Howie: Duluth Marshall, Hermantown and Duluth East off to strong starts in prep boys hockey

Howie (2)As anticipated, traditional high school boys hockey small-school powers Duluth Marshall and Hermantown have established themselves as the teams to beat in Section 7A.

The Hilltoppers are 7-0, with home victories over Roseville (4-3), Breck (2-0), Proctor (7-3), Blake (5-0) and Orono (4-1), and wins at Grand Rapids (4-2) and International Falls (6-0) over the weekend.

Power-forward Dylan Michaud is off to a strong start for Duluth Duluth Denfeld, after sitting out his junior season after transferring from Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. Howie / HowieBlog.com
Power-forward Dylan Michaud is off to a strong start for Duluth Denfeld, after sitting out his junior season after transferring from Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. Howie / HowieBlog.com
Duluth Marshall will play its next seven games at beautiful Mars Lakeview Arena, including difficult nonconference games against Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Dec. 23 and Mahtomedia Jan. 6. The Hilltoppers, who host the Hilltoppers Holiday Classic on Dec. 30-31, will visit Hermantown on Jan. 16.

Senior goaltender Alex Murray (5-0, 1.17 goals-against, .952 saves percentage) has been a consistent performer for Duluth Marshall, giving top defensemen Jordan Fralich and Lane Krenzen, who have combined for five goals and 16 points, the confidence to become engaged offensively.

Derek Farrell leads Hilltoppers scorers with 12 points, with five goals, and senior forwards John McKenna and Nate Johnson have six goals apiece, which leads the team. Forwards Peter Lenz, Jack Dodd and Nathan Sepp have combined for six goals and 20 points.

Meantime, Hermantown (5-2) has won five of its last six, including an impressive 8-0 Lake Superior Conference home victory over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton on Dec. 2. The Hawks are led by a trio of local prep hockey rock stars: linemates Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero, both super-sniper seniors, and junior defenseman Wyatt Aamodt, a highly-recruited Division I prospect.

Pionk and Kero are averaging 2.17 points per game, with 13 points apiece, and Pionk has a team-high seven goals. Aamodt and Eric Gotz, another impressive junior, anchors arguably the best defensive corp in northeastern Minnesota.

Hermantown junior Luke Olson (4-1, 1.99, .892) has emerged as one of the area’s top goaltenders.

Duluth Denfeld (5-2) displayed flashes of potential in a 3-1 home loss to Hermantown last Thursday. The Hunters are led by 6-foot-4 senior defenseman Nick Thompson, a four-year starter who boasts a team-high 10 points, and senior forwards Jake DeCaro (team-high five goals), Cody Budislovich, Dylan Michaud, Jonah Williams and Cam McClure. Juniors Adam Shykes and Kadin Ferguson have emerged as dependable, hard-working forwards.

Westley Cook (3-1, 3.25, .847) and River Alander (2-1, 1.67, .942) have been impressive in goal.

Duluth East (3-1-1) is working hard to find scoring and win close, defensive games against tough opponents in Class AA. The Greyhounds, who have won three of their last four, are allowing and scoring 1.80 points per game.

Brothers Ashton and Nick Altmann are 1-2 in scoring, with five and four points, respectively. Ryan Peterson has three points and junior playmaking forward Luke Dow, perhaps the team’s best college prospect, has a goal and an assist in his first three games since becoming eligible after transferring from Duluth Marshall.

Senior goaltender Gunnar Howg (3-1-1, 2.17, .903) is a two-year starter.

Duluth East will face St. Thomas Academy (4-0) in a Schwann Cup Gold Dvision opening-round game Dec. 29 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

HOWIE’S PREP HOCKEY BESTS-OF-THE-BEST

icon_fieldset Team Featuring the Toughest Midseason Run: Duluth East plays a murderous, five-game stretch of games against top competition starting Jan. 2, with games at Hopkins (7-1) and Duluth Denfeld (5-2), at home against Grand Rapids (4-3) and Eden Prairie (5-1) and at top-ranked Lakeville North (5-0). The Greyhounds will also visit Elk River (6-1) on Jan. 31, in a possible Section 7AA championship game preview.

