Last night I was willing to brave some light snow, Kevin Gorg, and the mess that is Fogerty Arena's parking lot to get out to see #1 Minnetonka take on #5 Blaine.
Minnetonka scored late in the third period to get a 4-3 win. You can read about the game after the jump.
If Nick Bjugstad didn't win Mr. Hockey last night, he at least made a really convincing argument. For most of the night, it looked like one guy from Blaine going up against about 8 guys from Minnetonka, and the one guy almost won.
After about the first period, it became pretty obvious that Blaine didn't have what it took to keep up with Minnetonka. And that's no disrespect towards Blaine. There were a lot of people that have seen a lot of hockey there last night, and I heard some say that Minnetonka could be one of the deepest, if not best, high school hockey teams theyv'e seen in a long while. So why was it such a close game? I think it had as much to do with Minnetonka as it did with Blaine.
Minnetonka is incredibly deep and incredibly skilled, but they let Blaine hang around last night because there was way too much individual play. If everytime Minnetonka had taken a shot, they had attempted a pass instead, they probably would have had 7 or 8 goals and cruised to an easy victory. That's why I think this was a really good test for Minnetonka. They learned something about their team when it comes to tough situations, and now when they get into the sectional playoffs, they'll be more more prepared for the big games they'll have to play. They're the most talented team in the state, but they've got to learn to become the best team in the state.
As for Blaine, I think they learned that they can skate with any team in the state. They're maybe not quite at the level of a Minnetonka, but they were right there, and if things had a gone a little different, they maybe could have won. If they get into a one-game playoff situation in the state tournament, they could maybe knock off one of the top schools. One thing I noticed is that Blaine really seemed to spread out their top players, moving arguably their second and third best forwards, Eric Scheid and Gavin Tufte, off of Bjugstad's line. I think that strategy works against 90% of their opponents because they don't have the depth to match, but I'm not sure it worked against Minnetonka. Atter Bjugstad's first goal, which was a beauty, Minneonka made an adjustment and started trying to stand him up at the blueline when he brought the puck into the zone and that really slowed him down. It seemed like it was always Bjugstad bringing the puck up the ice and having to make a pass, which made him easier to defend, than if Blaine had someone else bringing the puck up the ice and feeding Bjugstad to utilize that big shot.
One thing that is interesting to me is that Bjugstad aside, Blaine doesn't really have any other serious college prospects on their team, and haven't really in the past couple of years. They've had some good players that went on to junior hockey like Ben Lynch, Joe Beaudette, and Mike Schaber. Ryan Johnson and Steffen Hansen are playing D-3 hockey. But it's been a while since they've had a big name Division I prospect. I think it says something about their coaching that despite that, they manage to be so good year in and year out.
As for Minnetonka, last night didn't really change any of my opinions of their big three defenseman from earlier this year. Prochno is still really, really good, but his size will keep him from being drafted, Hesketh is good, but you still feel like he could be doing more out there, and Holl is the least developed, but probably has the most potential.
Max Gardiner is still hard to judge at forward. In the high school game, he's still doing a lot of skating with the puck in open ice, and that's never going to be his specialty. At the next level, he'll be a guy that does most of his work fighting along the boards and making plays from there. There's not a lot of grinding it out along the boards in high school hockey though. He had a solid game though. He's making a lot of plays and is really a leader for his team.
The big story of the night was freshman Max Coatta, who has been playing on Minnetonka's top line and got a hat trick, after a big game on Saturday in the win over St. Thomas as well. Coatta reminds me of his older brother Sam, who is playing in the USHL this year, and never really got as much attention as he maybe deserved. Coatta is an older freshman('94 birthdate), and is playing around a really talented group, but he's shown a great knack for getting to the net and taking advantage of chances when they come and he'll definitely be a player worth watching. What's scary is he might not even be the best freshman at Minnetonka high school, since freshman Vinni Lettieri, one of the top '95 birthdates in the state, is also attending Minnetonka, but playing bantam hockey this year.