Sunday, February 25, 2018

2018 Section Semifinal Satuday

Holy Family 5, Prior Lake 2

This was the second head-to-head matchup between Holy Family and Prior Lake of the season with Holy Family winning the first meeting, 7-2, on February 8th. Holy Family defeated Chanhassen in Thursday's Section 2AA quarterfinal, 6-0, to make the trip to the section semis at Braemar Arena. On the other side, Prior Lake was victorious over section newcomer New Prague, 5-3, for the right to play in Saturday's game. Holy Family had been ranked in the top ten for much of the year, while Prior Lake was mainly on the outside of the top twenty, looking to make the climb. They had quality regular season wins against neighboring communities Eden Prairie and Chaska, which helped them get the number three seed in the section tournament.

I did not originally have plans to go to this scheduled noon game, but decided with the impending snow to catch this one just in case the road conditions were to deteriorate enough to make travel difficult for the later games in the day. My gut feeling on this game was likely to be a one-sided contest in Holy Family's favor, and that ended up being true. This game never felt in doubt from the opening minutes. In the first period, you could sense Holy Family was is in a different class than Prior Lake with their speed and puck movement. They just play well as a team and have great chemistry. Holy Family would go down the ice skating around the opposition. Prior Lake had to play mistake-free hockey to have a chance, but cycling the puck in the attacking zone resulted in many puck control mistakes in the attacking end, leading to odd-man scoring chances for Holy Family. The fast-paced first period was dominated by Holy Family as they scored a pair of goals, and only yielded three shots to Prior Lake.

The second period was more of the same, with Prior Lake playing a little bit better. Prior Lake finally got on the board during a stretch of undisciplined play by Holy Family as Jackson Jetting converted a 5-on-3 power play at about the halfway point of the period, but it never felt like they were going to steal it away. The only way Prior Lake was going to win was if Holy Family was going to hand them it. At the end of the second period, Holy Family doubled their goal count from the first period, and lead 4-1.

Garrett Pinoniemi scored for Holy Family just 35 seconds into the third period. With a four goal lead, Holy Family went into a more conservative, prevent style game to kill the remaining time in the game. Frustrations started to set in for Prior Lake as the game got a bit chippy towards the end of regulation. With under three minutes to go, Prior Lake's Preston Underhill charged at Holy Family goaltender Conan Hayton with a cross-check to the head. Hayton laid on the ice for a few minutes after his mask flew off and back of his head contacted the crossbar following the hit as medical personnel treated him. Video of the hit can be seen here. While this was going on, coaches on both sides argued with each other in front of the divider that separates the benches. The officials made the proper call here with a 5 minute major and game misconduct assessed to Underhill. This is something you do not like to see at any level. Deliberate head contact can not be tolerated. Fortunately, Hayton was able to continue, and the final minutes finished without any further incident.

Holy Family goaltender Conan Hayton is cross-checked in the head by Prior Lake's Preston Underhill. Screenshot from video courtesy of MN Hockey Hub

With the win, Holy Family takes on the top seed in the section, Minnetonka, at Mariucci Arena in the section championship on Wednesday at 8 pm. Minnetonka defeated Chaska in their semifinal contest, 4-1.

Section 2AA bracket

Wayzata 3, Cretin-Derham Hall 2

After the noon game wrapped up at Braemar, the snow was not flying too bad yet, and the roads looked good, so I made the trek from Braemar to Bloomington Ice Garden for the Section 6AA semifinal between Cretin-Derham Hall and Wayzata. Unlike last year, I was not greeted with long lines to purchase tickets and to my surprise, it was an empty arena at 2:15 pm for the 3 pm game. The weather may had something to do with it. The rink lights were dimmed, and the Wayzata coaching staff was chatting amongst themselves in the lobby to the main rink. The concession stands was not even open yet. I was just grateful to not have to deal with any hassles as this was the game I really wanted to see on Saturday, and it did not disappoint.

An empty rink at Bloomington Ice Garden around 2:30 pm. Minn Puck photo.

The first meeting between these two teams took place back on December 16, an overtime thriller that Wayzata won 5-4. Wayzata came in as the number three seed, while Cretin was the higher seed at number two. Cretin has been ranked in the top ten for most of the year after beating Eden Prairie and skating to a tie with White Bear Lake early in the season. Wayzata had flirted on the fringes of the top ten over the season as they had an up-and-down year and dealt with the strength of schedule of the Lake Conference. The paths that each team took to reach the Saturday semifinal - Wayzata defeated Blake in the quarterfinals, and Cretin defeated Holy Angels.

Both teams were feeling each other out in the first period as there was not much offensive activity with a total of 11 shots recorded for the period, but three goals were scored as Wayzata netted two, and Cretin scored in-between the Wayzata goals. That is pretty good shooting, or luck, with nearly a quarter of the shots taken resulting in goals. Cretin came out showing they were the faster team, but Wayzata brought the physical presence. There was a back and forth feel to the game, like two heavyweights trading punches.

The second period was bogged down with penalties as the officials called the game tightly, which resulted in little 5-on-5 play. Checks that resulted in a player going into the boards were called. Typically, you see fewer penalties in the playoffs as the better teams tend to be more disciplined. At the conclusion of the period, the public address announcer jokingly made the comment going over the penalty summary that there were too many to read. The game sheet noted eight combined penalties for the period, evenly split between the two schools. Wayzata got more into an offensive rhythm, registering 13 shots and Griffin Ness scored the lone goal of the period to put Wayzata up 3-1. I could start to sense there was an upset in the making. Wayzata is one of those teams that knows how to come through when it matters most.

The third period saw more 5-on-5 play as players were not matching to the penalty box one after another like the previous period. Cretin cut the deficit to one goal a little more than a minute into the period. Momentum definitely swung around to Cretin's side following this goal for the remainder of the period as they were hungry to tie the game.

Late third period action between Wayzata and Cretin-Derham Hall. Minn Puck photo

Cretin had a breakaway opportunity to tie with a couple minutes left, but could not score. They nearly got the equalizer again during the final seconds of the game when there was a mad scramble in from of the Wayzata goal. The puck stayed out of the net, and the referee emphatically waved his arms to signal no goal. I never saw the puck go in the net from the Cretin side of the arena at any point in the sequence.

This was an entertaining, hard fought battle between the two teams. Between this game and Eden Prairie vs. Chaska from Thursday, I was fortunate to see two quality games over three days. Wayzata pulled the rabbit out of the hat again!

Wayzata gets their Lake Conference nemesis, Edina, in the section championship for a second straight year. Last year, Wayzata shocked the Minnesota hockey scene by defeating heavily favored Edina to punch their ticket to the state tournament. I expect Wednesday night's rematch at Mariucci to provide the same kind of drama as last year. Wednesday's section championship will be the third meeting of the season between the two schools. Edina won both games, 3-1, and 4-0, respectively. However, there is the old adage that it is difficult to beat a team three times in one season. That certainly was true last season. Will it happen again?

Section 6AA bracket

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