Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Way to Look at PeeWee A Hockey - March 23

By frederick61

Next week will be the final post of the 2010-2011 season. Some have said this year was a little off in that the talent of the past few years seems less. But I doubt they would say that after attending this year’s state tourney. It was one of the best and though I thought the venue would be a little off from those of the past few years, it turned out to be a great choice. Congratulations to D6 and Bloomington for putting on a great tourney.

On a nice sunny Friday afternoon, eight teams met to contend in the opening round of the Minnesota Hockey PeeWee A State Tournament. The tourney was played at the Bloomington Ice Gardens on Rink 3, the Olympic size sheet.

The arena was packed for the opening Friday sessions, the semifinals and the final games. The Farmington fans especially turned out in numbers and really rooted their Tiger team onward.

It was great to see them cheer and their presence made the tourney great. At one time, during the Wayzata game, when the Tiger fans thought that a penalty should have been called on a Trojan player, they all raised their arm in unison. But for all the cheering and support the Tiger fans gave their team, they did it in a great team spirit. It was not negative.

The first game matched Wayzata and Elk River. The two teams had played each other once before on Championship Sunday of the Edina Tournament, the day after New Year’s Day. The Trojans won that game 4-3. Both the Trojans and the Elks came to Friday’s game having won 20 of their last 22 games. The Elks had dominated the East Region, winning three straight to take the #1 seed, Wayzata had to work hard in the West to take the #2 seed after losing their opening regional game to Eden Prairie 3-2.

The Trojans struck first early in the first period when a Wayzata center picked up the puck in a corner and swept around the net to beat the Elks' goalie on a low left corner wrap around shot. Both coaches had the same strategy in the first period, match their number one lines and skate them every other shift. But the Trojans' early goal was the only first period goal. Wayzata outshot Elk River by a margin of 2-1 in the first period.

In the second period, both coaches changed their lines and the play evened out. No team could dominate the play. Late in the second period the Elks scored on a neat passing play. An Elk forward picked up the puck on the blue line, skated parallel to the blue line until he found a passing lane to a forward down low to the right of the net. The goalie pulled over to face the forward as the pass came to his stick, but instead of shooting, the forward made a second quick pass to the second forward on the goalie’s left for an open net goal.

Wayzata went on a power play with under three minutes left in the second period. In pressing the attack, they lost track of the penalty time and an Elk forward made a leading pass to the Elk player coming out of the penalty box behind the Trojan defense. He scored the breakaway goal on a hard shot to the lower left side of the goalie to give the Elks a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period. Second period shots were even.

The third opened with the Elks scoring their third goal in the first minute of play off a deflected shot from the blue line. But the Trojans caught a break with less than 9 minutes to go when an Elk clearing attempt along the ice got caught in the ref’s skates. A Trojan forward gained control inside the blue line and fed a pass to a breaking center. He scored his second goal.

That got the Trojans going as they pressured the Elk defense inside their zone. They scored off a deflection to tie the game with less than six minutes to go. With just under two minutes left to play, the Trojans kept working hard. It resulted in keeping the play in the Elks' defensive zone. A pass from inside the blue line found an open wing and he put the puck in the net to score the winning goal. Final score 4-3, the same score the last time the two teams played.

Farmington and Grand Rapids played in the second game of the upper bracket early Friday evening. As good as the Wayzata/Elk River game was, it could not top the Farmington/Grand Rapids. That game went to three overtimes before the Tigers scored the winning goal.

The first period was a very physical game as both teams had their opportunities to score. The Tigers finally scored a power play goal in typical Tiger “mob” style. The Tigers got the puck low and pounded away on the goalie until the puck was in the net.

Action in the second period slowed. The refs were calling offside very closely. Farmington began to dominate the play as the period wore on, but could not score. The second period ended with the score 1-0, Farmington leading. The Tigers had held Grand Rapids to four shots on goals in the first two periods. The Grand Rapids goalie had an outstanding game.

