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Centennial vs. Andover

A heavily-favored Centennial High School team traveled up to Andover last night to take on a Husky team that was leading Class AA in scoring, led by Cal Decowski, who is among the state's leading scorers.

Theoretically, it should have been a match-up of Andover's offense against Centennial's stout defense, led by Minnesota State commit Brett Stern, but there wasn't much defense, or goaltending in this game. Centennial built a 6-2 lead in the second period, and Andover clawed back in the third period to cut the lead to one at 7-6, but Centennial added an empty-netter at the buzzer to hold on and win 8-6.

My comments on the game are after the jump.

Centennial has developed a reputation this season for being completely unpredictable with their play. On a good day, they can play with just about anyone, as evidenced by their blowout win over Benilde and tie against Bloomington Jefferson at the St. Louis Park Christmas tournament, but on a bad day, they can play down to just about anyone. Thursday night was definitely one of their bad days.

Usually when you see a less talented team pull off a big upset, the formula is pretty much the same. Favored team dominates possession and gets a ton of shots, but fails to capitalize, and Underdog takes advantage of a few miscues and capitalizes on every chance. But last night was pretty much the opposite. I thought Andover dominated play for large stretches of time over the last two periods, but missed some golden opportunities, and Centennial's top line did an excellent job of finishing their chances. The most important stretch of the game came at the end of the second period with Centennial up 6-2. Andover controlled play in the Centennial end for a long time and had some amazing chances that they weren't able to put in. If Andover had cut the lead there, it's probably a very different third period.

Individually, Cal Decowski was the big story. He's up among the state's leading scorers and is one of the best uncommitted college prospects left in the state. For what it's worth, Minnesota Hockey Hub lists Yale, Brown, and Minnesota-Duluth as the schools most interested in him. Duluth had a coach in attendance at the game.

Decowski finished with three goals on the night, and it probably goes without saying that he's the unquestioned leader on his team. Being kind of a one-man show does lead to some bad habits. He's usually the last guy back on the backcheck, and has to coast at times because of all the ice-time he sees. He also drew a penalty with a fantastic dive at the end of one shift. But I'll chalk up those more to the situation that he's in. I never thought that was an issue for him in the Elite League playing with players more at his own ability.

What he does exceptionally well, and leads me to believe he'll be a nice player at the next level is that he sees the ice so well. He's got fantastic vision and can see plays happening before they really develop. A lot of those nice passes went for naught last night, but wouldn't in the future. He'll likely have to make his way as a playmaker because he doesn't have a huge shot. He did score twice on slapshots on rushes up the ice, but he played the point on the powerplay, and his shot didn't do much. A year or two in juniors to add some muscle would probably go a long ways.

Elsewhere for Andover, second-line center Taylor Portner gives Andover a nice one-two punch and keeps them from being too one-dimensional. He's a big, emotional player. Not the most skilled kid, but he gets the job done. He'll be on the borderline, but someone may give him a shot at juniors because of the numbers he's putting up this year.

I was never really sure why Andover didn't play goalie Matt Ray more often, and after last night, I guess I'm still not sure. Andover's starter let in 5 goals on 10 shots, and Ray replaced him about halfway through the game and stopped 12 of 14 shots. That's not a great percentage either, but he looked a little more comfortable out there.

For Centennial, they paired up their top two defenseman Brett Stern and Charlie Aus against Decowski all night long. Since they were matched up all night, I guess you'd have to grade them on how they did against Decowski, which wasn't very good.

Stern is a future DI player and potential NHL draft pick. He's got the big frame at 6'2" 180 lbs. and is a pretty good skater. He's still very raw though. He makes good decisions with the puck, but he doesn't have much in the way of hands, and his shot is just average. He kind of reminds me of Minnetonka's Troy Hesketh. Both are big, talented defenseman, and you're always waiting for them to really take over a game, but that's not their style of play. I wouldn't say Stern helped his draft stock any last night. With so many other good players out there, I might lean towards not drafting him.

Aus is a borderline DI prospect, but another kid that didn't have his best game last night. He had a couple big mistakes with the puck, and struggled with his gap control, letting Decowski skate with the puck untouched into scoring position on Decowski's second goal. Like I said, Centennial's up-and-down this year and I've seen Aus have better nights.

Centennial also has a couple younger defensemen with some potential as well. Junior Jake Flynn, brother of Minnesota's Ryan, is a big, physical defenseman that will be a player to watch next year. Sophomore Joe Hess also played a pretty strong game.

Up front, I thought Centennial forward Jordan Lovick really took over the game. This was the type of game that was perfect for him because he's got sensational hands, but isn't really the fastest skater.

Also on Centennial's top line is senior James Hughes, who is generously listed at 5'8", but may be one of the fastest players in the state. He had a really strong game as well, netting the game-winning goal. Junior Riley Colvard finishes out Centennial's top line. He's a really big kid that can throw his weight around and use his size to create havoc on the ice. All three players on that top line have something they do exceptionally well and they seem to complement each other nicely.

Goal has been kind of a mess for the Cougars. Sophomore Don Nalezny, who was called up from JV midway through the year, got the start in goal. He did give up the seven goals, including a couple he'd maybe want back during Andover's furious third period comeback, but he also made some really nice, surprising saves at the end of the second period that probably won the game for Centennial, including stoning Decowski on a breakaway. He's kind of all over the place positionally, but is a fighter and can come up with some big saves.