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Hockey Day Minnesota Preview

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild


Before the Minnesota Wild drops the puck against the Arizona Coyotes Saturday, there will be full slate of hockey to catch in downtown Saint Paul as Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 lands at Holman Field.

With four preps games on the docket — three boys and one girls — HDM 2015 will be a true celebration of hockey’s history in state’s capital as eight different schools, four with Saint Paul roots, will participate in the day’s events.

So, before you head outdoors, get familiar with all the teams, including the college tilt between Minnesota and Wisconsin, with our Hockey Day Minnesota preview.

(Note, all stats and rankings are as of Jan. 11.)

Game 1 — The Storied Program vs. The Upstart

Saint Paul Johnson vs. Luverne

Saint Paul Johnson
Record: 8-5-1
Head Coach: Moose Younghans
Goals Per Game: 2.64
Goals Allowed Per Game: 2.57
Power Play: 5.6%
Penalty Kill: 84.4% 

Last season, Saint Paul Johnson celebrated its 100th year as a hockey program. That history is certainly nothing to scoff at.

The 2014-15 installment of the Governors are led by senior Justin Howell and junior Jesse Solheid. While Solheid’s seven goals are tops on the team, Howell’s team-leading 14 points edge Solheid’s 12. In net, junior Samuel Moberg has carried the load for Johnson, earning a team-matching 8-5-1 record. He’s also posted a 2.55 goals-against average (GAA) and a .906 save percentage (SV%).

This year also marks Johnson’s third showing in a Hockey Day Minnesota matchup. The Governors played in the inaugural event, falling 5-3 to Lake of the Woods School in 2007. In their second appearance, in 2009, Johnson upended Rochester John Marshall, 4-0.

Luverne
Record: 15-2-0
Head Coach: Derrick Brown
G/GM: 8.47
GA/GM: 2.06
PP: 53.8%
PK: 85.1%

While Johnson has a tome of history behind their program, Luverne’s is just starting to make waves. After its first trip to the MSHSL State Tournament last year — where it fell, 6-3, to Hermantown in the Class A Quarterfinal — the Cardinals are already making a strong bid for a return trip.

Junior Chaz Smedsrud, who leads the Cardinals in all scoring categories with 27 goals, 42 assists and 69 points, is Luverne’s offensive engine. Not only do Smedsrud’s stats lead his team, but that offensive output also is currently the best in the state. Freshman Jaxon Nelson trails Smedsrud’s scoring effort with 31 goals and assists for 62 points, while senior Andrew Verhey has posted 45 points on 12 goals and 33 assists. Overall, Luverne has eight players with 20 or more points already this season. Senior netminder Connor Crabtree has anchored the Cardinals in net, earning a 14-2-0 record, with a 2.27 GAA and a .893 SV%.

Game 2 — The Private School Showdown

Hill-Murray vs. St. Thomas Academy

Hill-Murray
Record: 9-5-0
Head Coach: Bill Lechner
G/GM: 3.87
GA/GM: 1.80
PP: 32.1%
PK: 81.2%

Hill-Murray is a well-known perennial powerhouse, much like it’s Hockey Day Minnesota foe — they combine for five state titles since 2008. Naturally, this season has been more of the same, thus far.

The Pioneers have four players with ten or more points this season, an effort that is led by senior Zach Mills’ 27 points. His 14 goals are second to sophomore Marko Reifenberger’s 12. Hill-Murry has looked to a tandem for their goaltending needs this season as senior Sean Wendlandt and sophomore Jake Begley have spilt time between the pipes. The senior owns a 7-3-0 record with a 1.75 GAA and a .927 SV% while Begley has a 3-1-0 record with a 2.31 GAA and a .875 SV%.

This year’s Hockey Day Minnesota marks the third time Hill-Murray has participated. The most recent was in 2011 in Moorhead where the Pioneers edged the Spuds, 3-2. The first time Hill-Murray made a HDM appearance was against none other than St. Thomas Academy, in 2008, where the Pioneers earned a 4-3 overtime decision.

St. Thomas Academy
Record: 13-0-0
Head Coach: Tom Vannelli
G/GM: 6.62
GA/GM: 1.92
PP: 43.2%
PK: 85.0%

St. Thomas Academy is streaking into the HDM festivities, looking to keep an undefeated record alive against a familiar foe in Hill-Murray.

While eight players have double-digit points, four skaters have double-digit goals with senior Peter Tufto’s 16 tallies leading the way. Tufto is also tied with fellow senior Christiano Versich for a team-leading 36 points, while Versich has 13 goals and 23 assists. Senior Alec Broeztman closely follows both their efforts with 15 goals and 34 points. Like the Pioneers, the Cadets have looked to a pair of senior goaltenders this season as Matt Snow and Charlie Hallett have split some time. Snow leads the way with a 9-0-0 record, and a 1.72 GAA and .92 SV%. Meanwhile, Hallett has a 4-0-0 record with a 1.87 GAA and a .857 SV%.

Saturday will mark the Cadets second Hockey Day tilt — the only other time was the 4-3 overtime loss to Hill-Murray in 2008. While this year’s version of the Cadets is too young to harbor any ill feelings from that 2008 bout, these are two teams that face each other often and have consistent State Tournament aspirations. So, both teams are sure to leave it all out on the ice at Holman Field.

Game 3 — The Ladies

Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Duluth

Cretin-Derham Hall
Record: 13-3-3
Head Coach: John Pohl
G/GM: 3.89
GA/GM: 1.68
PP: 45.2%
PK: 73.3%

Cretin-Derham Hall will look to make the most of its first Hockey Day Minnesota appearance, especially with it so close to its home rink.

