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The Sports Daily > Crease and Assist
Wild effort arrives too little too late in frustrating 2-1 shootout road loss to lowly Edmonton

Mortal Kombat, the popular video game first appeared 1992, it was a fighting game which set itself apart from other fighting games for its level of gore and deadly finishing moves where the character would mutilate its helpless opponent and earn bonus points for doing so.  While hockey can be a violent game it pales in comparison to the violence in this video game, but there is a key element that the Minnesota Wild should take heed to.  Right now, the Edmonton Oilers are the equivalent of that helpless opponent with the fans of the State of Hockey telling their team to “Finish Him.”  The Oilers are horrible with the worst record in the NHL and seem to be a team in need of a giant house cleaning and Edmonton attempted to do just that during the trade deadline dealing away Steve Staios, Denis Grebeshkov, and Lubomir Visnovsky in the process.  Strange coaching decisions by Head Coach Pat Quinn to give token ice time to leading scorers Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule have many Oilers fans wondering if the most important change might be one behind the bench, but Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini does not seem to be any hurry to revise that situation.  The Wild need to show that killer instinct and finish off an opponent that is already dead in the water. Minnesota doesn’t have to rip out Edmonton’s spine or their heart, but a good fast start to take an early lead would be greatly appreciated.

This is your classic trap game where the expectations are that this should be “easy” but these are the sorts of games that really will challenge the Wild’s focus after earning a big victory over the Flames on Wednesday night.  Prior to the game, James Sheppard gave some sage advice (no nothing to do with his knowing all he needed to know about hockey since he was 3 years old) saying that the Wild need to look beyond the stats and just focus on taking care of business and playing as best as they can.  To use another video game reference, to lose to the Oilers at this point would be about as disappointing as losing to Glass Joe on the old Nintendo game Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.  The best advice is to not to get caught up being fancy or showing off and instead just focus on knocking them out early and moving forward with the rest of their season.  So will the Wild obliterate Glass Joe (the Oilers) or will Edmonton catch Minnesota looking forward to its next game and deliver a devastating and embarrassing upset?

Minnesota would be moving their feet well as they would move the puck deep in the Oilers’ zone but despite their hustle they were unable to create any shots on goal.  The Oilers went on the counter attack and they would have an outstanding opportunity as Marc-Antoine Pouliot carried the puck beneath the goal line that was garnering an unusual amount of attention from Niklas Backstrom who moved way out of his crease and he’d slide a shot between him and the goal post and the puck would slowly slide toward the goal line and Backstrom would reach and grab the puck just before it completely crossed.  There would be a review but that confirmed that Backstrom got to the puck just in time and it was ruled correctly ‘no goal.’  The 4th line of Derek Boogaard, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck had a great first shift, especially Boogaard who was battling well along the boards.  Both teams were working the puck deep but were unable to create many shots on goal.  A few minutes later, it was a similarly structured line as Zach Stortini would outmuscle the Wild for pucks and he’d try to stuff a shot by Backstrom but Mike Comrie would take the loose puck and then beat the Wild goalie on the wrap around to give Glass Joe…uh I mean Edmonton a 1-0 lead.  On the very next shift Derek Boogaard would try to create some energy by throwing his big frame around but he got a bit carried away and would end up drawing a kneeing penalty on a hit to former Wild draft choice Ryan Jones.  Early in the Edmonton power play, former Bloomgington Jefferson star Tom Gilbert would wind up and uncork a slapper from the point that Greg Zanon blocked that left him a little worse for the wear, but he’d return later in the Oilers’ man advantage.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were challenging well, but at the end of the power play the Oilers would dish a pass to Zach Stortini along the half wall and he slid a pass out to the point to Ryan Whitney who fired a shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  Moments after the killed Oilers’ penalty, the Wild’s Guillaume Latendresse would draw a penalty of his own as he was held up by Theo Peckham after he misplayed a puck in his own zone.  Minnesota would try to utilize the slap pass and redirect and Andrew Brunette‘s deflection missed just wide.  The Oilers tried to go on the attack themselves shorthanded but as the Wild thwarted the Oilers’ rush, they would counter attack as Owen Nolan was in a 2-on-1 with Latendresse.  Latendresse fed the perfect saucer pass to Nolan who tried to lift a shot only to see it nabbed out of the air by Jeff Deslauriers.  The Wild continued to attack and a sharp angle pass by Chuck Kobasew was redirected just wide of the mark, and Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage.  A few minutes later the Wild would go back on the man advantage, as Ryan Jones was battling for the puck on the boards and he’d fall down as he took a desperate stab for the biscuit he ended up hitting Marek Zidlicky right across the face.  On the power play the Wild had a great chance thanks to some nice support by Niklas Backstrom who quickly passed the puck up to Andrew Brunette who tapped a pass to Latendresse who was all alone and he’d try to thread a pass back to Brunette instead of taking a shot himself on a play where he probably should’ve just taken the shot himself.  Minnesota would continue to move the puck well but were unable to solve Deslauriers and they would again have nothing to show for themselves on the power play.  The Oilers really began to ratchet up their intensity, as they were winning battles for the pucks along the boards and their hard work earned a small cheer from the Rexall Place crowd.  Minnesota would end the period with a solid hard working shift from the top line where Andrew Brunette worked the puck behind the Edmonton goal for a few quick shots on goal that Deslauriers was up to the task to stop.  However the Wild had to feel disappointed trailing 1-0 going into the 2nd period.

