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Wild strike early and often as the hold onto huge 4-2 home victory over the Blues

Pride, Hustle and Emotion, these are the three core values of the high school football team I coach.  I expect my players to exhibit pride in everything they do as they not only represent their team but also their school.  In addition I expect my players to play their hardest at all times, and play the game with such energy that by the time the game is over they are completely exhausted from giving me everything they have.  Lastly, I expect them to play with emotion and with such vigor that not only will exude confidence but also create an emotional tempo that provides the team an additional sense of energy, especially when they face adversity.  Yes its idealistic, and it is probably not much different than what you may have been told by coaches in your life.  These were the traits teams in the 2010 Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament showed the last four days.  The Wild will need pride, hustle and emotion if they hope to pull off a victory against the St. Louis Blues this late afternoon.  The Blues are a team that looks to outwork you and punish you along the boards and Minnesota who is a little banged up will have to dig deep if it wishes to keep its fleeting playoff hopes alive.  The playoff race testifies to just how important it will be for the Wild to exhibit Pride, Hustle and Emotion down the stretch if it is to have any chance at all.

8. Detroit Red Wings – 78pts (14 games remaining)

9. Calgary Flames – 77pts (15 games remaining)

10. St. Louis Blues – 73pts (15 games remaining)

11. Dallas Stars – 71pts (14 games remaining)

12. Minnesota Wild – 70pts (15 games remaining)

13. Anaheim Ducks – 68pts (15 games remaining)

So will the Wild be able to weather adversity again as it did in Buffalo and pull off a surprise victory at Xcel Energy Center?  Or will St. Louis give Minnesota another reason to just plan some early spring tee times?

Minnesota had to weather some good pressure by the Blues early as they were skating well and putting the Wild on its heels a bit in the first few minutes of the game.  The Wild had its first great scoring chance on a turnover in the Blues’ zone as Andrew Brunette helped create a turnover off the stick of Paul Kariya to Mikko Koivu who picked it up and blasted a shot that was gloved by Chris Mason.  On the ensuing faceoff, Mikko Koivu drew the puck back to Cam Barker who wound up and hammered a slap shot that was deftly redirected by Andrew Brunette that beat Mason 5-hole to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  The Blues tried to answer back and Carlo Colaiacavo fired a shot that was redirected by St. Louis’ enforcer D.J. King that surprised Harding as he was just able to block the shot to the corner.  Minnesota was caught scrambling a bit but they would finally manage to draw a whistle as Harding deflected another Blues’ shot up into the netting.  St. Louis was still trying to pres for the equalizer and a nice little play down low and T.J. Oshie lifted a shot that was miss high up into the netting behind the goal.  The Blues were feeling they needed a spark and D.J. King tried to challenge Derek Boogaard by skating way out to center ice while Boogaard motioned to King to come back to him and he’d make his way over and the two pugilists would grapple.  Boogaard would take early control by throwing big right handed haymakers as King would put his head down as he tried to weather the barrage while throwing a few short-ranged jabs of his own.  The Wild enforcer kept throwing big right hands, knocking off King’s helmet as you could see Boogaard bleeding rather profusely from the nose but he didn’t seem overly effected as he kept throwing losing his elbow pad in the process.  Eventually as the two continued to make their way down behind the Wild goal the fight would finally end with the Boogeyman cut up but in control as he left for the lockerroom.  The whole frakas started off what was percieved as a late hit by Wild defenseman John Scott and it was the Blues’ Keith Tkachuk and King earning roughing calls in addition to his fighting major while Scott was tagged for roughing and Boogaard for fighting.  The net result was a Wild power play.  On the man advantage the Wild moved the puck well, from the half wall and out up to the points but when they had the opportunity they were not putting shots on goal; especially guilty of this was Martin Havlat who ripped two shots wide of the mark and Minnesota would come up empty on its first power play of the game.  Shortly after the failed power play, the Blues would earn one of their own as Jaime Sifers tripped up Paul Kariya.  Minnesota was solid on the penalty kill, as Andrew Ebbett helped foil a great chance in the high slot for Brad Boyes when he got his stick on the puck and swept it out of the zone that sent Boyes falling to the ice.  The Wild was challenging St. Louis’ point men well and they were able to prevent the Blues from having any quality scoring chances.  Minnesota tried to go back on the attack but it would be short-lived as they would take another penalty as they’d get caught with too many men and Robbie Earl would serve the penalty.  This time the Blues really were setting up the quick shots from near the top of the crease and high slot as Boyes just narrowly missed and David Backes had a few close chances that were directed aside by Harding.  Backes would help the Wild by taking a careless high sticking penalty and this would make the game 4-on-4 for just under 30 seconds before Minnesota would go on the power play.  The 4-on-4 was uneventful befor the Wild managed to go on the power play and they would take full advantage of it as a point shot by Martin Havlat was blocked by Antti Miettinen as he tried to jump out of the way but it turned out pretty well as the loose puck was picked up by Mikko Koivu and he fired a quick shot that beat Mason 5-hole to lift the Wild to a 2-0 lead.  The Blues again tried to answer back with some good hustle down low and it was D.J. King using his big body to cause some havoc but the Wild were also manning up pretty well and they’d break free as Martin Havlat found a little space as he moved into the Blues zone before finding Guillaume Latendresse moving down the slot with a perfect saucer pass.  Latendresse used the speed of the play to his advantage as he pulled the puck to his forehand before depositing a shot by a helpless Chris Mason to lift the Wild to a 3-0 lead going into the 2nd period.