Farmington continued to pressure the Grand Rapids defense in the third period. With just under two minutes to go in the game, the Thunderhawks tied the game 1-1 by banging in a rebound goal. That sent the game into a 5 minute stop time, 5 on 5, overtime. The Rapids hung on as Farmington pressured the Thunderhawks in their defensive zone and the first overtime ended 1-1.

The second overtime period was a five minute stop time period, 4 on 4. Again the Tigers pressured the Rapids in their own zone, but couldn’t get past the Thunderhawks’ goalie. On the Tigers one chance on nice setup that resulted in a Tiger forward shooting at an open net, he missed high.

After breaking to clean the ice, the third overtime period started, 10 minute stop time, 3 on 3. At the seven minute mark, Grand Rapids drew a penalty creating a 4-3 penalty kill situation for the Thunderhawks. Again the Tigers stormed the goalie, finally putting the winning goal in the net. The score was 2-1 in a well-played game for both teams.

Note that the tourney brochure did not specify the overtime situation; it called out the rule to be followed in the event of overtime. That left it to the adults to interpret and as the kids know, when it comes to youth hockey, adults will not interpret it correctly. In later overtime games, the format was changed.

Edina and Blaine met in the evening game. The Bengals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, Edina came back to cut the lead to 2-1 at the end of the first period. In the second period, the Hornets started to swarm with a trapping style of defense that sprung their forwards loose on a number of 2 on 1 rushes. They scored two goals with the last goal coming off a trade mark rush. Leading 3-2, the Hornets then drew a break when a Blaine forward attempting to clear the puck behind his net on a blind clearing pass, put the puck in his own net to give the Hornets a 4-2 lead.

Edina added another goal to take a 5-2 lead into the third period. The Bengals could not stop the 2 on 1 rushes in the third. They added two more goals to win 7-2.
The Hornets had at least 20 rushes into the Bengal zone with a least 2 on 1 advantage. At least half dozen players carried the puck into the zone on those rushes at one time or another. All of them used the extra rink width and looked to pass the puck first and shot the puck only when that was the best alternative. The Hornets played the game well and with discipline.

The final game Friday started late (after 9:00 pm). The delay was caused by two things; the Farmington/Grand Rapids triple overtime and delays after every re-surfacing caused by having to let the ice set.

Rosemount used their speed at forward on the larger rink to beat Moorhead Black. They consistently moved to the outside and found open spaces, the bigger Black forwards could never quite get the leverage needed to knock the smaller Irish forwards off the puck.

Still it was a close game. The first period ended 0-0. The Irish scored twice in the second period to take a 2-0 lead and won 4-0. The Black had their chances, especially if they could get the puck down low in the Rosemount zone. Once there, they used their size to tie-up the smaller Irish players in their zone.

The Irish still skated a mixed set of lines, playing only seven forwards. That slowed their offensive punch and resulted in more individual play.

Saturday matched Elk River and Grand Rapids in the opening game of the session. Both teams were coming off disappointing loses to play in one of the two loser goes home games in the state tourney under the new format.

Grand Rapids survived a slow start. The Elks applied pressure but could not score and the first period ended 0-0. The second period started out with a bang. The Elks opened the scoring when a low hard shot found its way into the Rapids net less than three minutes into the period.

Twenty seconds later, the Rapids tied the score 1-1 on a goal off a rebound when the goalie made the initial save on a hard shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. The puck dropped and slowed in the left side of the crease only to be knocked into the net by the same Rapids forward that took the initial slot. It happened in less than a second, the Rapids forward was really flying.

Two minutes later, the Elks regained the lead on a wraparound goal 2-1 that caught the goalie by surprise. The Elk’s forward accelerated on the wraparound as he went behind the net. The wraparound seemed to be the new fad this year.

In an unusual play late in the second period, the Thunderhawks put the puck on the net from center ice, and all five players skated off in a change. The goalie froze the puck expecting a whistle, but with no Rapids players on the ice, nothing happened while his five forwards waited for him to make a pass.

