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Funny how it never gets old? Just like last year at this time, Duluth will have three schools represented at the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament in Duluth East, Hermantown, and Marshall.
This is the 68th hockey tournament, and Northland hockey fans obviously go into it with hope one or two of our teams can bring home a big trophy. More than that, we hope they play their best, win or lose, and represent all that is great about Duluth area hockey on the grandest stage of all. he state hockey tournament in Minnesota is the biggest sports event in the state, every year, and has become the event that defines the state.
Never mind the pros, or the colleges, or the other high school sports; they all must suffer from the ups and downs and inconsistencies of all teams. But despite the upsets and surprises on the way, the state hockey tournament is a constant, always reaching the heights of emotion and displaying astounding levels of competence. We like all our schoolboy sports in Minnesota, but our hockey players are closer to college and pro caliber than the participants in any other sport.
Duluth East has a shot at the Class AA title it last won in 1998, and before that in 1995 -- both with 25-3 records -- and before that in 1960, at 23-3, back when Herman and his town were an obscure wooded region near the airport, and hadn’t yet become the Edina of Duluth. Marshall, meanwhile, was located downtown and known as Duluth Cathedral, and not even allowed to play with the public school boys.
Hermantown, which won the Class A title in 2007 with a 29-0-1 record, defeated Marshall in the championship game that year. Now, after reaching, and losing, the title game three straight years, once to Breck and the last two in overtime classics to St. Thomas Academy, the Hawks wound up running directly into Marshall in the quarterfinals, by the luck of the first-round draw.
The Hawks had to fly south to win the Section 5A title, beating St. Cloud Cathedral 5-1. Marshall, and then East, took center stage at AMSOIL Arena to win their titles. Some are upset that while the top four are seeded in both tournaments, their foes are made by blind draw, but the two Duluth-area entries face off the first day. A better way to look at it is that one of them is assured of being in Friday’s semifinals. As usual, getting to state was half the fun.
HOUNDS HANG ON
East was top seed and Grand Rapids second, and it took everything the Greyhounds could muster to get past the Thunderhawks. Usually getting the first goal in such a big game is pivotal, but East got the first two, when Jack Kolar scored midway through the first period, and Phil Beaulieu moved up from the point to score midway through the second. But the Hounds didn’t have their usual rhythm. Maybe it was the great crowd of 5,630 at AMSOIL, but they quit moving the puck in their usual fashion, settling instead for one-man efforts the left a path open for Rapids.
At 11:05 of the middle period, Reid Holum scored from the slot to cut it to 2-1, but East came back when Jack Forbort carried up the right side, circled behind the net, and continued back out front on the left side bvefore firing high into the right corner with 28 seconds left in the second period. At 3-1, East seemed in command, but Jake Bischoff took the game over for Grand Rapids to lead a third-period comeback.
Bischoff, a Mr. Hockey candidate and already the winner of the Reed Larson award as the best senior defenseman in the state, was at center point to catch a pass from his freshman brother, Jonah, and ripped a screened shot. It sailed promptly in, but Holum had gotten a piece of it for a deflection goal at 1:10, cutting it to 3-2.
There was still time for a couple of enormous plays. First, in the face of Grand Rapids pressure, Beaulieu, a defenseman, flipped a pass out to center ice, and Alex Toscano broke free with the puck, sailing in on a breakaway to beat goaltender Hunter Shepard at 4:33, restoring East’s 2-goal lead at 4-2. East’s Andrew Kerr and Alex Trapp delivered huge bodychecks, and again it appeared the Hounds were secure.
But midway through the period, Jake Bischoff made a play the might be the single biggest bit of evidence about why he won the top-defenseman award. Having played almost the whole period, Bischoff came rushing up the middle of the rink. He spotted Holum on the right boards and passed to him at the East blue line. Holum turned, loaded up, and fired a slap shot that was deflected cleanly past Dylan Parker at the net. Amazingly, the deflection was delivered by Bischoff, who managed to pass before reaching the blue line, then raced to the goal in time to make a clean tip on Holum’s shot.
That closed the gap to 4-3, and the game took an odd and unfortunate turn at 9:09. Rapids rushed, and sniper Avery Peterson got open in the slot. As a pass from the left came to him, he pivoted to shoot off the pass. But before the puck arrived, East’s Toscano blasted him in the back and dropped him. It appeared certain that the Hounds would be shorthanded for two, and possibly five, minutes. But the referees watched in silence, and made no call. The Greyhounds immediately counter-attacked and rushed into the Rapids end. Ryan Lundgren, top line center, got to the puck first, but David Horsmann -- possibly amped up on adrenaline at the non-call -- blasted Lundgren into the end boards.