icon_fieldset All-Forechecking Team: Nate Pionk (Hermantown), Jonah Williams (Duluth Denfeld) and Ashton Altmann (Duluth East)

icon_fieldset Cleanest Barn: Mars-Lakeview Arena

icon_fieldset Hardest Workers: Pionk and Jake DeCaro (Duluth Denfeld)

icon_fieldset Best Tape-to-Tape Passer: Lane Krenzen (Duluth Marshall)

icon_fieldset Most Under-Rated Player: Nate Johnson (Duluth Marshall)

icon_fieldset Toughest Blue-Collar Players: Pionk, Dylan Michaud (Duluth Denfeld), Jesse Jacques (Hermantown)

icon_fieldset Team With Least Depth: Duluth Marshall

icon_fieldset Team With Best Uniforms: Superior

icon_fieldset Team With Best Chance to Advance to State: Hermantown, Duluth Marshall

icon_fieldset Teams With Most Octane Players and Coaches: Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl, Superior

icon_fieldset Team Most Over-Achieving: Duluth Marshall

icon_fieldset Team Playing Most Disciplined: Duluth East

icon_fieldset Team Boasting the Best Barn Chow: Amsoil Arena

icon_fieldset Team Boasting the Barn Featuring the Best Use of Wood: Cloquet

icon_fieldset Teams Boasting the Best Ice in Their Home Barn: Duluth Denfeld, Duluth East at Amsoil Arena

icon_fieldset Teams Boasting the Best Barn Interior Lighting: Duluth Denfeld, Duluth East Heritage Center

Howie Hanson: Duluth Denfeld, Superior impressive in Lake Superior Conference Jamboree

In mid-November, the annual Lake Superior Conference Jamboree gives coaches, players and high school boy’s hockey fans a preseason sneak-peek of what to expect from their favorite teams and their future opponents, in a dizzying, 20-minute running-time hockey frenzy with each team meeting two opponents in pool play.

Based on their conference finish last season, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, Proctor, North Shore and Ashland met in an early-session pool, with the Lumberjacks competing with mostly varsity third- and fourth-line players, bottom eight defensemen and backup goaltenders.

Hermantown, Minnesota’s second-ranked team in Class 1A, and powerhouse programs Duluth Marshall, Duluth Denfeld and Superior battled in the evening pool.

As expected, Hermantown was impressive. The Hawks roll three equally-strong forward lines and feature elite junior defenseman Wyatt Aamodt.

Duluth Denfeld and Superior also impressed with good depth, good size and feisty, physical play. The Hunters showed they shouldn’t be overlooked in the Section 7A playoffs, after nipping the Hawks 2-0 in the Jamboree final. Superior looked like a Wisconsin state tournament-bound team.

Here’s one person’s scouting report on the eight-team LSC:

Hermantown — This is Hermantown’s best-ever group of forwards, in Coach Bruce Plante’s lengthy career. UMDHockey.com Prep Boy’s Hockey Preseason Player-of-the-Year Nate Pionk, a senior, leads a talented forward corp that also features seniors Ryan Kero, Parker Hawk, Kyle Amundson, Henry Curtis and Jared Zeleznikar, and juniors Brenden Baker, James Lindberg and Cole Koepke. Ryan Sandelin, Ethan Palusky, Matt Valure, Jesse Jacques and Logan Judnick lead an impressive group of sophomore forwards. Other top defensemen are seniors Tanner Kimball and Sam Gibson, juniors Peter Grytdahl and Eric Gotz and sophomore Dylan Samberg. Juniors Luke Olson and Peter Rutka and sophomore Cade McEwen are all solid goaltenders who only lack substaintial varsity minutes.

Duluth Denfeld — The Hunters are lightning-quick and physical on the forecheck, and playing with discipline will again be a key for the Lake Superior Conference’s most aggressive team. Seniors Cam McClure (a transfer from Duluth Marshall), Jake DeCaro, Jonah Williams (a transfer from Hermantown), Dylan Michaud, Ryan Potswald and Ben Scrignoli are rocket-fast forwards who hunger for the puck as if it’s their last meal. The talent level is also impressive among the junior forwards, a group led by workhorse captain Cody Budisalovich, Kadin Ferguson, Logan Perych, Adam Shykes, Dylan Skorich (a transfrer from Superior), muscleman Easton Stenson, Zack Thompson and Zane Peterson. Lanky senior Nick Thompson leads a defensive corp that also features juniors Ben Kidd and Adam Reynolds. Michaud will also play some defense, to help to shore up the back end. Senior Wes Cook and juniors River Alander and Brandon Johnson all are impressively talented goaltenders.

