Wayzata's Matthew Freytag (15) sends a shot on goal in the Trojan's 7-1 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret's last week. The two teams reprise that game Thursday night, Jan. 3 in the Hub's Game of the Week. Photos by Brian Nelson.
1. Wayzata at Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
If the Hub’s Game of the Week looks familiar, there’s a good reason. These same two teams (Wayzata and Benilde-St. Margaret’s) played in the same venue (the St. Louis Park Rec Center) less than a week ago in the championship game of the Sports Authority Holiday Hockey Classic.
The result was a shocker for most observers, as Wayzata routed Benilde-St. Margaret’s 7-1 on its home ice. The Trojans ripped in five second-period goals and had the defending Class 2A state champions on running time for portions of the third period.
No team had beaten Benilde that badly since it was still in Class 1A hockey in 2005 (and perhaps even further back).
“Was I a little surprised,” Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary asked rhetorically. “Absolutely.”
So why hit reset just a week later? Why make what was a one-sided game the first time the top game of the week?
Call it the curiosity factor. It can’t possibly happen again, can it?
Spencer Naas (8) of Benilde-St. Margaret's sends a shot just wide of Wayzata goaltender Aaron Dingmann.
When the season began, Benilde-St. Margaret’s (8-3-0) was most everyone’s top-ranked team. The Red Knights had a deep and veteran group of forwards leading the way, anchored by the prohibitive Mr. Hockey favorite, Grant Besse (21-8-29) – he of the historic five-goal outburst in the Class 2A state championship victory last March. Add in a potent second line that was boosted by the transfer of sniper Spencer Naas (15-10-25) from Blake, and the Red Knights were expected to score goals in bundles.
They generally haven’t disappointed. The top line of Besse, speedy Dan Labosky (6-22-28) and playmaking T.J. Moore (6-11-17) has been solid. Naas has had some big games, including a four-goal explosion in a victory over Burnsville. St. Louis Park transfer Alec Baer (4-5-9), Chase Jungels (2-6-8), Seth Chumley (3-3-6), Chris Hickok (2-3-5) and Zack Hale (0-4-4) are all capable goal scorers, even if they haven’t yet posted big numbers.
But those looking at the glass-half-full scenario noted that Benilde-St. Margaret's might struggle in its own zone. Top defensemen Jake Horton and Jonah Johnson graduated, and rising stars Jack Glover and Ryan Collins left early for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program. Both goaltenders (Anders Jecha and Justin Quale) departed. Critics noted those players wouldn’t be easy to replace, particularly with Benilde-St. Margaret's entering its independent phase and upgrading its schedule considerably.
And that’s just what’s happened. But nowhere was it more apparent than in the six-goal loss to Wayzata (10-1-0), a team from which not nearly as much was expected.
Let’s contrast the two programs entering this season.
Maxwell Zimmer (6) has six goals on the young season for Wayzata.
Wayzata was expected to be a nice team – after all, with a youth association as large as the Trojans’ there is no truly rebuilding year – but had graduated 12 letter winners, including its top seven scorers. Jalen Wahl (3-3-6) transferred in from nearby Hopkins, but he was the only player in the lineup who had more than three goals last winter.
Goal-scoring was expected to be an issue, and for most of the year, it hasn’t come easy. Entering the holiday tournament, Wayzata hadn’t scored more than four goals in any game and it had only done that twice in the first eight games. Even after scoring in bunches over the holidays, the Trojans are still averaging just 3.27 goals per game.
But what they have done well is win.
“I know our guys can score, it’s just taken some time a little bit,” said O’Leary. “We haven’t put a lot of pucks in the net, but we’ve been good defensively.”
With a stout defense and outstanding goaltending from senior Aaron Dingmann (8-1-0, 1.31. .938), the Trojans have won nine in a row and now are poised to earn a No. 1 seed in the Section 6AA playoffs should they beat Benilde-St. Margaret's again – and continue that momentum into the Lake Conference schedule. Wayzata is allowing just 1.36 goals per game and has already shut down vaunted offenses such as Duluth East (a 1-0 victory on Dec. 8) and Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
Dingmann has been the rock, as he’s shown he’s fully recovered from injuries that forced him to miss nearly all of his junior season. And the Trojans’ offense has received a major boost from sophomore Matthew Freytag (9-8-17), the team’s leading scorer, and freshman Maxwell Zimmer (6-1-7). Both moved up from the Bantam A program after being invited to the USA Select 15 national camp this past summer.
