The contrasts continue in the State of Hockey, where you have super intense playoff hockey being played at the high school and college level only to be soured by the reality that the NHL team is experiencing another season of disappointment. The Boys State Hockey Tournament again provided a plethora of thrills and great stories. Meanwhile the WCHA playoffs rolled along and top seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers, 2nd seeded University of Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State advanced to the Frozen Five which should make for a packed Xcel Energy Center this weekend. This is true ‘March Madness.’ The crowds will be amped and full of vigor there will be more exciting, and most importantly, there to enjoy meaningful hockey games. These fans will be stimulating the local economy, going to places like Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub.
I know I love going to Reid’s, which just celebrated its 12th anniversary. But since I don’t get their often enough I’d love to take a snap shot of the crowds that show up for Wild games nowadays and compare them to who showed up for the State Tournament or the WCHA Frozen Five. If you had to guess, which crowd would you guess would spend more money and which one would be a bit more boisterous? I think just about anyone would guess the High School and WCHA crowds would be the ones spending more and enjoying themselves thoroughly than the Wild fans. Wild fans should be feeling like this but with another year out of the playoff hunt means they will have to wait until next spring. So will the Wild bring an exciting finish for the fans who’ve already enjoyed a fantastic weekend of hockey or will they produce a huge buzzkill?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the game with a checking line of Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson as the Wild tried to start with its hardest working lines first. A minute into the game the Wild had their first shot on goal as a nice hustle play by Warren Peters to get to the puck he’d send it towards the crease that was batted out of the air by Jed Ortmeyer that was gloved by Miikka Kiprusoff. The Flames tried to answer back and a breakdown defensively as Steven Kampfer and Tom Gilbert got caught watching Jarome Iginla ignored Olli Jokinen who was moving down the slot and he ripped a quick shot that was snagged out of the air by the mitt of an alert Matt Hackett. Calgary continued to buzz around the Wild zone, as they set up a slapper from the point by Anton Babchuk that was partially blocked and directed wide of the mark. The Flames were looking very determined and taking every opportunity to direct shots on goal and Hackett was very busy through the first half of the period. The Flames hustle would draw a turnover as Nick Palmieri‘s pass attempt out of the zone was intercepted by Alex Tanguay who drew the goaltender towards him before passing it back to a waiting Iginla in the slot who buried an easy goal, 1-0 Calgary. The Calgary goal was not even greeted with boo’s, just apathy which says all you need to know about this season. The fans finally had something to cheer about as Matt Kassian dropped the gloves against Calgary’s Guillaume Desbiens, and the two pugilists would square off near the left faceoff circle. Kassian just started to fire away with big right handed punches that had Desbiens reeling as he tried to duck his head down as he attempted to avoid being knocked out. The Wild enforcer did a nice job of using his left hand to throw a few jabs to keep Desbiens off balance as he finished him off with another barrage of right handed haymakers. A clearcut win for Kassian. After the fight, the Flames nearly managed to increase their lead as a dump in by Roman Horak surprised Hackett as it caught the crossbar and out. A few minutes later the Wild finally had a quality scoring chance of their own as Devin Setoguchi found a little space in the Flames zone off the rush and he rifled a low-lying wrist shot that was stopped by Kiprusoff that created a rebound and as Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen crashed looking for a rebound they were unable to direct a shot on goal as it bounced wide of the goal mouth. Calgary would respond with a quality chance of their own after a good battle along the wall in the Wild zone by Krys Kolanos where he’d take the puck towards the crease where he tried to out wait Hackett who made a fine stop and then push it out of harm’s way before the Flames could pounce on the rebound. Calgary would take a ‘too many men’ penalty, giving the Wild its first power play of the game. Minnesota struggled to get established in the offensive zone through the first 30 seconds of the man advantage. The Wild’s power play was very static with not a lot of puck movement and finally out of desperation tried to fire the puck on goal as Kyle Brodziak stepped into a slap shot that was blocked up into the air and the puck fluttered to the top of the goal and that was as close as Minnesota got and the period would end with the home team still trailing by one. Calgary was dominating the game, out shooting Minnesota 13-5 and while I wouldn’t say it was disastrous you could tell which club felt as though it was playing for something while the other was not.