The Wild seemed to have more purpose to their game to start the 2nd and they would develop a great scoring chance early as Andrew Ebbett found himself all alone near the crease but he was unable to lift a shot over a sprawling Deslauriers.  Owen Nolan would show some fiestiness as he’d get into it with Zach Stortini and both players would end up in the penalty box making the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 for two minutes.  The Wild tried to take advantage of the extra space but all they were able to create were a few long range chances that were no problem from the Oilers’ goaltender to stop.  Minnesota was swarming a bit and the pace of the game would intensify and a bad turnover by James Sheppard in the neutral zone turned into an Edmonton scoring chance off the rush for Andrew Cogliano who ripped a shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  The officials were allowing the players to play a bit, and Cam Barker would be hooked up as he tried to join the rush as he would crash into the Oilers’ goal to no call.  The Oilers would start to move their feet and take the body aggressively and put Minnesota on its heels a bit as they were taking their chances to shoot whenever they presented themselves.  The hustle by Edmonton was starting to cause some errors by the Wild in their own zone as Shane Hnidy slid a blind pass to no one that caused Minnesota to chase.  Moments later Andrew Ebbett would chip a pass towards the right wall to Guillaume Latendresse who made a nice toe drag move around Tom Gilbert and then swooped behind the net for a pretty wrap around goal to tie the game at 1-1.  The Oilers would go right back on the attack as Minnesota would scramble as they struggled to clear the zone and Niklas Backstrom a few times was surprised and luckily he got just enough defensive support to partially block shots that could’ve easily ended up in the back of his net.  Edmonton was looking like the team desperately trying to get into the playoffs while the Wild seemed to lacadasical and complacent.  Minnesota would try to counter attack against the Oilers’ aggressive approach and it began to yield some offensive pressure for the Wild as Martin Havlat carried the puck deep before dishing a pass to a pinching Nick Schultz who tried jamming a shot by Deslauriers but he would hold the post well and make the stop.  The game would degenerate a bit as both teams were attempting long ‘home run’ style passes and not completing too many of them either.  Minnesota would manage to create some more pressure on a nice stick by Martin Havlat to deflect a puck up into the air and he chased it into the Oilers’ zone and Minnesota would win a battle for the puck along the boards and the Wild would turn it into some offensive pressure as they set up shots from the point.  Tempers would flare on the end of this play as Ryan Whitney took offense to Cal Clutterbuck who gave a big hit to Aaron Johnson and there would be a little meeting of the minds near the boards but no penalties would be called.  Towards the end of the period, and on the rush the Oilers had a dazzling chance as Gilbert Brule dragged a shot against the grain that Backstrom did not see as it nearly eluded him.  Edmonton continued to apply good forechecking pressure in the closing seconds of the period as both team were knotted at one goal apiece.

