So Thursday evening at Fogerty Arena wasn't quite the historical night that Tuesday was. That happened in the far southern part of the Cities where Chaska defeated Holy Angels, giving the Stars their first loss in a Missota conference game since January 30th, of 2001(!), ending a decade long undefeated streak of 141 games in conference play.
Anyway, Thursday night at Fogerty had a nice little double-header with Blaine taking on Anoka on the main rink, while Spring Lake Park took on St. Louis Park in the other rink.
Spring Lake Park got their second straight win with me in attendance--as a reminder, for the right price, my presence can made available at weddings, bar mitzvahs, sectional games, etc.-- with an easy 6-1 win over an outmatched St. Louis Park team. It was a little bit of a different game for the Panthers. At one point in the second period, I noticed Spring Lake goalie Brandon Jones stretching during a stoppage to keep warm after not facing any action for a while. This didn't happen against Benilde. The one goal he allowed was kind of a weird shot that hit his pads, rolled over his shoulder, and trickled into the net. I guess everyone's luck runs out eventually and he was living on borrowed time.
But the Blaine-Anoka game was the main attraction featuring two pretty solid teams in what is turning into a very deep Section 5AA. This night was all about the Brodzinski family, which put on quite a show, and helped lead the Bengals to a 6-1 lead after two periods, and an easy 6-3 win.
Discussion of the game, and some individual player thoughts are after the jump.
We'll start with Jonny Brodzinski, who earlier this week was named a finalist for the Mr. Hockey award. I'd never been terribly excited about his abilities. He didn't make either of my top ten lists of potential Mr. Hockey candidates, and doesn't generate a ton of buzz. I think a big part of this is that he got watched pretty closely last season while playing on the same line as Nick Bjugstad, and wasn't particularly impressive. But after dedicating himself to hockey more heavily over the summer, he looks like a completely different player. Last year, he made most of the plays you'd expect him to make, but didn't give much more. This year, his skating has improved big time and he's making a lot of gritty plays and creating opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to him.
He started out the night by scoring a tough goal by driving the net and jamming in a loose puck in the first minute of the game. He had a beautiful goal in the last minute of the second period when he beat a defenseman one-on-one and finished the play by going to his backhand and roofing the puck, and in between he picked up a couple assists, threw some nice hits, and maybe most impressively, had a couple fantastic backchecks. It's pretty rare to see a top player like that chase down and catch a rushing forward in the neutral zone, especially with his team already up 4-1, when no one is going to notice if he doesn't.
I've always subscribed to Bob McKenzie's theory about the game of hockey being one giant ladder with players constantly moving either up or down, and right now, Brodzinski is definitely moving up. I would have laughed at this notion 12 months ago, but last night, he played like a WCHA-caliber player and NHL draft pick.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Michael, a sophomore defenseman, was maybe the second best player on the ice. He threw a couple nice shots from the point on the power play that found their way into the net, and played an incredibly poised game. He's always been considered a pretty top prospect for his age group, and only improved his standing in my mind.
Blaine has a couple freshman that see significant ice time as well in forward Tyler Cline and defenseman Ian Scheid. In the few times I've seen Cline before, he's a great skater, but still has to develop the ability to turn that into offensive production. He showed definite signs of that, by creating some quality chances, but still finished without any points. He's young though and should be a player to watch. Ian Scheid looks like a carbon copy of his older brother Eric, though Scheid was moved back to D from forward this year. He's not going to do a lot to stand out, but has great hockey sense and just makes smart play after smart play.
Anoka is an interesting team. They've got some pretty decent talent on their team, but a terrible overall record. I've always been a big fan of sophomore D Dylan Adler, but going up against Michael Brodzinski, I'd have to give the edge to Brodzinski, being just a step quicker, and much stronger with the puck. Junior Kyle Thorpe scored a ridiculous goal and showed a lot of speed, but also took some really dumb penalties.
Going forward, this has been a bit of a down year for Blaine, compared to where they're usually at, but they look like they're once again coming together at the right time. Anoka didn't play badly here, but Blaine just didn't give them any room to breathe. They made Anoka pay for every penalty with a great power play. The Blaine goalie made some key saves, and Blaine won every scramble for loose pucks. And regardless of what happens in the regular season, I believe there's still a little bit of an aura around Blaine when they get to the State Fair Coliseum for the section semis and finals, that's going to make it that much more difficult for someone to unseat them.
I don't know that Anoka is necessarily a team I'd want to face in a sectional game. They're a team with the talent capable of pulling off a big upset if they put things together and were able to stay disciplined for a full game. At the very least, they'll likely be a team to be contended with next year. Their top line is all juniors, and though they lose a quality senior in Andrew Olek on the blueline, Adler and Kristian Manthey is a pairing that could give them 30 solid minutes on a nightly basis if needed.