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Of course we know that hockey season has gotten well underway, what with the UMD Bulldogs twice rising to the No. 1 ranking in the country, and preparing to take on the North Dakota Fighting...uh...Hawks this weekend at AMSOIL Arena.
This will be a huge test for the Bulldogs, who bounced back from a shutout loss at Denver to rise from a 3-0 deficit the next night to win 4-3 after Scott Perunovich tied it with 1.8 seconds left and freshman Cole Koepke won it at 0:52 of overtime. Spectacular as that effort was, the weekend dropped the Bulldogs out of the No. 1 slot. Then came a weekend off.
So now the amazingly balanced Bulldogs will face an old adversary, and a team that would enjoy nothing more that climbing back into NCHC contention at UMD’s expense.
Despite efforts by some to pick the top UMD line, here again is how balanced UMD is. The line centered by Peter Krieger has scored 9 goals, the line centered by Justin Richards has scored 11, the line centered by Jackson Cates has scored 9, the line centered by Jade Miller has 3, and the defensive corps has scored 8. That, is balance.
But in case you need more signs that we’re into hockey season, the annual Spirit of the North youth hockey tournament is this weekend, with huge fields of teams from throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and some Canadian outfits coming in to play in every age category. Check the website, or get on the Essentia Heritage Center website to find out all the teams and all the pairings in all the divisions.
And, while the girls have been playing games for several weeks, boys high school hockey is just getting underway this week.
A fellow told me he thought high school hockey was going to be down in this area this year, and I apologize if I looked at him as if he were an alien.
To start with, Duluth East is going to be strong again, and if you don’t believe it, check with the teams they played in the late-summer tournament. Coach Mike Randolph has put the Greyhounds on a newly contrived flexibility training regimen, they’ve all bought into it, and we can look for the Greyhounds to be stronger and faster this season because of it. Center Ryder Donovan has been centering East’s top line for two years already, and since last year’s wingers, Garrett Worth and Ian Mageau, both graduated, he has a new set of wings but is still the biggest and swiftest centerman in the region.
And the outstanding crop of backup skaters to the top line now has its chance to step into the spotlight themselves.
Hermantown is so loaded I kidded coach Pat Andrews that he could probably rank 1 and 2 in Section 7A. Depth asnd balance will be the Hawks main assets, but having a few standouts never hurts, and Hermantown has three players that could rank among the 10 Mr. Hockey finalists if that august group allowed all classes to be considered.
Blake Biondi is a big, strong forward and he is also a junior. Darian Gotz is a senior defenseman who might be as good on defense as anyone in any class. And sophomore Joey Pierce attracted rave reviews during summertime Elite League play. Biondi and Gotz are committed to UMD, where, who knows, they might be joined by East’s Donovan, who confirmed this past week that he has “decommitted” from North Dakota.
Probably the best news of the week is that Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty has been pronounced cancer-free after undergoing therapy for throat cancer that led to him to turn over the reins for this season to trusted assistant Bill Owens. It could be a tough year for the Hilltoppers, who lost heavily to graduation from the exceptional team they had a year ago, and a couple of prime returnees have chosen to not play this season.
The busiest guy in the area might be Jim Watt, the former star goaltender at Morgan Park in the 1960s who went on to Michigan State with his brother, Billy Watt, and, now retired, is the goaltending coach for Marshall. He had a tough night when Marshall took on Mounds View in its season opener last Saturday.
It was one of the strangest games that we will have this season. Mounds View stormed out and at the halfway point of the first period, had an 11-0 edge in shots, but the game was scoreless. The Mustangs kept peppering Alex Busick, Marshall’s 6-foot-5 senior goaltender, but it stayed 0-0 until 1:03 remained in the first period, and then Marshall scored, when Xavier McNulty scored with a high screened shot from the slot on a Marshall power play.