Grand Rapids had started to dominate the play as the second period ended. But after cleaning the ice, the third period got rolling with an Elk River power play goal on a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that bounced weirdly off the underside of the upper part of the goalie’s stick and into the net.

With the Elks leading 3-1, the Rapids came back to cut the score to 3-2 with 10 minutes remaining. The goal was scored off a rebound when the goalie tried to trap a hard shot with his pads while on his knees.

Two minutes later the save of the game happened. The Grand Rapids goalie dove towards the right side of the slot to clear a loose puck, but the puck bounced weirdly and ended up on an Elk River player’s stick about five feet in front of the sprawled goalie. The Elk River player lifted the puck towards the open net over the goalie lying flat on his stomach. The goalie responded by kicking the puck to the left out of the net with one of his skates. Think about it.

Three minutes later, Grand Rapids tied the score 3-3 on a shot from the point that was tipped into the net. They scored the winning goal on a wraparound and added a 150 foot open netter to end the scoring. Grand Rapids beat Elk River 5-3 to send the Elks home.

The second game Saturday matched Blaine and Moorhead Black. It was the second loser goes home game. Both teams had taken tough loses in the opening round and it showed. Both teams came out flat and the first period ended in an eventless 0-0 tie.

The pace picked up in the second period and both teams had their scoring chances. But neither team could find the net. The second period ended with the score 0-0. The game was evenly played, the shots on goal after two periods, Blaine had 13 and the Black had 12.

After Blaine scored early in the third period, the Black came back late in the game to tie the score 1-1 and send the game into overtime. The tying Black goal came on a triple rebound shot as the Black stormed the Blaine goalie. Blaine won the game in overtime on a power play goal. The Blaine goalie had an outstanding game.

The opening game of the semifinals matched Wayzata and Farmington. In a bit of irony, after beating Elk River 4-3 in their only meeting earlier in the season, Wayzata lost to the Tigers 4-1 to get knock out of the Spirit of Duluth tourney. Now the Trojans were playing the same Tigers after beating the Elks 4-3 on Friday.
The two teams had been there before. And they played the best game of the tourney Saturday.

Both teams came to skate. In front of a packed crowd that one could have hung out the SRO (maybe) sign, they skated hard. Wayzata opened the scoring when a Trojan forward went left into the Farmington zone, put a shot on the net that rebounded to the right onto another breaking Trojan forward who drove the puck into the net.

That was the only first period goal. Farmington tied the score 1-1 with 10 minutes remaining in the second period when a Tiger forward picked up the puck in the corner of the Trojan’s zone and sprinted out in front of the sprawling Wayzata goalie to tuck the puck in the far corner of the net.

Wayzata came back a minute later to score a power play goal and take a 2-1 lead. They scored on a hard shot from the blue line that was timed with a forward coming into screen the goalie as the shot was fired. It was a nice play.

Farmington came back to tie the score 2-2 with two minutes left in the second period. The goal came of a hard shot from the slot that trickled through the goalie’s pads and into the net.

The first two periods were well played by two great teams. The score was tied and the shots on goal were even (Wayzata 15, Farmington 14).

The third period opened with Farmington taking a 3-2 lead. The Tigers scored on a nice short passing give and go play from the blue line that broke a Tiger free on the goalie. He put the puck in the net. That was the opening the Tigers needed.
The rest of the period, the Trojans tried to break the Farmington defense and couldn’t. They had their chances, but couldn’t break through.

Farmington did not sit back and let the Trojans attack. They in fact attacked the Wayzata net repeatedly, but were quick to defend on the transitition. Something their defensemen had done all season.

Pulling their goalie with two minutes to go, the Trojans applied intense pressure as their six forwards attacked the Tiger net. After a number of Trojan chances to score, the puck bounced lose in the slot, and a Farmington forward one timed the puck into the open Wayzata net 150 feet away to give the Tigers an 4-2 lead with less than a minute to go. Farmington added another empty netter as the whistle blew to win 5-2.

