The Tourney has taken over Minnesota as it does on an annual basis. In the first two days, hockey fans were treated to a little bit of everything as the quarterfinal matchups wrapped up Thursday night.
We saw high scoring affairs and defensive chess matches. There was a taste of northern hockey vs the metro area and public vs private schools.
St. Cloud Cathedral’s Nate Warner (committed to Minnesota) made up for lost time in his junior season with a natural hat trick, giving him 35 points in only his 14th game of the year.
There was even a triple overtime game in which goaltender Henry Welsch faced 66 shots before No. 3 Eden Prairie — with a roster of four players committed to Division I schools — could tally the game-winning third goal.
More than 18,500 fans flocked to Xcel Energy Center Thursday for each the morning session and the afternoon session of the AA quarterfinal matchups. Those numbers are good enough for the third and fourth most attended games in NHL arenas yesterday. The second most happened to be in Tampa Bay, Fla., where the Minnesota Wild were shutting out the best team in the NHL.
Attendances on 3/7/19
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— Michael Murakami (@MichaelMurakami) March 8, 2019
With only one win standing between eight teams and a trip to the finals, the intensity will grow as the stakes are raised. So, what might we be able to expect out of each game on Friday that can translate into a championship game appearance?
After playing in a marathon matchup on Thursday, the Eden Prairie Eagles will need to rebound quickly if they want to continue on past the firepower the Blaine Bengals have at their disposal. These two teams met once earlier in the season in a high scoring tilt in which the Eagles’ top talent outscored the Bengals 7-6.
That game took place on Dec. 22, and it was the last time Blaine has lost a game. While it took Eden Prairie 83 minutes, 3 seconds to advance into Friday’s semi, the Bengals jumped out to an early lead behind their leaders in Bryce Brodzinski, Cole Hansen and Carsen Richels and rode the solid goaltending of Joe Daninger to a 4-2 victory.
For either of these teams to win Friday and push for a state title Saturday, their stars will have to shine brightly and goaltending will need to be strong in shutting down the other team’s top scorers.
The late-night game will feature two of the most storied programs over the past couple of decades in Minnesota high school hockey. St. Thomas Academy played a hard fought, physical game in which team defense played a critical role holding the surging Duluth East Greyhounds off long enough for the Cadets to finally break through in the third period and take a 3-1 victory.
Edina’s star power took over early in their bout with the Moorhead Spuds, and the Hornets never looked back in a 4-2 win. Jett Jungels and Mason Nevers got the team off to a hot start, but it was a well-rounded attack for the Hornets in this one that proved to be too much for the Spuds.
Coaching will be at its finest in both of these games as the Vannelli Brothers look to continue their final push while Curt Giles will look to spoil their storybook ending. When these teams met earlier this season, the Hornets’ scorers proved to be too much for the Cadets in a 6-2 victory over Christmas Break.
The Cadets will need to rely on their suffocating defense with solid goaltending if they hope to knock off the No. 1 Hornets, who will need to create space utilizing their great team speed and rely on their depth to keep everyone fresh for two more do-or-die games.
St. Cloud Cathedral showed off its incredible scoring talent in their game against North Branch, cruising to a 7-0 win on Wednesday afternoon. East Grand Forks also separated themselves early in their matchup with Minnesota River, finishing with a 5-2 win to advance.
It has been more than three months since these two teams last met in a game that East Grand Forks would probably like to forget. Cathedral won the only meeting between the two teams 7-2 in an offensive onslaught that saw the Crusaders put up four goals in the second period.
The Green Wave will need to be more effective in slowing down the attack from the Crusaders and hope senior Tanner Mack can help lead the charge while they find some supplemental scoring, as they did on Day 1, to keep pace with the high-flying St. Cloud Attack.
For St. Cloud Cathedral, they need to do what they have done well all year long and continue their offensive dominance out in front of goalie Noah Amundson. Nate Warner, Blake Prebix and Jack Smith will look to continue their high point pace to make a bid for their first State Championship in program history.
Finally, the No. 1 Mahtomedi Zephers showed why they earned the top seed in a complete team victory over New Ulm 6-0 in a game that saw the Zephyrs with a 55-10 shot advantage.
Greenway pulled off a comeback, taking their first lead in the third period against the Delano Tigers when their top line broke open the game, and the Raiders added some depth scoring in their 6-4 win.
The Raiders’ Donte Lawson, Ben Troumbly and Nikolai Rajala will have to continue to be huge factors if the team from the Range is to move past the Zephyrs play for a title on Saturday. Goalie Logan Wright will be busy the rest of the tournament and needs to play strong to help carry his team.
Mahtomedi has the most balanced attack of any Class A team both defensively and offensively, getting scoring from all three lines. Joe and Tom Paradise, grandsons of the great Herb Brooks, combined for three goals in the quarterfinals. Freshman goalie Ben Daris will need to stay strong against the top line of the Raiders for his team to finish their title run.
Will there be an upset and run from a four seed? Will top seeds continue to roll in dominant fashion?
Hockey fans across the state are in for a great finish to another incredible year at the spectacle that is The Tourney.