In the second period, Mounds View stopped shooting, but started scoring, getting two goals for a quick 2-1 lead, only to have Carter Sullivan gain a 2-2 standoff at the second intermission with a goal for the Toppers. It was a highlight video goal, as Sullivan came n 1 on 2, walked a defenseman, and whistled in a power-play goal with 2:08 left in the middle session. A mnute later, Dakota Oman zipped around the defense on the left side and acored a short-handed goal for an improbable 3-2 Marshall lead.
Still, at that point, Busick was the man of the hour, with his sparkling first-period saves giving Marshall a chance to be in the game. But the game took a weird turn in the third period, as Mounds View’s Henry Claridge took over. First he rushed in, and shot wide right for a tip-in b George DeMay at 0:13 for a 3-3 tie.
At 1:46, Busick went behind the net to clear the puck from the first forechecker, but he flung it up the left side -- right to the second forechecker, who was Claridge, who shot it into the unguarded net for a 4-3 Mustangs lead. DeMay scored his second at 2:54, making it three goals in the first three minutes of the final period, and Claridge stationed himself wide right of the goal on the power play, and, being a left-hand shot, scored two goals from the same location to give himself a hat trick and Mounds View a 6-3 victory.
No question, Busick got spooked by the sudden turnabout, but Jimmy Watt will take care of that.
Denfeld will be a hustling, scrappy outfit in Dale Jago’s second year as coach, and the Hunters already have shown a few flashes, both in last week’s preview, and in a couple early games this week.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, meanwhile, has gotten its coaching musical chairs to face the music and former Hibbing High School star Shea Walters takes over. The Lumberjacks will be a threat, wth senior Landon Langenbrunner leading the way, and with Kade Bender and Jon Baker lending support. Mason Langenbrunner, Landon’s sophomore brother, is among the crop of defensemen who also should develop into a consistent bunch.
Meanwhile, just to the north, Hermantown will face a strong Class A challenge from Greenway of Coleraine, which had the best young players in the area last season, and the same familiar names will lead the Raiders: Donte Lawson, a 37-goal scorer, Ben Troumbly, who had 18, Nikolai Rajala who had 17, Mitch Vekich who had 10, and defenseman Christian Miller, who gets strong aid from fellow-senior Cameron Lantz. If the Raiders get goaltending, they could make a run at the 7A title.
Proctor also gets new life, from its neatly done new arena, giving coach Dan Stauber the chance for a fresh start with the Rails’ rebuilding plans.
Vikings Big Victory sets up two big trips
If you watched pro football last Sunday, you had the chance for three outstanding games, with the Vikings huge victory over the Green Bay Packers the nightcap of a tripleheader.
I always enjoy watching the Seattle Seahawks just to see how many small miracles Russell Wilson can pull off to gain a victory somehow. He did it again, and the Seahawks caught Carolina for an unlikely 27-all tie, after Cam Newton had carried out the apparent game-winning touchdown. But the Carolina Panthers missed a long field goal, and Wilson pulled off two sensational passing plays to reach the 10, Wilson spiked the ball, and the Seahawks won 30-27 on a field goal as time expired.
Next up, our ol’ buddy Case Keenum and the Denver Broncos took on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and for virtually the entire game the annoiuncers were so certain big Ben Roethlisberger would win that at one point the color commentator declared that he thought Pittsburgh was the overall No. 1 team in the entire NFL. He apologized later, for overlooking the New Orleans Saints, but meanwhile, Keenum brought the Broncos back for a comeback that jolted the Steelers 24-17, and the rejuvenated Denver defense Orange-Crushed Big Ben with a final interception in the end zone.
Kirk Cousins, of course, outplayed Aaron Rodgers and the Vikings stunned Green Bay to virtually elimiante the Packers from contention. But before Vikings loyalists get too giddy, we must look at the next two games. The Vikings go to New England this weekend, then they go to Seattle the following weekend. If the Vikings win both, start taking playoff orders; if they win one of the two, we should celebrate; but we can’t overlook the possibility that the Vikings could play very well and fail to win at New England or Seattle. That wouldn’t be the end, but it would set up a frantic finish.
But it’s as exciting as it can get, now that hockey is at full sail.