The Oilers started out the 3rd where the left off from the 2nd period as they pressured early, settling for sharp angle shots as they simply hoped to get a lucky carom.  James Sheppard showed some good speed as he raced around the outside before rifling a slap shot that was knocked down by Deslauriers but before he could get to the rebound he was rubbed out of hte play by Theo Peckham.  Minnesota would show an ability  to counter the Oilers’ aggressive attack with quick outlet passing that did not allow Edmonton to establish the forecheck.  It was on a play like this that yielded a 3-on-2 rush for the Wild where Martin Havlat dropped a pass back to Ebbett who dangled around a Oilers’ defender and he just pushed a backhander just wide of the goal.  The Oilers would answer right back on a counter attack of its own as Marc-Antoine Pouliot made a nice move to get some space and he ripped a shot that was knocked down by Backstrom who then had to make a save as Pouliot attempted a rebound chance.  Edmonton was also working for deflections as Gilbert and Whitney were no longer opting for slap shots and instead flinging wrist shots as roving Oilers’ forwards just tried to change the direction wherever they could from about 10-20 feet from the Wild crease.  Minnesota was also showing good skill as Miettinen would saucer a pass to Latendresse who dragged a puck who fired the a shot on goal that was juggled a bit by Deslauriers but he was able to steer it to the corner.  At critical moments the Oilers were mishandling the puck and the Wild were fortunate because these bounces were occuring in areas on the ice that would’ve led to great scoring opportunities and you could hear the anxiety in the crowd as well as the groans of frustration as well.  The Oilers were battling well and Dustin Penner was making his presence felt as he used his big frame and strength around the net as he tried to wrap a puck by Backstrom but he shut the door and as the Wild goaltender left his crease to play the puck it was Penner who lifted his stick.  The Wild would really turn the pressure on with a shift with its 2nd line as Guillaume Latendresse put on a clinic in puck possession as he had the puck on a string as he navigated around Oilers defenders to create a plethora of scoring chances that almost resembled a Minnesota power play before Zach Stortini was finally able to chip the puck out of the zone.  It was an incredible shift with lots of great plays by Havlat, Zidlicky, Ebbett and Latendresse who cycled the puck efficiently and effectively but unfortunately it didn’t yield a goal.  Moments later the Wild would take a penalty as Owen Nolan literally crashed the crease as he bowled over Deslauriers for an easy goaltender interference call.  This would make for a huge Edmonton Oilers’ power play that needed to be killed off with just 5:57 left to go in regulation.  Minnesota’s penalty kill was aggressive early on as Mikko Koivu separated the player from the puck and Zanon cleared it down to the Oilers’ end.  The Oilers’ were not taking too many unecessary risks and Minnesota would kill the penalty with relative ease, but as the penalty expired the Oilers did have one nice chance as Shawn Horcoff ripped a shot that was just off the mark.  Minnesota tried to create a chance of their own as Martin Havlat fed a saucer pass to a crashing Ebbett who chipped a shot that was directed aside by Deslauriers.  The Oilers were now taking a page out of the Wild book as they counter attacked after a failed Minnesota rush and Patrick O’Sullivan tapped a puck around a Wild defender to Cogliano which created a 2-on-1 and as he tried to feed to Brule for the payoff he was robbed by a terrific save by Backstrom who got across his crease.  The game would slow down a bit after this chance as both teams seemed willing to settle for overtime.

In overtime the Wild had some outstanding chances early as Mikko Koivu found a pinching Brent Burns who made a terrific spin-a-rama move before firing a backhander that Deslauriers was just able to get a piece of, and Minnesota continued to pressure as Burns gathered up the loose puck and then fed a pass out to the high slot where Mikko Koivu hammered a shot that was steered aside by the Oilers’ goalie.  Minnesota was playing like a team that wanted the extra point, as the Wild’s defenseman were stepping up all over making brilliant highly skilled plays to dangle the puck around Oilers’ defenders for a long-range shot by Cam Barker that Deslauriers held onto for a whistle.  Minnesota was starting to get a bit too sloppy with its passes which was not helped by the poor ice conditions as the puck was bouncing around all over the place.  The Oilers tried to play the role of the spoiler as Patrick O’Sullivan did a little toe drag before firing a wrist shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  With about a minute to go, Theo Peckham would haul down Martin Havlat giving the Wild a crucial power play.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over with this team.  Mikko Koivu would lose the ensuing draw so the Wild would have to regroup and they would have a few fantastic chances as Minnesota fed the puck to the top of the crease where Andrew Brunette tried a few point blank chances but he was unable to lift a shot over the sprawling goaltender.  The Wild would try one more time, but again Brunette was stonewalled at the top of the crease and the game would go to a shootout.