Wayzata won’t be a surprise to Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Thursday night.
2. Hill-Murray at Edina
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
In any other week, this heavyweight battle would likely be the top game of the week. Heck, it nearly got the votes to slide into that top spot this time. Edina (10-2-0) entered the holidays as the prohibitive No. 1 team in Class 2A, but left it tumbling a bit due to two losses in three games at the Schwan Cup Gold. The Hornets had trouble putting the puck in the net, scoring five goals in the three games. Make no mistake, though, it was likely just a blip on the radar for coach Curt Giles' squad. Hill-Murray (10-1-1) probably climbed into that No. 1 slot vacated by Edina, winning twice and then tying St. Thomas Academy in the Schwan Cup Gold finals (but winning the trophy on a shootout). Mitch Slattery (10-8-18) has been a great addition to the Pioneers, who are very stingy (1.17 goals against) in their own zone.
3. Burnsville at Prior Lake
With Edina losing twice over the holidays, a small crack seems to have opened in the Section 2AA race. Rather than being an Edina runaway, there is a chance for teams such as Burnsville and Prior Lake to stake a claim. The Blaze (6-4-1) have had their own uneven performances this year but are a young team that should grow into a contender. Burnsville's leaders are juniors in forward Tyler Sheehy (6-16-22) and defenseman Teemu Kivihalme (4-7-11). Junior Cole Borchardt (8-17-25) and sophomore Brock Boeser (9-12-21) have certainly made a splash in their first varsity season. Prior Lake (6-4-0) comes in after absolutely shutting down the field in the Schwan Cup Silver, winning all three games by a combined 13-1 score. Jordan Moran (5-3-0, 2.00, .930) was terrific in goal and it looks like after years of being an also-ran, the Lakers are ready to contend under coach Joe Pankratz.
4. Burnsville at Edina
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Is it a big week for Burnsville? That's the obvious statement of the story, as the Blaze not only face Prior Lake but also Section 2AA heavyweight Edina during the next three days (and we might want to mention Bloomington Jefferson on the schedule three days after that). The seeding race in Section 2AA should be much clearer after this spate of games. The Blaze (6-4-1) will be looking to tighten up their defense after allowing 11 goals the past two games against Hill-Murray and Breck. Meanwhile, Edina (10-2-0) is hoping to recharge its offense after a tough Schwan Cup Gold tournament in which it scored five goals in three games. Who shakes their holiday doldrums should determine the winner in this one.
5. St. Thomas Academy at Mahtomedi
Can anyone in Class 1A slow down two-time defending champion St. Thomas Academy? There haven't been many programs to step up and do that in the last seven years, but one that has found a way is Mahtomedi. The Zephyrs (7-4-0) upset the Cadets in the Section 4A playoffs in both 2009 and 2010. But this isn't that same Mahtomedi team. There are no superstars such as Ben Marshall, but there is plenty of depth, with six players scoring at least four goals. Mac Rathmanner (8-8-16) leads the way offensively. As it has in those seven years, St. Thomas Academy (8-1-1) is loaded -- and just might be the second-best team in the state regardless of class. The Cadets just finished second in the Schwan Cup Gold tournament, knocking off previously unbeaten Edina and only falling to Hill-Murray in a shootout. The scariest part? Leading scorers Tom Novak (6-10-16) and Christiano Versich (8-7-15) are just sophomores.
6. Grand Rapids at Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Two teams with high preseason hopes clash in an important Section 7AA game Thursday night. Grand Rapids (8-3-1) has been hobbled by injuries in the early going (which may be to blame for upset losses to Forest Lake and St. Francis), but the Thunderhawks are getting healthy for the stretch run. Gophers recruit Jake Bischoff is now back in the lineup and has already scored three goals in four games. Big power forward Avery Peterson (10-16-26) has carried the load offensively with help from Cody Mann (9-7-16) and Reid Holum (6-9-15). They'll have their hands full with Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (8-4-0) and its high-flying top line of Weston Michaud (14-21-35), Beau Michaud (13-20-33) and Minnesota-Duluth recruit Karson Kuhlman (15-10-25). A victory gets one team in solid position to host a quarterfinal section game.