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had good energy to start the 2nd period as they had about 30 seconds of power play time left as Setoguchi directed a shot on goal that was fought off by Kiprusoff. The Wild continued to hustle well but this would continue only for the first few minutes and then Calgary would re-establish its dominance. Minnesota wasn’t being dominated but they struggled to execute even simple plays and whenever they were able to create speed through the neutral zone they were foiled by a bad pass or if they had a good pass Calgary was able to disrupt the shooting attempt. Calgary seemed fairly comfortable without applying too much pressure so they wouldn’t be caught pinching in Minnesota’s zone. The Wild tried to activate its defense as Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon were taking every opportunity to put a shot on goal or try to spark something offensively. Calgary had their moments where they were able to create some offense with a good forecheck as Olli Jokinen was looking as dangerous as I’ve seen him in the last 3 years. The Flames best chance came off a drop pass by Jokinen to Mark Giordano who blistered a shot that struck the cross bar and stayed out. Scandella continues to impress me with his ability to handle the puck and create space for himself. However this team needs more skill as you have part of a top line, part of a 2nd line and then two full 4th lines. I like the hustle these 4th lines bring, but its tough to win because they give the Wild so little offensively. It would be nice to see Nick Palmieri get a little more time as I really like the fact he goes hard to the net and does not try to be fancy and just puts the puck on goal and its that sort of approach that this team needs to embrace. Still, its pretty sleepy at the “X” so far. The Wild out shot Calgary 7-5.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild did not get out to a good start as the Flames added to their lead as rookie Sven Baertschi turned a fired a shot by Hackett to give Calgary a 2-0 lead. It was Baertschi’s 1st NHL goal, a moment the Wild loves to give over and over again to so many players across the league. Little did anyone know at the time the Baertschi goal would light a fire underneath the Wild and Minnesota started to show a little desperation as Erik Christensen raced in off the rush and he fired a wrist shot from near the left faceoff dot that snuck through 5-hole to cut the Flames’ lead in half. Christensen’s tally seemed to give the whole team a bit more jump in their skates and they re-newed their assault on the next few shifts. Matt Cullen was buzzing around the ice and Minnesota was swarming all over the Calgary zone as Kampfer rifled a slap shot that glanced off the outside left post. Just a little over 2 minutes after the Christensen’s first goal, he’d find the back of the net again as he ripped a shot by Kiprusoff to tie the game at 2-2. Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter had seen enough so he called a timeout to try to re-focus his team. Sutter’s speech worked because the Flames settled down and go to work for the equalizer. Calgary would try to work the forecheck and they’d get lucky as a broken stick helped foil a clearing attempt and the puck went onto the stick of Iginla who found himself tripped up but as he fell he tried to still shoot but didn’t get much of the puck that ended up being a blessing in disguises. Iginla’s fanned shot turned into a perfect pass to Curtis Glencross who wasted little time firing a puck by a sprawling Hackett to give Calgary a 3-2 lead. Minnesota tried to answer back but the Flames were playing well defensively, but with the Wild pinching this would leave them vulnerable to a counter attack and Calgary would kill Minnesota’s comeback hopes with just over 5 minutes left to play. After a failed rush, the Flames counter attacked on a 2-on-1 between David Moss and Olli Jokinen and Moss gave a nice cross-ice pass to Jokinen who deposited the puck into the Wild goal to give the Flames a 4-2 lead. Erik Christensen continued to try to spark his club and he’d have a marvelous chance from the high slot as he narrowly missed on a wrist shot. Minnesota would pull Hackett for an extra attacker as the Wild would strike late in the game as Tom Gilbert put a shot on goal that was stopped by Kiprusoff and Kyle Brodziak tried to battle for the rebound and the puck was gathered up by Setoguchi who lifted a shot into the twine behind Kipper to cut the lead to one just over a minute left. Minnesota struggled to get into the zone, losing nearly 25 seconds of time before they finally got it deep into Calgary’s zone and the best chance they could manage was a pass towards the slot by Heatley to Brodziak who hammered a shot on goal that was kicked aside by Kiprusoff and the Flames would prevail 4-3.