It was a great game that either team could have won played in front of a packed, cheering, crowd. Both teams deserved to win. It was great peewee hockey.

The second game became anticlimactic. The crowd dispersed as Edina and Rosemount took the ice. The Irish had beaten a tough Moorhead Black team in the opener, but was now facing an Edina team, playing only seven forwards. Edina had beaten a tough Blaine team the day before, but they “put it in cruise control” in the later part of the game.

The first period was evenly played. Both teams had their scoring opportunities, but the Hornets scored the only goal on a breakaway off a trapping play. The Edina forward drove the puck with precision into the upper left corner of the net. Shots on goal for the first period were even, Edina 5 and Rosemount 4.

In the opening minutes of the second period, Rosemount drew two back to back penalties creating a 5 on 3 advantage for the Hornets. Edina scored a 5 on 3 and a 5 on 4 power play goal within a minute to take a 3-0. Two minutes later the Hornets added a shorthanded goal to take a 4-0 lead.

With less then 10 minutes to go in the second, an Irish forward drew a 2 and 10 for checking from behind to further weaken the Irish bench. Edina added a late period goal to take a 5 goal lead into the third period.

The Hornets won 10-1. Rosemount had a great season. They won some great tourneys in December, but suffered from mid-January on with a key injury that created a short bench. It is hard to take 13 forwards and play a whole season with all that goes on with kids.

Championship Sunday was the first sunless day of the tourney. The Elk River and Moorhead teams had gone home, leaving three games and six teams to fight for four trophies. Blaine beat Grand Rapids 3-1in the early morning consolation championship. The Bengals came back from losing to Edina 7-2 in the opening round to win two straight. They were the only two digit district team (D10) to win a trophy.

Grand Rapids had a great tourney also. They lost one game by one goal in three overtimes, beat a tough team by one goal and lost a tough game to the Bengals. The Thunderhawks ended their season on a high note.

The third place game was played before a quiet crowd. Wayzata jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period. Both teams skated the first period in zombie like fashion. In the second, both teams started to move the puck and the pace picked.

The Irish became more aggressive, using the wider ice surface and had recovered some of their neat passing. The key play of the game came with seven minutes left in the second period.

The Irish were on the power play and moving the puck well in the Wayzata zone as the Wayzata penalty ended. The Irish kept the puck down low around the Wayzata net searching for an opening, but became victims of their own passive passing, giving up a soft pass that was intercepted by a Wayzata forward and turned into a 2 on 1 breakaway resulting in a 3-0 Trojan lead.

After that the Rosemount passing game was gone. The players played their positions well, tried to form and reform their attack as they had in the past, but the Irish on the receiving end of a pass couldn’t control the puck resulting in a loss of possession.

The Trojans kept the pressure on the Irish in the third period. Each team scored once to make the final score 4-1.

Wayzata had a great season winning the Eden Prairie turkey day tourney and notching 48 wins on their hockey sticks and taking third place in the state. Rosemount had a great year also, winning the Spirit of Duluth tourney and the Bloomington Tourney in December, notching 45 wins, and taking fourth in the state tourney.

Both these teams had lost players prior to the state tourney, but Wayzata with 15 forwards (two out), was the stronger team; Rosemount with 13 forwards (one out) skated only seven forwards for the tourney. Full strength these two teams played an unforgettable game in early December that the Irish won 6-5. The passing and skill the two teams demonstrated in that game was exceptional for a PeeWee game.

Oddly enough, both associations played in the State PeeWee B Championship on Sunday at Stillwater. Wayzata Blue won that game 6-1.

The Olympic sized rink at BIG was packed for the Championship game between Edina and Farmington. Two thirds of the fans were cheering for Farmington. The game was intense even during the warm-ups. The first period was great. Edina went to their bread and butter plays (trapping trying to create 2 on 1 rushes) that had worked before, but the Farmington defense stymied the Hornets.