The Raiders are riding strong this season with a deep forward group that is led by senior Paige Voight’s 25 goals and 35 points. Sophomore Jordan Hansen trails her effort with 10 goals and 28 points, in addition to a team-leading 18 assists. Senior netminder Emma May has played the bulk of the minutes between the pipes, earning a 11-3-3 record on the season with a 1.58 GAA and .915 SV%. Her counterparts, junior Alli Altier and sophomore Elle Crawford, have each notched a win on the season.

Duluth
Record: 6-9-3
Head Coach: Cory Stafne
G/GM: 2.56
GA/GM: 2.56
PP: 1.8%
PK: 90.7%

It’s been a back-and-forth season for the Northern Stars. They’ve been trading wins and losses most of the year and haven’t been able to establish consistent success in the win column.

But, that being said, like Cretin, they are also looking to make the most of their first appearance on Hockey Day Minnesota. A trio of youngsters will lead the way as sophomore Brionna Stafne, freshman Sydney Schuman and eighth-grader Cassie McClure have consistently produced for Duluth so far this season. Stafne leads the team with 21 points on nine goals and a team-leading 12 assists, while McClure is tied with Stafne with a team-leading nine goals and is second with 16 points. Schuman rounds out the top three scorers with 14 points on six goals and eight assists. Meanwhile, Duluth has leaned on junior Kalei Kleive between the pipes. The netminder has a 5-9-1 record, with a 2.50 GAA and a .867 SV%. Fellow junior goaltender Makayla Jackson has a win on the season.

Game 4 — The Nightcap

Rochester Lourdes vs. Saint Paul Academy

Rochester Lourdes
Record: 2-11-1
Head Coach: John Spaniol
G/GM: 1.93
GA/GM: 2.43
PP: 20.6%
PK: 85.3%

So far, it hasn’t been the best season for Rochester Lourdes. The Eagles have struggled to find depth as only three players have more than five points — with Tucker Chapman leading the way. The sophomore leads the team with 11 goals and three assists. Junior Peter Alexander is second on the team with seven points on seven assists, while fellow junior Mason Carstens six points on four goals and two assists round out the top three scorers. Meanwhile, Rochester Lourdes has leaned on Jack Burkel in net. The goalie has a 2-9-1 record with a 2.71 GAA and a .910 SV%.

Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 is Rochester Lourdes second consecutive appearance in the event, as they fell, 4-1, to Cloquet/Esko/Carlton just one year ago. But they’ll have a tall task against Saint Paul Academy as they look for success in the 2015 installment of the hockey holiday.

Saint Paul Academy
Record: 11-2-0
Head Coach: Bill Owens
G/GM: 4.54

GA/GM: 1.54
PP: 19.1%
PK: 88.1%

Where Rochester Lourdes has struggled to find depth, Saint Paul Academy has plenty. Heading into their first Hockey Day Minnesota appearance, the Spartans have six players with points in double digits and three with goals in the double digits. Sophomore Matt Dahlseide leads the team with 29 points, on 11 goals and 18 assists, while sophomore Jack Johnston leads the team with 14 goals.

In addition to its depth up front, Saint Paul Academy has a strong duo in net in junior David Nicholson and freshman Andy Beran. The freshman owns a 7-0-0 record and a 1.43 GAA and a .931 SV%. Meanwhile, Nicholson has a 4-2-0 record, with a 1.50 GAA and a .922 SV%.

College — The Border Battle

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

Minnesota
Record: 10-7-1, 1-2-1 Big Ten
Head Coach: Don Lucia
G/GM: 3.39
GA/GM: 2.56
PP: 29.9%
PK: 81.1%

After a trip to the National Title game last season, the Gophers looked primed to pick up where they left off, but they haven’t quite gotten there yet. Though they’ve been ranked all season long, their one-time hold on a top-three position has given way to a No. 9 ranking, as they’ve struggled to consistently churn out wins.

That fact was most notable this weekend as Minnesota suffered a series sweep in Michigan — the current Big Ten leader. While it’s still early in conference play to become too worried about the standings, Minnesota has work to do. Michigan and Penn State are tied for the conference lead with 12 points, while Minnesota is second-to-last with three. This weekend against Wisconsin, the Big Ten’s bottom feeder this season, will be their first chance to gain some ground.

Wisconsin
Record: 2-11-2, 0-2-0 Big Ten
Head Coach: Mike Eaves
G/GM: 1.75
GA/GM: 3.62
PP: 10.2%
PK: 71.9%

So far, it’s been a painful year to be a Badger. Wisconsin has struggled to find much success on the ice in any phase of the game this season, ranking in the bottom eight in the nation in goals per game (No. 54 of 59), goals allowed per game (No. 52), power play (No. 56) and penalty kill (No. 57).

Part of the Badgers’ issue is their freshmen-laden roster. Of the 26 players listed on the roster, 13 have freshmen standing, two of which are redshirt freshmen. They also lost the bulk of their firepower in the offseason as seven of the top ten scorers from the Big Ten Tournament Title team either graduated of elected to depart early for professional play. Those seven players accounted for 208 of the Badgers 308 total points last year. It has shown this season.

The Badgers are coming off an interesting weekend against Boston University. Friday night, it tied the No. 2 team in the nation, 3-3, but fell 6-1 Saturday. They also stole a 2-0 win from Michigan Tech two weekends ago and are 1-4-1 in their last six, heading into the first border battle of the season.

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