Matt Hackett was reasonable, stopping 23 shots in the loss. However Hackett is guilty of over committing to his pads at times, which is a common mistake you see in younger goaltenders and that caused him to be out of position for two of the Flames’ goals. Defensively the Wild also can be guilty of following the puck carrier a little too much and that leaves guys wide open on the back side. I thought Marco Scandella had a great game, while Jared Spurgeon struggled a bit. Clayton Stoner was decent in his first game back, I liked the physicality he brought to a defense that sorely needs it. Overall this group needs to be more physical, especially around the crease.
Minnesota’s offense showed up way too late. Erik Christensen got things rolling simply by being assertive and pouncing on his opportunities. Christensen has to realize he is auditioning for all 30 NHL teams with his play down the stretch and if he can show he can chip in offensively he’ll be more likely to score a contract, because let’s face it, apart from his shootout performance we haven’t seen much from him. My question is; in the last minute of the game after we cut the Flames’ lead to one, why wasn’t he on the ice? He clearly was the hot hand, why not put him out there? Also, where the heck has Dany Heatley gone? Heatley had no shots on goal. I don’t care where the Wild are in the standings, he needs to be at or near the top of the list in shots on goal each night for Minnesota. He can’t be a passenger on this team. When Heatley shoots the puck it opens up opportunities for his teammates.
For the draft cynics out there this game was perfect. It had a little excitement and scoring late in the game but Minnesota didn’t gain any meaningless points that would compromise the team’s position in the draft. I will admit I’m kind of indifferent at this point about winning and losing, but I still want to see this team play well and show signs of improvement. However, I think by what I’ve heard from this team they want to be winning games and they don’t care about the draft (which is really want we should want to hear as fans). Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo told reporters during his post-game press conference with tears in his eyes, “Its a little bit maddening, we owe our fans a good game here, we’ve had too many games were we’ve come out flat in our own building, we had a lot of guys but not everybody.” He added, “It’d be nice if we have 5-6 guys that want to win, we have some guys that want to win but not everybody, we gave up four goals, and that’s too much. Its a lack of urgency on our part, the last two weeks we gave up more 2-on-1’s than we have all season and it drives you crazy.” He closed by saying he hoped the offense from Christensen would continue but you could see just how bothered he was by another lackluster effort at home. We know your pain Mike, we (Wild fans) have been feeling that way for quite a while.
~ Wild roster this late afternoon was as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer, Stephane Veilleux, Matt Kassian, Darroll Powe, Erik Christensen, Nick Johnson, Nick Palmieri, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Steven Kampfer, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Josh Harding backed up Matt Hackett. Kurtis Foster, Niklas Backstrom, Cal Clutterbuck and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Erik Christensen, 3rd Star Curtis Glencross
~ Attendance was 17,119 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate St. Thomas Academy and Benilde-St. Margaret’s on being crowned Class A and Class AA State Champions for 2012.
Boys High School State Hockey Tournament Summary:
St. Thomas’ Academy 2012 State Champions Class A
~ In the Class A final, the St Thomas Academy struck early and often as Matt Perry got things rolling just 3 minutes into the game and then three minutes after that it was Alex Johnson adding another. Hermantown just couldn’t stay with the Cadets who added three more as they cruised to a 5-1 victory. I think Hermantown Head Coach Bruce Plante (father of former NHL’er Derek Plante) said it best when he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “They have three first lines, and we have one first line,” Plante said. “So when we put our twos and threes out, we are up against first lines, and our kids don’t ever see that, really. Typical Class A teams will have a hard time, It’s just gonna be hard for a normal town like ours, 8,000 people, or any small school in southern Minnesota or anywhere. It’s just hard to come up with nine forwards, six defensemen and a goalie like that. We just don’t get the numbers to do that.”
~ In the Class AA final it was arguably one of the most impressive individual performances in State Tournament History as Benilde St. Margaret’s Grant Besse put on a show for the ages. Besse single-handedly overwhelmed the Hill-Murray Pioneers, with all five goals for the Red Knights as they rolled to a 5-1 victory. Making Besse’s feat that much more impressive was the fact that 3 of his 5 goals were shorthanded tallies. Did I mention he’s just a junior?!?! Zach LaValle had the lone goal for the Pioneers. Benilde-St.Margaret’s Head Coach Ken Pauly made perhaps the understatement of the year when asked what he thought of Grant Besse’s play while his club was shorthanded, “that’s a hell of a penalty kill.”