The Blues decided to swtich goaltenders by giving Ty Conklin a shot as St. Louis started off the 2nd with a power play.  Minnesota was challenging well and making things difficult for the St. Louis power play and the Blues would make a few errant passes to help kill off their man advantage.  The Blues would not register any shots on goal during that crucial early power play.  The Wild’s hustle was causing some turnovers and Robbie Earl would steal a puck just outside the Blues zone as he moved in and ripped a wrist shot that was gloved by Conklin.  St. Louis tried to rally back and a good set up in the slot for Boyes who hammered a quick shot was stonewalled by Harding and the Wild would quickly outlet a pass behind the Blues’ defense to a wide open Martin Havlat.  Havlat would race in but all he could manage was a weak backhander that was steered wide by Conklin but he’d gather up the puck along the boards and he’d turn and dish it off to Latendresse who rifled a shot that was knocked down by Conklin and the puck sat near the top of the crease that was just out of the reach of Andrew Ebbett who was tied up by Eric Brewer.  St. Louis would counter attack and Christian Berglund would draw a tripping penalty on Cam Barker.  On the power play the Blues tried to swarm near the Wild crease but Josh Harding stood tall making a number of close range stops as Andy McDonald tried to jam it by the Minnesota goaltender to no avail.  Just as the Wild managed to kill off the power play, they would take another tripping penalty as Mikko Koivu tripped up Alex Steen (the son of former Wild scout and Winnipeg Jets great Thomas Steen).  Yet this power play would be short lived as David Backes would take another penalty on the power play as he would hook Greg Zanon.  After a fairly long 4-on-4 where both teams just hoped to avoid making a crucial mistake, the Wild would have another short power play.  Minnesota nearly added to its lead as Mikko Koivu fed Latendresse near the crease where he slid a pass through the crease to a waiting Jaime Sifers who ripped a shot just wide of the mark.  Feeling as though they needed to get something positive going, the Blues would turn on the pressure as Erik Johnson would hammer a shot on goal that was gloved confidently by Josh Harding.  The Blues were really starting to skate well and a weak point shot by Mike Weaver ended up on the stick of Paul Kariya who turned and flung a backhander that was blocked aside by Harding.  Minnesota found itself watching the Blues a bit and David Perron would find a little room and rip a shot from the left faceoff circle that was stopped by Harding but the rebound would be kicked out to Johnson who stepped into a blast that was blocked by Zanon that had him reeling as he returned to the Wild bench.  The Wild would try to help their goaltender by going on the attack and a nice play to hold the zone by Jaime Sifers would lead to another goal as the puck was pushed down to Andrew Brunette who fed a pass to Koivu who passed it back to Brunette who gave a no-look pass to a crashing Antti Miettinen who slammed home a shot to give Minnesota a 4-0 lead.  Just seconds after the Wild goal, the Blues would draw another penalty when D.J. King was hauled down by Nick Schultz who earned a hooking call.  St. Louis did not waste much time creating a quality scoring chance as Paul Kariya found some time and space and he got off a quick backhand that was snagged out of the air by the glove of Harding.  The Wild were chasing a bit in its own zone as they continued to storm the crease and Harding would make an initial save on Perron but Berglund would tap home a shot to give cut the Minnesota lead to 4-1.  The game would get a bit sloppy as both teams would trade failed rushes up ice as Wild head coach Todd Richards took a timeout to talk with his team about where he was feeling the game was heading even though there was just a 1:53 left in the 2nd period.  The Blues were really starting to press hard the lsat minute of play as Andy McDonald directed a puck on goal with his skate that was swatted away by Harding and the Wild had to feel good leading by 3 going into the 3rd period.