This time the refs didn’t hesitate, and properly gave Horsmann a five-minute major for boarding. East did nothing on the extended power play, but the major infraction wouldn’t have occurred if any kind of penalty had been called on the hit at the other end. Regardless, the 4-3 game percolated along to the finish. Rapids pulled goaltender Shepard, and East made a rush at the empty net, but a Rapids player blocked a long slap shot. It was Jake Bischoff, following up his dominant night by making a huge save. The game ended when East iced the puck with 4.1 seconds showing. Avery Peterson pulled the crucial faceoff back to Curtis Simonson, but Lundren dived to swat the puck clear and end the game.
“We beat a great team,” said East coach Mike Randolph. “And Jake Bischoff was a man possessed. He took over the game. Every time he carried the puck up the middle of the ice, I got nervous. We were in control in the first two periods, but in the third, we were guilty of playing on our heels. When we got that late penalty, I took a timeout. I told our guys, ‘We’re up by one, we’re not behind. Killing penalties is one of the best things we do, so go kill this one and we go to the state tournament.”
There was a feeling as Marshall and top-seeded Denfeld came onto the AMSOIL ice for the Section 7, Class A final. The Hunters seemed to be looking around, trying to look poised, at being on the verge of making it to the big show; Marshall’s Hilltoppers zoomed through warm-ups as if they were comfortable with the by-now familiar chore of reaching the state tournament. Before the start of the game, three black-clad Hilltoppers gathered for a group hug near the Marshall bench. They were seniors Kris McKinzie, Matthew Klassen, and Connor Flaherty -- three seniors knowing how much they’d been through, and how this could be their last game.
This was a markedly different Hilltopper team than the one Denfeld thrashed 8-3 at midseason. Coach Brendan Flaherty was pretty discouraged back then, because Marshall had also lost 6-1 at home to Totino Grace and 7-0 at Rochester Lourdes. “No question, in January we struggled,” said Flaherty. “We’re young and smaller, and we struggled against high-end players. So we changed some things. We moved Anthony Miller back from forward to defense, and went mostly with four older defensemen. We had some really good younger players, but we decided to lean on our senior class.
“We saw a turnaround at Cloquet, some cohesiveness. This game against Denfeld was a great game, and if it wasn’t our best, it certainly was one of them. When we went down and beat St. Cloud Cathedral 3-1, we also played this well. In the playoffs, we beat Hibbing 3-2. No question, we’re playing our best hockey right now.”
It showed from the start of the game. The Hilltoppers showed some dash, and the Hunters seemed tentative. A lot of too-soft Denfeld passes were easily picked off, and 5:53 into the game, three Marshall seniors collaborated to take a 1-0 lead. Michael Damberg forechecked to kick the puck free on the end boards, and Jeremy Lopez got it. He moved toward the back of the net, then sent a perfect pass out to the slot to Klassen, whose quick shot beat goaltender Zach Thompson for a 1-0 Marshall lead.
The Hunters came right back, and when Alex Thompson got in deep on the left, he misfired on his pass attempt, but it slid to Levi Talarico anyway, and Talarico jammed it in at the left edge for a 1-1 tie. A Hunter penalty followed, and when Luke Pavelich was checked off the puck in the slot, Kris McKinzie pounced on the puck, cut right, and scored with a backhander to restore Marshall to a 2-1 lead.
While Denfeld never really got into its usual offensive rhythm -- the sort of rhythm they had shown when a five-goal second period had buried Marshall 8-3 at midseason -- Ried Lemker got a rebound and scored a power-play goal at 10:02 of the second period to tie it 2-2. But Marshall’s quickness regained the lead later in the second period. Cam McClure got the puck and stepped out front on the right side of the net, and with nobody challenging his position, he pulled the puck back and flicked it up and into the net high right to make it 3-2.
Denfeld charged to the finish, putting on some good pressure, but the revamped Hilltoppers weathered it. Caden Flaherty made some big saves in the closing minutes, but when the Hunters got a late power play and pressed, it was left to Jeremy Lopez to come up with the play of the game. In the made scramble near the crease, a blocked puck squirted out to the left side. Levi Talarico, the area’s top scorer, had one quick chance, with Flaherty unable to get over to cover. But as Talarico went to shoot, he got nothing but air. Lopez, backchecking intensely, lifted Talarico’s stick blade and caused him to miss the puck.
The senior forward who transferred from Proctor just this year played well, although there’s a question which was bigger: making a perfect pass on the first Marshall goal was no more significant than preventing Denfeld’s potential tying goal in the closing seconds.
