(It's a slow news day so I'm bumping this from the FanShots to the front page. -Ed.)
Centennial traveled to Edina tonight in a match-up of two of Minnesota's best high school programs. I was able to watch the game on television, and even though it's hard to watch a game on TV and get anything other than entertainment value out of it, I figured that I would share a few thoughts I had on the game.
-The big story of the night was the play of Centennial sophomore goalie Brett Larsen. Ironically, last year was supposed to be Centennial's year because they were backstopped by an experienced senior goalie, but that goaltending let Centennial down in their final two games against rival Blaine last year. To know that they now not only have adequate goaltending, but a goalie that can steal a win against a state tournament caliber tournament team is huge. Of course, section rival Blaine's goaltending has also improved this year, so it's not exactly going to be a cakewalk to St. Paul for the Cougars. Blaine and Centennial tied in their first meeting, and the rest of their match-ups should be just as intense.
-This marks the second straight game Edina has outshot their opponent by a lot, but have had trouble finishing. Back during the Elite League, I wrote "Speaking of the other Edina players, Marshall Everson and Anders Lee played pretty well. Lee has absolutely ridiculous strength for a high schooler. But I think they missed Zach Budish making plays and setting them up offensively." I'm sticking with that as one potential reason why Edina sometimes struggles to get the puck into the net. Because of his size, I think Budish's playmaking abilities get underrated sometimes. But I think the Hornets miss having someone that can really move the puck around and give Everson and Lee easier opportunities to finish. I didn't see the same offensive zone possession and cycling that Edina did last year when they had Budish.
-The other problem--and this was mentioned quite a bit on the TV broadcast--was that Edina relied a little too heavily on their top line. Edina probably won the battle of the top lines in terms of controlling the play, but Centennial's lower lines were much better. The Edina top line had to carry a little too much weight and their effectiveness waned as the game wore on.
-Centennial's top line on the other hand, seemed to get more effective as the game wore on. It's not often you're going to see Willie Hess miss two breakaways in the same game, but he made for it with a nice goal and assist later in the game. Tyler Pitlick wasn't dominant, but he plays a style of hockey that I think translates well to higher levels. He wasn't out there dangling around weaker high school players, but he had a great release on the shot he scored on, and a crafty pass from behind the net on his assist, and those are more translatable skills, in my opinion.
-I still like Edina's chances to make it to the state tournament. Aside from having possibly the most talent in the state, I think there is something to be said for the amount of experience they have, both in terms of playing top competition this season and playing in big games in previous years. Bloomington Jefferson on the other hand--and this is assuming they even make the section final, which isn't necessarily guaranteed--hasn't played as many big games against the state's best, and with it being a few years since Jefferson was really strong, will have to adjust to playing in front of probably 10,000 people in the section final, which can be daunting for any kid.
All in all, it was a pretty entertaining night of hockey. Once again, I think FSN does a tremendous job of getting these games on the air, and it's great when they out to be compelling games to watch.