The Blues immediately went to work to start the 3rd, push the puck deep in the Wild zone as their strategy was pretty simple.  Work the puck deep and then out front and crash the net.  Minnesota seemed content to play rope-a-dope, but the 4th line would help create a little bit of havoc in the Blues end as James Sheppard battled for the puck and then passed it back out to the point where Nick Schultz fired a long range shot that was blocked aside by Conklin.  Minnesota was trying to challenge a bit more in the neutral zone and it was reasonably effective.  The Wild were even stepping up to deliver the body as Greg Zanon nailed Brad Boyes with a big hit.  The Blues would take advantage of this aggressive shutdown attempt by the Wild and Paul Kariya would get around the Minnesota defense and he’d move to the high slot and rip a wrister that beat Harding to cut the lead to two, 4-2.  The Blues could sense a huge momentum shift and they began to pour it on while the play tilted into the Wild’s end and Josh Harding found himself under siege.  Harding was like superman as he bailed out the team by making a miraculous save by reaching up to deny Brad Boyes who tried to lift it over him on what could possibly be a game-saver.  Minnesota tried to help out their goalie by throwing the puck deep into the Blues zone and create some pressure of their own as a long shot by Mikko Koivu was gloved by Conklin.  The Wild continued to pour it on, as Mikko Koivu set up Antti Miettinen for a blast that didn’t miss by much.  Minnesota continued to work well on the forecheck and Cal Clutterbuck found some space in the Blues zone and chipped a shot that missed just wide of Conklin.  The Blues tried to answer back as T.J. Oshie skated in a rifled a heavy snap shot that was directed to the corner by Harding.  Both teams were trading scoring chances with one another and the games tempo was reaching a fever pitch.  The Blues were really starting to storm the Wild crease again as Oshie, Berglund and Kariya were roving around the Minnesota crease as Harding made a flurry of saves in quick succession to keep the State of Hockey up 4-2.  Minnesota’s 2nd line would create a nice chance as Guillaume Latendresse hammered a Havlat feed wide of the net and it would carry out of the Blues’ zone but the Wild would keep rolling as Havlat fed Latendresse again who charged in the St. Louis zone and got off a backhander that was directed away by Conklin.  With about 2:05 left to play, the Blues would pull Conklin for an extra attacker down by two.  Minnesota did a good job to challenge the Blues puck carriers to deny them from time and space to set up and Andrew Brunette would show good strength and persistance as he just kept swatting at the puck until he cleared the Wild zone.  Latendresse would nearly tap home a backhander on the empty net and St. Louis would take a timeout with 26.7 seconds left.  Minnesota would kill the remaining time with ease and earn a huge 4-2 victory over the Blues.