~ Lakeville South prevailed 2-1 over Moorhead to earn 3rd place in Class AA while Breck slipped by Thief River Falls 4-3 for 3rd place in Class A.
~ Little Falls defeated Rochester Lourdes 5-4 to win Consolation in Class A, while Duluth East overpowered Eagan 4-1 to win consolation in Class AA.
~ 123,575 attended the State Tournament this year.
Class A All-Tournament Team
Alex Funk (Rochester Lourdes)
*Joey Hanowski (Little Falls)
Grant Opperman (Breck)
Jack Kenney (Breck)
Chris Forney (Thief River Falls)
Jared Kolquist (Hermantown)
Jared Thomas (Hermantown)
Jake Zeleznikar (Hermantown)
David Zevnik (St. Thomas Academy)
Andrew Commers (St. Thomas Academy)
Tom Novak (St. Thomas Academy)
Eric Schurhamer (St. Thomas Academy)
Class AA All-Tournament Team
Dom Toninato (Duluth East)
Nate Repensky (Duluth East)
*Michael Bitzer (Moorhead)
Justin Kloos (Lakeville South)
Conrad Sampair (Hill-Murray)
Blake Heinrich (Hill-Murray)
Sam Becker (Hill-Murray)
Grant Besse (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
Christian Horn (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
Dan Labosky (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
Justin Quale (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
*- Denotes Herb Brooks Award winner
~ Benilde-St. Margaret’s Ken Pauly named Coach of the Year in Class AA while Hermantown’s Bruce Plante named Coach of the Year in Class A.
~ Lakeville South’s and Golden Gopher recruit Justin Kloos named 2012’s Mr. Hockey Award winner.
~ Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer won the 2012 Frank Brimsek Award as the state’s top goaltender.
Wild Prospect Report:
HIFK Helsinki’s Mikael Granlund
D – Colton Jobke (Regina, WHL) ~ When you are seen as a leader of your team, you are sometimes asked to step up your game physically. Jobke certainly did that on Friday when he dropped the gloves against Moose Jaw’s Cam Braes as the Pats earned a 5-4 victory. The Delta, British Columbia-native had an assist, was a +1 with 9 penalty minutes in the win. Jobke has 10 goals, 29 points, and 96 penalty minutes in 67 games.
F – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Golden Gophers are faced with a haunted challenge from last season in the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. Last year the Seawolves swept the Gophers in a 1st round match up of the WCHA playoffs. For all of those returning Gophers, revenge has been on their minds and it was Erik Haula providing the drama by firing home two goals in a 2-1 victory on Friday night. As great as Friday night was for Haula, Saturday was even better. Haula again had two goals, but this time he contributed two assists as well. The former Shattuck St. Mary’s star’s scoring really turned the series in favor of the Gophers as he provided the game winning goals on both nights. The Pori, Finland-native has 19 goals, 44 points and 28 penalty minutes in 39 games.
C – Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ Graovac’s improved play has moved him up in the lineup for the Ottawa 67’s as he’s getting ice time with their top players like Shane Prince. The Brampton, Ontario-native contributed a helper in a 5-1 loss to Niagara Friday night. Graovac has 7 goals and 24 points and 31 penalty minutes in 46 games.
F – Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Mikael Granlund has cooled off slightly in the last few weeks as the Sm-Liiga season winds down towards the playoffs. The Oulu-native is 4th in the league in scoring with 20 goals, 51 points and 18 penalty minutes in 45 games.
F – Johan Larsson (Brynas IF, Eliteserien) ~ It has been remarkable to see the improvement and physical ability of the Lau, Sweden-native as he really has come into his own in his 2nd full season in the Swedish Eliteserien. After a modest 4 goals and 8 points in 43 games his rookie season he has 11 goals, 33 points in 49 games this year including a game winning power play goal in their most recent game against Timra.
F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ All good things have to come to an end sometime right? The Penticton Vees incredible winning streak ended at 42 games after losing to the Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday night 5-2. For Lucia, he was held scoreless in the game but maybe he was tired from the night before where he earned 1st star honors after netting a hat trick and chipping in an assist in an 8-5 thrashing of Prince George. The Notre Dame recruit has 42 goals, 93 points and 42 penalty minutes in 56 games.