With three minutes left in the period, an Edina defenseman rushed the puck into the Tiger’s zone deep into the corner and made a hard pass though the Farmington defense to the front of the net hitting a breaking Hornet forward who one timed the puck into an open net. But Tigers came roaring back, set-up down low in the Edina zone and eventually “mobbed” the puck into the net. The Edina goalie did not make it easy for the Tigers. The first period ended 1-1; Farmington outshot the Hornets 12-6.

In the opening minutes of the second period, Edina scored a 2 on 1 breakaway goal to give the Hornets a 2-1 lead. Then history repeated itself. Edina drew the all the second period breaks as the refs blew their whistles.

It started with the puck lying in the Edina crease in full view of the fans and at least one ref. The ref on the far side blew a quick whistle because she didn’t see the puck even though the other ref could. It denied the Tigers the tying goal. The ref was roundly booed by 500 or so Tiger fans. She couldn’t kick them all out, but they were just boos.

A minute later, with Farmington on the power play, a puck was being chased down by an Edina forward and a Farmington defenseman. The Edina forward initiated contact and locked up the Farmington defense. He created a high stick forcing the smaller Farmington player’s stick into the air. A third Farmington player came into take the puck and made contact with the Edina player who spun down and flat on the ice surface. He laid still and after being looked at by the medical, got up and skated to the bench looking as if he had a broken arm or dislocated shoulder. The medic grabbed a bag and quickly went over to the Edina bench.

It was reminiscent of last year’s White Bear Lake/Edina state tourney game where the refs just starting calling penalties on the Bears in the second period with the Bears leading and ignoring contact initiated by Edina.

Reacting to the kid on the ice, the ref called an elbowing penalty on the Farmington player and later added another Tiger penalty eventually creating a 5 on 3 advantage for Edina. Edina scored on a wraparound goal just before the first of the two Farmington penalties ended to take a 3-1. They later added another power play goal to take a 4-1 lead. With the period winding down, the Hornets scored a shorthanded goal to take a 5-1 lead into the third period.

The injured Edina player, one of the biggest and strongest players on the team, was back on the ice for his next shift and skated the rest of the game. He never missed a shift and was out on the ice when the game ended.

The refs had learned their lesson though, when in the third period, the same player initiated contact with a Farmington defenseman that then fell awkwardly with a loud noise against the boards. No call.

But the damage had been done. The Tigers came out firing in the third period. After skating off what remained of another Edina power play, the Tigers attacked the Edina zone and scored a rebound goal to cut the lead to 5-2. But the Hornets caught another break, when a rebound came loose in front of the Tiger net and was kicked in by a sliding Farmington forward. The game was over. Both teams added one more goal to make the final score 7-3.

Edina had some unsung heroes in their win. Their better players did what they had to, but the Edina coach made a wise decision in choice of starting goalie. The goalie played an extremely tough game down low and matched Farmington’s strength. It showed in shots on goal. Farmington outshot the Hornets 32-27 despite losing by four goals. Most 5 on 5 situations ended up in front of the Edina net with the whistle being blown.

The second is the emergence of one Edina defenseman, #15. In the last two months of the season, he either grew or figured out something. He was the fastest kid on the ice and the ultimate game breaker.

Farmington played a great tourney to end a great season for the Tigers. Taking second in the State Tourney is a great accomplishment. Both Edina and Farmington ended their season with more than 50 wins.

Back in the first week of November, the first post this season had this as part of the lead: “Edina, defending 2010 champion, would have to travel the 10 miles from Braemar Arena to get to BIG. But to get there, the Hornets will play 50 or so games, win or place in the D6 playoffs to get a seed to the West Regional, and win one of the two West Regional seats (a tough regional this year with Wayzata, Osseo/Maple Grove and St. Michael/Albertville likely to be in the same tourney) before the Hornets can travel those 10 miles.”

The Hornets did. Congratulations Edina. Two state titles in a row. Next year is the opportunity to “three-peat”. To the other 100 or so teams next year, the Hornets have thrown the gauntlet down.

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