In the shootout, the Oilers opted to shoot first. The Oilers’ first shooter was former Wild draft pick Patrick O’Sullivan.  O’Sullivan would race up the ice and attempt a backhand to forehand deke but he’d push his shot wide.  Minnesota’s first shooter was Mikko Koivu and the captain looked poised as he pulled off his vintage forehand to backhand deke, roof for a goal to give the Wild the early advantage.  The Oilers’ next shooter was former Golden Gopher Ryan Potulny and he’d start out with great speed then slow way up drawing Backstrom to drop to his stomach and then he very calmly moved to the left and lifted a forehand into the gaping net to even the shootout at 1-1.  The Wild’s next shooter was Owen Nolan and the veteran would attempt a quick backhand to forehand deke but his attempt was denied by Deslauriers.  Edmonton’s next shooter was Shawn Horcoff, and he would take a wide right approach and then rifle a wrister that found the crossbar and out.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Antti Miettinen who would give a little shoulder shake before firing a wrist shot against the grain that just was steered aside by Deslauriers.  The Oilers’ next shooter was Gilbert Brule who would take a wide left approach before unleashing a wrister high glove side that beat Backstrom.  This put all the pressure on Minnesota’s Marek Zidlicky to even the score and he would not disappoint as he’d race in and rip a wrister of his own high glove side to even the shootout at 2-2.  Edmonton’s next shooter was Sam Gagner, and Gagner would move in with great speed he’d attempt a backhand to forehand deke but he’d run out of space and miss wide.  This gave the Wild an opportunity to win the game with Martin Havlat as the shooter and he would move in with the puck to his backhand and attempt to hesitate to get Deslauriers to move but he wouldn’t and he try to wrap around a forehand that was denied by the Oilers’ goalie.  The Oilers’ next shooter was Mike Comrie and he’d race in and make a quick forehand to backhand deke before sliding a shot that beat Backstrom 5-hole.  Once again, the Wild found itself in need of a goal to keep the shootout going, and the shooter would be Guillaume Latendresse.  Latendresse would move wide right, nearly losing the puck as he pushed the puck out of the scraped area and he’d re-gather it and then fire a shot high glove side that Deslauriers just deflected up and over the net to give his team a 2-1 victory.

Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves in the shootout loss and he certainly is not to blame for the outcome of this game.  He more than gave the Wild a chance to win this game, and defensively the Wild did well to sweep away pucks near his crease and Backstrom made more than a few saves to bail his team out.  Penalty killing for the Wild was superb, as they challenged the puck carrier well and making good safe plays in their own zone.  The Wild defense really were helping support the offense well; especially in overtime where Brent Burns was really showing some outstanding puck skills.

Offensively the Wild were more or less asleep in the first period and that really set the tone early in this game, where they should’ve been to take advantage of a young an inexperienced Oilers’ defense.  Minnesota just did not do what it needed to do to win battles for the puck along the boards the way it had against the Flames and that is disturbing considering how important this game was to them.

Bottom line this was a game the team needed to have, and whether they overlooked this opponent or felt they’d simply roll over is hard to say yet its obvious they were not ready to play hard enough to win this game it had to have.  Todd Richards summed it up pretty good, “We didn’t play very well and really, the effort really wasn’t there.  We talked about it (the effort) but it just didn’t happen.  It’s disappointing.”  adding “we needed more, we needed more guys going” and there were some notorious absences late in the game including Chuck Kobasew.  Without a doubt what Richards’ saying is true, because this is about as sad as Little Joe (the Wild) losing to pathetic Glass Joe by a technical knockout.  That just can’t happen, and if it does it really forces you to ask how bad do you really want it (the playoffs).

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster for tonight’s game was: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, Kyle Brodziak, Derek Boogaard, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Guillaume Latendresse, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Shane Hnidy, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Robbie Earl and John Scott were the healthy scratches, while Clayton Stoner is still recovering from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out of the lineup with post-concussion symptoms.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jeff Deslauriers, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Theo Peckham

Houston Aeros Report:

Current Record: (28-27-6-2)  64 points, 6th place (out of 7 teams) in AHL’s West Division

Houston 3, San Antonio 4 (shootout)