Josh Harding was sensational, making 36 saves in the win with more than a few of them the sensational variety.  The stonewalling of Brad Boyes was just huge and Harding was seeing the puck well all night and Minnesota’s defenseman did a nice job of preventing the Blues from having too many 2nd chances near the crease and that is a big reason why they were successful in this game.  I also want to give some credit to the help Wild backup goaltender Wade Dubielewicz who was constantly shouting out help to his teammates.  Most games, you’ll see the backup goaltender just sitting back looking completely disinterested in the game and working the door occasionally, but Dubielewicz is leaning over the rail and into the game and even though I don’t want to see him between the pipes I do appreciate him doing his best to help out.

Offensively the Wild were opportunistic early and you have to give them credit for capitalizing on their chances as they were outshoot pretty decisively in this game, 20 to 38.  Minnesota will not be able to win too many games only registering 20 shots on goal, nor can they expect their goaltender to make 36 saves each night.  The Wild’s top scorers found ways to put up points tonight and the early lead certainly took a lot of the stress off Minnesota and put it square on the shoulders of the Blues.  Koivu and Latendresse continue to be hot offensively and will continue to be expected to carry the offense for the Wild.  It would be nice to see some of the 3rd and 4th liners like Cal Clutterbuck and Chuck Kobasew chipping in offensively to take some of that pressure off the top two lines.  Marek Zidlicky seems to have gone cold since the Olympics too.

Minnesota stays home to play against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday in what of course is a ‘must win’ for the Wild.  Last time the Oilers played the role of the spoiler and embarrassed the Wild as they put forth a weak effort allowing Edmonton to eek out a shootout victory.  Minnesota needs to try to do the same things they did against the Blues; score early and continue pressuring offensively and never let up.  Pride, Hustle and Emotion…its as simple as that!

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster this late afternoon was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Cal Clutterbuck, Andrew Ebbett, Robbie Earl, James Sheppard, Guillaume Latendresse, John Scott, Jaime Sifers, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky and Cam Barker.  Wade Dubielewicz backed up Josh Harding.  There were no healthy scratches.  Owen Nolan and Shane Hnidy was out of the lineup with a lower body injury, while Brent Burns is out with a hip injury.  Clayton Stoner is still recovering from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard still isn’t skating as he struggles with post-concussion symptoms.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Josh Harding, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Andrew Brunette

High School Hockey Report:

~ Blaine’s Nick Bjugstad (13th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) was named Minnesota’s ‘Mr. Hockey’ for 2010.

The semifinals and final rounds of the Minnesota State Tournament gave hockey fans everything you could want and then some making the 2010 tournament one for the ages.  There was plenty of drama, improbable heroes, upsets, and fantastic finishes mean the last boys tourney of the first decade of the 21st century will be talked about for a very long time.  Its everything that makes this year event so special and shows anyone why it is such an important part of the hockey culture in Minnesota.  The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the teams, the schools, and their fans (over a 110,000 showed up for the boys  tournament alone) of all the teams who qualified for the 2010 Minnesota State Boys High School Hockey Tournament for giving us as fans more great frozen memories!