7. Duluth Marshall at Hermantown
There are no section implications for these two northeastern Minnesota superpowers (Duluth Marshall is in 7A and Hermantown is in 5A), but as they're separated by a few miles atop the hills overlooking Lake Superior there are still plenty of bragging rights at stake. Both teams finished second in their respective holiday tournaments, Hermantown (8-1-1) squandering a five-goal second-period lead to tie Eagan at the South St. Paul Premier tournament (and lose on a shootout). The Hawks are extremely dangerous offensively with a top line of Travis Koepke (14-16-30), Bo Gronseth (10-16-26) and Chris Benson (10-14-24) and offensive-minded defensemen rushing the puck up ice. Duluth Marshall (7-4-0) lost in the final of its own tourney to Notre Dame Academy, the top-ranked team in Wisconsin. The Hilltoppers have been getting great play in goal from the tandem of Alex Murray (4-1-0, 1.60, .942) and Caden Flaherty (3-3-0, 2.32, .930) -- and they'll certainly be tested. Duluth Marshall must stay out of the penalty box, as Hermantown is clicking at 47.1 percent on the power play.
8. Stillwater at Mounds View
Plenty of folks have Hill-Murray's state tournament berth out of Section 4AA written in pen, but the games must still be played. And with good reason, as both Stillwater and Mounds View have shown they can be a factor come March. But it will be an interesting contrast when they face each other. The Ponies (5-4-1) have the most impressive victory of the two with a 1-0 shutout of Minnetonka back on Dec. 20. That score is indicative of Stillwater's season, as the Ponies are allowing 1.9 goals per game but only scoring 2.6. No player has double-digit points yet with Devin Cates (5-4-9) and Zach Fedie (6-2-8) atop the scoring charts. Mounds View (7-1-2) has opened it up a bit more and just won the Schwan Cup Bronze title by scoring 19 goals in three games (and averaging 5.5 per game overall). The Mustangs are a senior-laden team, except in goal with junior Brandon Smith (7-1-1, 2.72, .893).
9. Duluth East at Blaine
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game
Anyone who has seen these two teams play over the past couple of weeks knows one thing: honestly, just about anything could happen in this game and it wouldn't be a surprise. Really? Really. Both teams have shown they have top-five caliber talent but they've also stumbled just when it seemed as if it was jelling. Blaine (6-3-1) came into the Schwan Cup Gold as one of the few remaining unbeatens in the state -- and exited it with three straight losses. Speed is the name of coach Dave Aus' game, but it was effectively neutralized by Burnsville, Minnetonka and Edina (just five goals in those three Gold games). Duluth East (6-3-0) looked like it was headed down that same path after a 2-0 loss to Breck in the Gold quarterfinals, but then suddently awakened with twin 4-1 victories over Edina and Minnetonka in which it looked like the East of old. The 'Hounds have been stout defensively with a great defensive corps led by Meirs Moore (4-8-12), but they struggled to score until the past two games.
10. Chanhassen at Chaska
These are the hidden gems of the state -- the rivalry games that pit programs who are natural foes geographically, logistically and historically. Just three years ago, Chanhassen and Chaska were part of a combined program mucking along in the Missota Conference. Then the schools decided it was time to end the co-op and continue the growth of their programs. What immediately transpired was a heated rivalry that has leaned towards Chanhassen in the ensuing two years. The Storm (2-8-0) have won 31 games compared to 11 for Chaska (5-3-2) over those two seasons, including three of four in the rivalry game. But that could be changing this winter. The Hawks have already surpassed last year's win total, led by Brooks Wineberg (11-6-17). Chanhassen has had trouble scoring goals, as the Storm are averaging just 1.9 per game and with only two players (Bryson Burkholder and Logan Wilkinson) with more than two.