It was your classic late-game let down for the Houston Aeros Wednesday night at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.  After dominating much of the play in the first period, the Aeros would take the lead on a nice wrap around goal by Colton Gillies (just his 6th goal of the season) to give Houston a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd period.  The Rampage would rally back in the 2nd period, taking full advantage of a lazy holding penalty by Jean-Michel Daoust as they stormed the Aeros crease after an initial shot by David Spina and it was former Oshawa General Brett McLean tapping home the loose biscuit by a sprawling Anton Khudobin to tie the game at 1-1.  The Aeros seemed to sit back a bit, content to wait for a mistake by the speedy Rampage squad as well as ratcheting up the physical play along the boards.  The Aeros would re-take the lead in the 3rd on a power play tally off a seeing-eye point shot by Jamie Fraser that eluded Josh Tordjman and then extended their lead to two on a pretty move by Maxim Noreau to drag a puck by a Rampage defender and then fling a wrister that found the back of the net to give Houston a comfortable 3-1 lead.  Or so they thought.  The Aeros would sit back, while the Rampage rather calmly increased their intensity forcing Houston to chase in its own zone and it was Sean Sullivan ripping a point shot that would carom off the boards right to a waiting Kyle Turris who shoveled it home to cut the lead to one, 3-2 just under 5 minutes left in regulation.  The Rampage continued to swarm in the Houston zone as they tried to keep the shots to the perimeter.  San Antonio would pull Tordjman for the extra attacker and the gamble paid off as former Medicine Hat Tiger Stefan Meyer would tap home a rebound off a nice wrister from the point by Mikkel Boedeker by a sprawling Khudobin to tie the game with just 13 seconds remaining.  After a fairly uneventful overtime where neither team was able to find much time and space the game would go to a shootout.  The Rampage would shoot first and Boedker moving in and beating Khudobin with a wicked wrist shot to give San Antonio a quick 1-0 shootout lead.  The Aeros then went to Jon DiSalvatore and the veteran AHL’er moved up the ice where he attempted a weak deke that Tordjman did not fall for and he easily blocked it out of danger.  San Antonio’s next shooter was Kyle Turris, who would skate in, getting Khudobin to drop to his pads and then beat him with a wicked wrister that he roofed that sent the water bottle flying, 2-0 Rampage.  Houston’s next shooter was Jean-Michel Daoust who really moved in fast and then tried to dangle a shot around Tordjman who stayed squared and directed the puck to the corner with relative ease.  San Antonio could seal a victory with its next shooter, MacGregor Sharp and the former UMD Bulldog would race up the ice and try to beat Khudobin with backhander 5-hole that was shutdown by the athletic Russian goalie.  The Aeros’ next shooter was former Colorado College Chad Rau who skated in and then attempted to change speeds at the last moment but just couldn’t wrap it around Tordjman who again stood strong in his crease.  The Rampage’s next shooter was David Spina who used his speed to try to unsettle Khudobin but he was not fooled and able to make a nice blocker save.  This put all the pressure on 43-year old Tony Hrkac, the former University North Dakota stud and an AHL legend would move in and attempted to hesitate and then beat Tordjman with a heavy wrist shot that missed high and Rampage would come away with a huge 4-3 come-from-behind victory.  Khudobin had 29 saves in the loss.  What makes the loss especially painful was the fact the Rampage was virtually in the same spot as the Aeros in the standings as they now trail San Antonio by one point.  The Aeros currently stand in 6th place in the West and out of the playoff picture and like the Wild need to make every game count and with a 3-1 lead going into the final 5 minutes of regulation this is a game that could come back to haunt them.

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Section 3A ~ Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (16-9-1) 2 Vs. New Ulm (15-9-1)  5

Depending on who you ask, some say Section 3 is the weakest in Minnesota, but for these two teams whether that is true or not is irrelevant as a trip to the State Tournament is on the line.  The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons are led by senior Nate Adams (25 goals, 22 assists in 22 games) and he will be the focus in perhaps the biggest game in their hockey program’s history.  The two teams have faced each other twice in conference play, with New Ulm winning the first contest by a huge margin, 9-2 but they tied 6-6 in their more recent game on February 15th.  No doubt that could make for an exciting finish in this game against two evenly matched teams.  Prediction: New Ulm manages to win in a close one, 4-3.  (New Ulm will earn the trip to state with a 5-2 victory over the Dragons and likely make their conference battles that much more intense next season)

Section 4A ~ #5 Mahtomedi (22-5) 2 Vs. #2 St. Thomas Academy (22-5) 1

In a matchup similar to Wednesday’s Minnetonka / Eden Prairie tilt that will eliminate a favorite to win the state title, this time it is the Mahtomedi Zephyrs and St. Thomas Academy Cadets faceoff for the 3rd time this season.  In the previous two meetings, the Zephyrs won the first game 6-3 while St. Thomas returned the favor with a 6-3 win of their own in their most recent game between each other on January 20th.  Both teams possess powerful offensive attacks featuring some of the best scorers in the state.  The Zephyrs are led by seniors Brandon Zurn (32 goals, 39 assists in 27 games) and Charlie Adams (33 goals, 31 assists in 26 games) while the Cadets are led by junior phenom Justin Crandall (21 goals, 40 assists in 25 games) and a prospective 2010 NHL draftee in senior Christian Isackson (25 goals, 31 assists in 25 games and rated 112th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting).  This has all the makings of a true barn burner at Aldrich arena and without question these fans are going to be in for a treat.  Prediction: St. Thomas Academy’s experience is the x-factor as they prevail, 5-2.  (It was disappointment for the Vanelli brothers as the Cadets got bogged down in a defensive battle with the Zephyrs who manage to pull off the upset 2-1.)