Hermantown has the talent to make a run at two-time defending Class A champ St. Thomas Academy, but colorful Hawks coach Bruce Plante may be urged to repeat his comment after last year’s runner-up finish: “We’re the public school champ.”
The Hawks had to get past a strong St. Cloud Cathedral in the 5A title game, then faced Marshall in the Wednesday state tournament opener. After that, they could well have to face a powerful Breck team in the semifinals, and St. Thomas Academy in the final. Plante, and none of his players, are looking ahead that far for obvious reasons. But if that scenario plays out, Hermantown will have earned complete respect, having to face four straight private schools.
St. Thomas Academy is moving up to AA next season, fueling more speculation that private schools, which can attract students and players from anywhere, should play AA. Of course, if St. Thomas Academy and Breck both had followed Benilde from A to AA three years ago, Hermantown very likely would be the three-time defending champ right now -- and everybody would be clamoring for the Hawks to move up to AA.
UMD’s big series against Nebraska-Omaha this weekend is important to UNO in its quest to move higher in contention in the WCHA, and it’s important to UMD to get some momentum off last weekend’s sweep against Alabama-Huntsville for the league playoffs. Whatever happens, the games will be the last ones of the season for the Bulldogs at AMSOIL.
They have no chance to gain the top six and a home-ice berth for the final playoffs in the WCHA as we’ve come to know it. UMD beat Alabama-Huntsville 4-2, as Chris Casto had a goal and two assists in a strong game, while Tony Cameranesi, Cody Danberg and Justin Crandall also got goals. The next night, coach Scott Sandelin didn’t dress workhorse freshman goalie Matt McNeely, and entrusted the game to Aaron Crandall -- who responded with a perfect 4-0 shutout.
The Dogs got a 1-0 lead on Cameranesi’s first-period goal, then Mike Seidel and Austin
Farley both scored on a 5-minute power play early in the second. Wade Bergman scored midway through the third. Cameranesi and Farley each had two assists to go with their goals.
“We’re not there yet, but we will be,” vowed Alabama-Huntsville coach Kurt Kleinendorst. He took over the team after it reportedly would drop hockey, and three top players transferred without penalty before the school reconsidered and reinstated the program. It will move into the WCHA next season.
Klenendorst, a former star at Grand Rapids and Providence and in pro hockey, still comes home every summer to a place he owns on Lake Pokegama.
The UMD women, however, found that coming home isn’t always a good thing, and that the home-ice advantage they had worked so hard to attain wasn’t such an advantage after all. Getting the tie-breaker against Ohio State, the Bulldogs got a 1-0 lead, but couldn’t hold it. Ally Tarr and Paige Semenza scored in the second period for the Buckeyes, and when Vanessa Thibault scored a diving goal in traffic to tie it for UMD, Annie Svedin scored with a slap shot from center point on a Buckeye power play before the second period ended. It ended 4-2 when Hokey Langan hit an empty net.
The second game of the best-of-three found the final elements of this injury-filled season. Starting goalie Kayla Black returned to replace Karissa Grapp, who had started only her second game ever in the Friday game. But the UMD trainer informed coach Shannon Miller that Black was experiencing dizziness and had to come out. Miller’s long night started before the game, when fiery second-line center Zoe Hickel, just back from injury herself, was declared out of the second game when an injury late in Friday’s game persisted to knock her out Saturday.
Oh, and the Bulldogs were beaten 3-0 by the Buckeyes, who outshot UMD 34-21 and got goals from Tina Hollowell and Mintta Tuyominen in the first period, and Hokey Langan in the third, with a bullet from the right circle against relief goalie Karissa Grapp.
“We fought through a lot of adversity,” said Miller, “but I felt our seniors deserved better than this, even if it was only one or two more games.”
It was the first time UMD had ever failed to win a quarterfinal series. Instead, it will be Ohio State moving on to face Minnesota in Friday’s WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals. Wisconsin and North Dakota clash in the other semifinal of the tournament, played at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Minnesota is 36-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation, as well as in the WCHA.
“Our kids want to have an impact,” said OSU coach Nate Handrahan. “There are some things that haven’t been done in Buckeye hockey history. We’ll go into Minneapolis, knowing what we’re in for.”
As home-ice advantages go, Minnesota is undefeated wherever the Golden Gophers play, but they were at home for the final league series, and for the playoff quarterfinal series, and now for the WCHA Final Faceoff, then for the West Regional of the NCAA, and the Frozen Four? Also at Ridder Arena.