They methodically play shift after shift, holding their poise and working to find openings One came at 11:18 of the first period, when Alex Toscano got the puck behind the Cloquet goal and spotted Ryan Lundgren sweeping across the crease. Toscano passed to the crease and Lundgren smacked it in.  Just 41 seconds later, Meirs Moore scored with a screened bullet from left point and it was 2-2.
    Although the game was swift and clean enough that referees weren’t necessary, Cloquet was penalized early in the second period. On the power play Philip Beaulieu was set up at center point and ripped a shot that was deflected in by Toscano at 2:34 and East had its first lead at 3-2. “I reached out with my stick, and got lucky,” said Toscano. “The puck hit the inside edge of my stick blade and went in.”

Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora stopped UMD’s Tony Cameranesi while beating the Bulldogs twice.  -John Gilbert
Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora stopped UMD’s Tony Cameranesi while beating the Bulldogs twice. -John Gilbert


   After that, the tension rose through the rest of the second period, and all through the third. East, which had been awarded the last two penalties of the second period, got one for what appeared to be the best bodycheck of the game with a couple minutes to go, but the Greyhounds seem to be at their best when killing penalties, and they rode out the rest of the game to hold onto the 3-2 victory. When East has a lead in the third period, coach Mike Randolph can urge them to keep charging, or put them into what he calls “lock-down” mode. This time, his respect for the Lumberjacks was sufficient for him to call for lock-down, and they stifled Cloquet on only four shots in the third period to cling to the 3-2 victory.
   “That was a great hockey game,” said Cloquet coach Dave Esse. “I wish we had won the game, but it was such a good game that it was great just to be in it.”
   The Cloquet arena, incidentally, might have the best food of any of the state’s hundreds of arenas. Chicken wild rice soup if excellent, the hamburgers are too, and reportedly the hot dogs also are top shelf. At the end of the concession stand, a group of people are making chocolate chip cookies, two for $1. You can get your two wrapped, or you can select those too hot to wrap, and eat them before they crumble from their own heat and freshness.

Denver’s Shawn Ostrow charged past the UMD defense for two goals against Matt McNeely in a rally from two goals down to sweep the Bulldogs.   -John Gilbert
Denver’s Shawn Ostrow charged past the UMD defense for two goals against Matt McNeely in a rally from two goals down to sweep the Bulldogs.  -John Gilbert


    Shifting to Hermantown, where finding a vantage point was no easier in the big crowd, and Denfeld put its style to work. Hermantown attacked, over and over, and Denfeld held its poise, even though backed into its own end. At one point Hermantown had an 11-0 edge in shots, but it was 0-0. When the first period ended, the Hawks outshot Denfeld 17-4, but it was still 0-0. It’s not rope-a-dope, because Denfeld has some dangerous scorers, and whenever they got an opening, they threatened Adam Smith in the Hawk net.
   Much like when the trick worked in Denfeld’s favor at Marshall, Hermantown turned the trick around and scored early and often in the second period. Scott Wasbotten broke in with a mishandled puck and broke in alone, beating Denfeld goalie Zach Thompson at 0:13 to break the scoreless deadlock. Three minutes later, Chris Benson snuck one in from deep on the left side, and less than three minutes after that, Bo Gronseth scored his first of two in a row, anbd Wasbotten finished the period with another power-play goal. Hermantown had outscored the Hunters 5-0 and outshot them 18-6 in the period. A couple more in the third, and it ended up 7-1.
   Just another typical week in the stretch run of the high school hockey season. There are only a couple of games left, and then sectional playoffs begin.