Section 5A ~ #13 Duluth Denfeld (13-11-2) 2 Vs. #3 Hermantown (24-3) 3

One may look at Duluth Denfeld’s record and think the #13 ranking is a big mistake but a closer look at the schedule shows you clearly why this is the case.  To put it simply, the Hunters have played against virtually all of the elite teams of Class A and either won or been close in them all on top of the fact they compete in a very tough conference featuring many schools from class AA.  While the strength of schedule was not as strong for Bruce Plante‘s Hermantown squad, they clearly have a strong contender this season led by senior forward Adam Krause (199th rated North American skater according to Central Scouting).  The Hawks, the defending champion of class A showed just how good they were when they took the defending champion of class AA, Eden Prairie to a 4-3 decision in a thriller on Hockey Day Minnesota.  Hermantown prevailed in the lone game the two teams have played against one another, a 5-4 victory on February 9th.  Prediction: Hermantown wins another close game in attempt to defend their state title, 6-3.  (The Hermantown Hawks prevail although it was likely closer than Bruce Plante would have liked but all that matters is that his team will be going to Xcel Energy Center next week after a 3-2 win.)

Section 6A ~ #10 Sartell-St. Stephen (18-7-2) 1 Vs. #7 Alexandria (20-6-1) 4

This could be a spirited battled against two fairly well matched teams, with Alexandria holding a slight edge in their season series, with a tie and a Cardinals victory (4-1) on February 4th.  The Sabres do not have a lot of experience and are a hockey program on the rise in central Minnesota.  Will Sartell-St. Stephen will have a bit of a home-ice advantage since the game is St. Cloud but will it be enough?  Prediction: Alexandria will prevail in a close game 3-2.  (The Sabres are going to have wait a little longer for a trip to state as the Cardinals replicate their February 4th performance in a 4-1 victory.)

Section 1AA ~ Lakeville North (11-15-2) 5 Vs. Lakeville South (18-10) 0

This game seems like a potential slaughter waiting to happen.  The Lakeville North Panthers have already lost twice to Lakeville South in Lake Conference play by scores of 4-0 and 5-1 in their most recent battle on February 13th.  Top seeded Lakeville South is definitely a team with a very bright future led in scoring by a sophomore (Justin Kloos, 28 goals, 27 assists in 13 games) and freshman (Kyle Osterberg, 17 goals, 37 assists in 20 games) respectively.  While Lakeville North is an offensively starved team with no player with more than 30 points.  It should be obvious who is going to win this game right?  Well think again as the Panthers beat their cross-town rival Lakeville South Cougars by a surprisingly decisive score 5-0.

Section 4AA ~ White Bear Lake (17-9-1)  1 Vs. #3 Hill-Murray (24-2-1)  5

In what seems to be an annual occurance in the Section 4AA championship, these two arch rivals again battle for the right to go to the State Tournament.  Hill-Murray will feel confident going into this game having beaten the Bears twice (by scores of 5-0 and 4-3) already this season, but the teams’ last meeting was on December 30th so its been a while.  White Bear Lake will have its hands full trying to stop the three well rounded lines of the Pioneers.  Prediction: Hill-Murray should take care of business and earn another trip to state, 6-1.  (Hill-Murray cruised to a 5-1 victory, can’t get much better prediction than that)

Section 5AA ~ Maple Grove (15-9-3)  Vs. #6 Blaine (20-4-3)

The high powered Blaine attack, where they have 4 players with at least 20 goals, including the highly touted junior Nick Bjugstad (32 goals, 33 assists in 26 games and rated 12th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting) to their credit will likely be too much for Maple Grove to handle as they battle it out at the State Fair Coliseum.  The teams tied (4-4) in their first meeting but Blaine dominated in a 7-2 route on February 18th.  Crimson junior goaltender Ryan Coyne (14-9-3 record, 2.32 goals against average and .906% save percentage) can expect to be under siege tonight.    Prediction: Expect the Bengals to win big and move on to state, 7-2.  (Blaine wins 3-1, perhaps not as high scoring as I thought but the Bengals are still going to the state tournament)