Class ‘A’ Semi-finals

No. 2 Mahtomedi (24-6) 6 vs.  No.3 Hermantown (27-2) 7 OT

To say this game was like a roller coaster of emotion is actually an inadequate description of the ebb and flow of feelings in this game. Mahtomedi and its potent offense was controlling the game, but the resilient Hermantown squad kept answering back by willing its way to tie the game on 3 separate occasions.  About halfway through the 3rd period, with the Zephyrs were up 6-4 and looked to be in prime position to advance to the finals.  Yet Hermantown would rally back with two goals to tie the game with just a few minutes to spare.  This is where the sports cliches about being so close like football analogies like “just inches away” are painfully true for Mahtomedi as senior Charlie Adams felt he gave his team a buzzer-beating game winner when he ripped a shot that struck Hermantown’s goaltender Tyler Ampe and in.  It was your classic big post-game moment as the bench clears and the players throw equipment aside as they pile up in celebration but this feeling of maximum euphoria was curtailed by the officials and replay which showed the puck striking Ampe’s elbow as 0.0 showed on the clock and thus it was ruled a ‘no goal.’  The Mahtomedi players were going to have to wait to renew their celebration, or so they thought.  Now with the game still tied at the end of regulation the game would go to overtime.  Neither would have to wait long for a winner to be decided by Hermantown Sophomore Jared Thomas who moved in and lifted a forehand shot by Brad Wohlers for the game winner and a trip to the finals.  It may seem weak or ‘cheap’ but Hermantown’s Head Coach Bruce Plante (father of former NHL’er Derek Plante) was gracious in victory when he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Their team had as much fight in them as we did, We just got the break.”


No.1 Breck (28-2) 4 vs.  No.4 Warroad (25-5) 2

The Warriors would put a little doubt into the minds of the No. 1 seeded Breck Mustangs as they roared out to a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Brock Nelson (17th rated North American skater according to Central Scouting) carrying that lead to the 2nd period.  After the intermission it was as if being down by a goal turned a switch in the Mustangs and their 1st line would flex its offensive muscle as Mike Morin lit the lamp on the power play to tie the game just 2:12 into the 2nd and then Breck would really start to pour it on as they added two more goals, one from Chase Nystadt and another from Morin to take a 3-1 lead into the 3rd.  Breck’s Riley Borer would score early in the 3rd to give the Mustanges a 3-goal lead.  Brock Nelson would score his 2nd goal of the game for Warroad, again on the power play about 10 minutes into the period but it wasn’t enough as Breck punched its ticket to the finals with a 4-2 victory.

Class ‘AA’ Semi-finals

No.2 Edina (22-6-2)  2 vs. Apple Valley (18-12)  0

Edina, the established hockey royalty against the upstart and so far the best Cinderella story of the tournament in the young yet talented Apple Valley Eagles who already surprised many by beating Blaine in the quarterfinals.  Apple Valley would again prove they certainly deserved to be there by using its tremendous speed to deny the Hornets’ time and space.  Edina would find the back of the net first when Michael Sit delivered a perfect pass to Blake Chapman who ripped a shot by Aaron Gretz to give the Hornets’ a 1-0 lead.  In the 2nd period, it was a fantastic save which sort of proved to be the backbreaker for Apple Valley as the dazzling young duo of freshman Hudson Faschling raced into the Edina zone and then fed a perfect centering pass to sophomore A.J. Michaelson who ripped a shot that was snared out of the air on a great diving save by Connor Girard.  It was a momentum changing moment as the Hornets’ Charlie Taft then scored shorthanded which was all that Edina needed in a 2-0 victory to earn a shot in the finals.