SUPER BOWL WAS SUPER

    It was unfortunate that San Francisco didn’t get rolling in the first half of the Super Bowl, but it was extremely fortunate that the 49ers did get hooked up in the second half, chasing the Baltimore Ravens all the way to the finish before falling 34-31. Both teams played well enough to win. Both quarterbacks were outstanding, with Joe Flacco finally silencing the critics who seem to have spent the season overlooking his cool precision.
   I mean, when you have characters like linebacker Ray Lewis shrieking and screaming with his emotions on permanent overload, it was remarkable to see repeated closeups of Flacco, where he looked like he might just doze off until it was time for the offense again. His near-flawless game allowed him to finish the four post-season playoff games without throwing a single interception.
    But Conrad Kaepernick was just as good and more dynamic leading the 49ers. He threw more, completed more, and rolled up more yardage than Flacco, who deservedly won the most valuable player award. But in the end, the Ravens were just too tough defensively whenever challenged near their own end zone. Sure, there were a couple of questionable penalties, and the 49ers seemed to get the worst of the questionable calls, but except for the last jersey-clutching grab that was a little bit holding and a little bit pass interference, and might have prevented the game-winning touchdown by the 49ers, it wasn’t the refs who won the game for the Ravens. It was their impenetrable “red-zone” defense.
    
     AMAZING SIMILARITY
 
    The UMD men and women both had rough hockey weekends (and basketball too, for that matter). But the similarities between the men losing twice at home to Denver, and the women losing twice at Ridder Arena to the University of Minnesota were intriguing.
    The women played hard and very competitively in the first game, and the No. 1 ranked Gophers led 1-0 after one and 2-0 after two, before putting the Bulldogs away 5-0 with a strong third period and shutout goaltending from Noora Raty.
    The UMD men were outplayed by a slight bit in all three periods Friday night, giving up a goal in each to lose 3-0 and grant a shutout to goaltender Juho Olkinuora, a sophomore from Finland. Denver coach George Gwozdecky left his team to hurry to Thunder Bay to be with his dad, who was gravely ill. He died late Friday, with Gwozdecky at his side.
    On Saturday, the women’s game was moved to 3 p.m. to appear on the Big Ten Network, and UMD gained a 1-0 lead, then fell behind 2-1, but then got a highlight-video goal from Jenna McParland. Shorthanded, she swiped the puck at the Minnesota blue line on the boards, then raced in at Raty, who had already lowered her goals-against average under 0.90 for the season, and with a slick move, she snapped a shot over Raty’s shoulder and into the top right. The shorthanded goal tied the game 2-2, and it stayed that way well into the third period. It was probably as big a challenge as the Gophers have had in this 28-0 season, but Amanda Kessel got loose and outraced the defense to the net to score on Kayla Black to break the tie, and it was like poking a hole in a dam. The Gophers scored three goals in 1:45, and four in the period, to win 6-2.
   Saturday night, at AMSOIL Arena, the UMD men came out similarly charged up to overcome Denver’s first-game advantage. The second line, with Caleb Herbert centering Justin Crandall and Adam Krause, was UMD’s best all weekend, and they got rewarded when Herbert snapped a shot off from the left circle that fooled Olkinuora and got through on the short side at 1:05. In the second period, Mike Seidel got th epuck to Tony Cameranesi, who curled toward the slot and passed, and the puck glanced off a defenseman and went right to freshman Austin Farley, who scored at the right edge of the goal at 0:31. Shawn Ostrow got one back for Denver midway through the second period, but Cameranesi’s power-play goal lifted UMD to a 3-1 lead.
   UMD coach Scott Sandelin had reportedly run his Bulldogs through a surprisingly heavy-duty skate Saturday morning, miffed about how little intensity they had shown in Friday’s game. The heavy workout seemed to have worked when UMD led 3-1 at the second intermission. However, the Bulldogs seemed to be running on empty in the third period, when Denver overturned the UMD momentum, and after several spirited minutes of play, the Pioneers went on a rampage, outshooting UMD 18-7 in the period. They got a second goal from Shawn Ostrow with 6:20 remaining to cut the deficit to 3-2, then Chris Knowlton scored 36 seconds later to tie the game 3-3. Before you can say “get ready for overtime,” a flurry of penalties left UMD shorthanded, and Nolan Zajac beat Matt McNeely with a bad-angle power-play shot. Suddenly, with only 4:49 left, Denver had scored three goals in the span of 1:31 and vaulted to a 4-3 lead. Olkinuora held firmly the rest of the way.