Duluth Marshall – The Hilltoppers lost elite forwards McClure and Luke Dow (Duluth East) to transfer, but Coach Brenden Flaherty’s team likely won’t miss a beat as it prepares to battle Hermantown and Duluth Denfeld for a Section 7A championship later this season. Duluth Marshall features elite defensemen Jordan Fralich, Lane Krenzen and Nate Sepp, and senior forwards Jack Dodd, Derek Farrell, John McKenna and Nate Johnson. Junior forward Peter Lenz has amazing skills and good size, and Tyler Pederson and Garrett Sullivan are top junior forwards. Junior defenseman Jon Hansen is a player to watch. Top youngsters include sophomore defense Joe Liberty and impressive freshmen Willy Stauber, a slick-skating defenseman, and Levi Stauber, a forward with hands of gold. Senior Alex Murray is unargueably the best goaltender in the LSC. His talented backup is junior Cullen Mudrak.

Superior – The Spartans are big, fast and deep with talent, and stingy goaltender Peyton Flanders appears poised to have a strong senior season. The defense is led by seniors Grant Hanson and Jesse Polson, and talented juniors Mitch Anderson and Shane Tetzlaff and sophomores Braden LaPorte and Tanner Sterling. Top forwards are seniors Matt Hinaus, Anthony Bronson, Tyler Nystrom, Bryan Bergstrom, Mark Shold, Beau Redder and Kyler Krob, and sophomores Brock Gilbertson, Caden Tchop and Troy Shold.

The best of the rest: Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, which is much improved from a year ago, is led by forward Koby Bender. Proctor features senior defenseman Trace Norton and Dylon Pionk, Jake Malec and impressive freshman Jordan Linder, all forwards. North Shore players to watch: senior center and captain Quaid Cavallin and slick-handed junior defenseman Justin Ketola. Ashland is led by senior goaltender Dylan Barnes, who likely will see a lot of rubber this season.

Team North pounded by Team Southwest

Duluth Denfeld senior forward Cam McClure scored two goals but Team North lost 6-3 to Team Southwest in an Upper Midwest High School Elite League game late Saturday at Schwann Super Rink #5 in Blaine.

Nick Altmann of Duluth also scored for Team North (2-5-1), and Cloquet’s Koby Bender had a pair of assists.
Team North trailed 3-0, but crept back to within 4-3 after two periods.

Edina senior Dylan Malmquist had two goals and an assist for Team Southwest (4-3-1).

Team North faces Shattuck-St. Mary’s (0-2-0) at 11:45 a.m. Sunday in Blaine.

Howie’s Hockey Notebook: Forbort penalty-minutes leader at Manchester; Bulldogs host unbeaten Notre Dame

HowieHansonwhite150bwDefenseman Derek Forbort of Duluth has one goal and two points, is plus-four and has racked up a team-high 17 penalty minutes in seven games for the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League.

Forbort, 21, is a former first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Kings and was a late cut in the team’s training camp this fall.

. . .

The Bulldogs men (2-1-1) will play host to nonconference Notre Dame (4-0-0) in college hockey games Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena. UMD split a pair of National Collegiate Hockey Conference games at Colorado College last weekend.

. . .

High school boy’s hockey teams to watch this season: Duluth Marshall, Hermantown, Superior, Duluth East and Duluth Denfeld, in this order. The Hilltoppers feature a bevy of talented, young players, including explosive superstar forward Cam McClure, now a junior. Duluth Marshall is strong in goal, a bit suspect defensively and will roll three strong forward lines. I expect Duluth Marshall and Hermantown to meet in the Section 7A final this season. More on the local prep boy’s soon, including the much-anticipated Howie Blog’s All-Preseason Team and All-Preseason Player of the Year selections.