No.1 Minnetonka (27-2-2) 2 vs.  No.4 Hill-Murray (26-3-1) 1  4OT

After the outstanding Class ‘A’ game between Mahtomedi and Hermantown, nothing could top a 7-6 overtime thriller could it?  Well, Minnetonka and Hill-Murray would deliver another classic in the mystical late-game on semi-final friday which always seems to bring out the best in teams as well as some of the longest games in the tournament’s 60+ year history.  In a game that would last 86 minutes, just about 7 minutes shy of the infamous 5OT Apple Valley / Duluth East thriller (also the late game on semi final friday) in 1996 which holds the record as the longest game in tournament history.  The Pioneers had the Skippers on the ropes for much of the game, carrying the play with great speed.  Minnetonka would find the back of the net first as defenseman Andrew Prochno (156th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) found the back of the net right around the 12 minute mark of the 1st, but the Pioneers answered right back when senior Chris Casto scored just about 4 minutes later.  From here the game descended into a defensive battle with neither team able to find much room to operate.  Both goaltenders, the Skippers’ Jim Kruger and the Pioneers’ Tim Shaughnessy were sharp, and regulation time would fade away into overtime.  In the 2nd overtime the Skippers thought it had won the game when it looked like a flurry near the crease but as his team started to celebrate Minnetonka head coach Brian Urick called his team over to the bench while the goal was reviewed telling his team it was going to be called back, and after it was reviewed it was as the replay showed a player kicked it in.  Yet the game would finally come to a close on a sneaky backhander by sophomore Erik Baskin who slid a shot that snuck by Shaughnessy to end the 4OT odyssy.  Skippers’ bench boss Brian Urick told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that seeing what happened to Mahtomedi actually helped his team deal with that ‘near’ goal moment in overtime, “It kind of helped watching that Mahtomedi game, I got a real quick lesson. I pulled the guys over to the bench and told them, ‘Hey, this goal is not going to count, You can’t worry about it. Keep going, and don’t have that emotional letdown when they disallow it.”  Without question Urick’s intervention helped his team not have the let down that devastated Mahtomedi and the Skippers would advance to the State Title game.

Class ‘A’ Consolation – Rochester Lourdes 2, Virginia/Mt.Iron-Buhl 0

Class ‘A’ 3rd Place – Warroad 5, Mahtomedi 4

Class ‘A’ Championship – No.1 Breck (29-2) 2, No.3 Hermantown (27-3) 1

This was not your typical championship game as Breck was feeling the pressure of an opportunity to repeat while Hermantown was looking to deliver another upset to a top rated metro area team in a classic northern school / city school showdown.  Hermantown would get on the scoreboard first as senior defenseman Chad Bannor blasted a shot by John Russell on the power play giving the Hawks a 1-0 lead in their control at the end of the first period.  Breck would strike back in the 2nd period as Riley Borer found the back of the net as he buried a chance by Tyler Ampe tying the game at one going into the 3rd.  In the 3rd, with Hermantown pressing the attack and peppering John Russell with shots as they worked for the go-ahead goal.  Yet it wasn’t meant to be as they hit the post as well as Russell right in the goalie mask but it stayed out.  Finally with just a minute and 40 seconds left, Mike Morin would move in try to push a puck by Hermantown’s Jeff Paczynski where it hit his stick and then off the shin of Morin and by Ampe for what would be the game winner.  A tough way to lose as Breck repeats as state champions, the first time that had been done since Bloomington Jefferson won three in a row from 1992 to 1994.

Class ‘AA’ Consolation – Duluth East 3, Roseau 1

Class ‘AA’ 3rd Place – Hill-Murray 6, Apple Valley 3

Class ‘AA’ Championship – No.2 Edina (23-6-2) 4, No.1 Minnetonka (27-3-2) 2

Edina would come out flying to start the game, outworking the Skippers right from the drop of the puck.  Minnetonka looked fatigued and they were also making mental mistakes of the variety that one makes when you’re tired and Edina would capitalize on those opportunities.  Ryan Cutshall would give the Hornets a 1-0 lead on a nice play to set the tone which was created off a failed Minnetonka attempt to clear their zone, they fail and it ended up in the back of their net.  Mistakes continued to haunt the Skippers in the 2nd period as Michael Sit, Brett Stoplestad and junior forward Jake Sampson all found the twine behind Jim Kruger to give Edina a commanding 4-0 lead going into the 3rd period.  The Skippers Andrew Prochno would answer back with two goals in the first two minutes of the 3rd but Edina would go into lockdown mode and keep Minnetonka at bey for the rest of the game as they earned another state championship.  Hornet’s Head Coach Curt Giles told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after the game, “What these kids did is proved they were good hockey players, They’ve always been in the shadows of those top-end kids the past few years who came up winning everything through the system. These guys haven’t gained as much notoriety but today they proved they can play hockey.”  Well I am sure they’ll be fine with the notoriety they have now, adding more to the great tradition of Edina hockey.