Last weekend saw Edina’s Braemar Arena host their annual Holiday Classic, featuring high school powerhouses Edina, Eden Prairie, Elk River, and Grand Rapids playing a round-robin over three straight days.
Results this year went according to chalk with #3 Edina going a perfect 3-0, #7 Eden Prairie going 2-1, Elk River going 1-2, and Grand Rapids going 0-3.
I was there on Saturday evening to see Elk River take on Grand Rapids in a game that has huge ramifications on Section 7AAA seeding, and then the rivalry game between two of the Twin Cities most successful megaschools in Edina and Eden Prairie.
Thoughts on both games.
Elk River 3 Grand Rapids 2 (OT)
Neither team is currently ranked in the top-20 in Class AA, though I was a little surprised by that in the case of Elk River, because I think they easily could be. Grand Rapids still punches well above their weight class considering the population they have to draw from, but it’s almost impossible for them to develop the depth to compete against much bigger schools on a yearly basis.
Both of these teams are in Section 7AA, which features behemoths in second-ranked Andover and fourth-ranked Duluth East. Saturday’s game was likely the decider on which team gets the third seed in the section, and which team will be seeded fourth(Though I believe 7AA went to strictly computer-ranking based seeding after some backroom shenanigans screwed Elk River two years ago).
Anyway, this turned out to be a fantastic game. Elk River completely dominated the first period. They took a 1-0 lead to the locker room, but it felt like Grand Rapids was just trying to hold the lid on for as long as they could, and eventually it would end up a 5-1, 6-1 blowout type of game.
But to Grand Rapids credit, they came back hard in the second period, and controlled most of the play. They got a pair of goals from junior Brandon Goehring, including a power play tally in the closing seconds of the period and went into the third period with a 2-1 lead.
The third period was a pretty even period, but Elk River was able to tie the game and force overtime. In the overtime, Elk River scored on a scrum in front of the net. It took the officials a long time to make the call—I’m not sure any of them had a great view of the play—but eventually they did call it a goal, which left a sour taste in the mouth for many on the Grand Rapids side. Here’s video of the play. In real time, I thought Elk River knocks the puck in on their first whack, and it should have been a good goal. But I’m not sure anybody knows with great certainty what happened:
As for individual players to watch in this game, there was one upperclassmen committed to a college in this game, in Elk River junior Zach Michaelis, who is an Omaha commit. Overall, he had a decent game. Like the rest of his team, the first period was his most effective period. The big concern for Michaelis going forward is that he was one of those 5’11” power forwards that looms over the rest of his age group in his USHL draft year, but he’s still that height, and is probably going to end up in the average size range. Michaelis is a decent athlete and can play a gritty style of game, so he should be able to handle playing at the next level at that size though.
Most of the scouting attention in this game was focused on the ‘03 birthdates, who are currently being scouted for the NTDP/USHL Futures Draft. Leading the way was Grand Rapids sophomore defenseman Jack Peart, who is committed to St. Cloud State. Playing outside of the Twin Cities, Peart doesn’t seem to generate the same amount of hype as some of the other ‘03 defensemen in this class, but he is as good as any defenseman I’ve seen in the group. The balance and edgework in his skating is exceptional and his mobility makes him really effective. Five to 10 years ago, there may have been concern about him not having prototypical size, but that’s not as much of an issue anymore. From what I’ve seen of the ‘03 class, he should be in the conversation for a spot on the NTDP U17s next year.
Elk River has a pair of good ‘03s as well that are potential USHL Futures picks. The first is defenseman Joe Greniuk. Greniuk played for the very good Minnesota Blades U15s this fall. and while he didn’t necessarily stand out there, he’s getting regular ice time and really doing well for Elk River.
His scoring line of 7-3-10 in eight games leads the team in goals and is third overall in points behind Michaelis and an Elite League player in Austen Humphrey. While he’s putting in goals at an impressive rate, the thing that stood out most was his vision and ability to find seams in the defense to make cross-ice passes in the offensive zone. He thinks the game pretty well, which bodes well for his future at the next level.
The other ‘03 is ninth-grade forward Blake Johnson. Johnson is playing third line minutes and not getting a ton of ice time, so stats aren’t impressive. He’s a small, skinny kid right now, but I like the speed and aggressiveness that he plays with.
Edina 6 Eden Prairie 1
There was a good intensity to this game. It was quite a chess match between two veteran coaches that have faced each other many times before. Edina used their home ice to full advantage trying to match lines. There was also a nice little scrap towards the end of the second period. But ultimately, Edina was just too deep and strong for Eden Prairie, and pulled away easily in this one.
Eden Prairie needed an exceptional performance in goal to even things up against Edina, and they didn’t really get that. Starter Axel Roselund gave up four goals on 12 shots through two periods before being pulled for the third period. Eden Prairie also played without arguably their top forward in Jack Jensen in this game, but I don’t think that would have made much difference. Eden Prairie is a really good team; they definitely belong in the top ten, but Edina is just a step better everywhere.
Edina is currently #3 in the rankings, due to an early season tie against Maple Grove(which, no shame in that), but to me—with the caveat that I haven’t seen Minnetonka yet—Edina is still the team to beat in Class AA this year. It’s certainly possible that some one does beat them in March. I don’t think anyone is that far ahead of the rest of the field. But I think Edina is the deepest team, and has the best shot at winning it all.
As for individual players, Minnesota commit Mason Nevers had a big game, scoring 2-1-3, including a highlight reel goal that ended up on Sportscenter:
The highlight reel stuff is nice, but I like the grit that Nevers plays with as well, which I think will translate well to the next level.
Elsewhere for Edina, the D were all solid, though not particularly tested. ‘03 Jackson Borst is a very likely USHL Futures pick this spring. He’s kind of waiting his turn on a very deep, talented team though, so he didn’t stand out much here.
Eden Prairie has two really good ‘03s that have already made college commitments in D Luke Mittelstadt(Minnesota) and F Carter Batchelder(Colorado College). Mittelstadt is a big, strong defensemen with a great stick. Comparing him with Jack Peart back-to-back highlighted some skating deficiencies, but I think Mittelstadt can skate well enough that it shouldn’t be a major hindrance and his skills with the puck should make him a really good defender. Batchelder continues to get faster and had a really nice game considering the level of competition he was facing.