Holy Family Catholic traveled to Elk River to take on the Elks on Tuesday night, in a game that the Elk River held on to win 3-2. Holy Family Catholic is a relative newcomer to the Minnesota high school hockey scene, opting to move up to Class AA despite not much success in their history, because of a talented group of young players that they brought into their program. Elk River, on the other hand, is a program with a lot of history, but is starting over a bit, replacing long-time coach Tony Sarsland with former Minnesota North Star Gordie Roberts behind the bench.
Elk River came out of the gate on fire, scoring three goals in the game's first seven minutes to take an early lead. Elk River completely dominated the first period with Holy Family not generating any scoring chances. Momentum started to turn in the second period when Elk River was called for a five minute-major penalty, and HFC was able to net a power play goal during the extended man advantage.
Though the play started to tilt in HFC's favor, they had a tough time generating much offense. There's a lot of individual talent on Holy Family's roster, but there was way too much individual play, and not much in the way of puck movement and utilizing teammates. I lost track of how many HFC rushes up the ice were stopped just inside the blueline when a player tried to stick handle through two defensemen only to have the puck knocked away. I was begging to see the puck dumped into the zone by the end of the second period.
Elk River didn't really have the offensive firepower to put the game away, and Holy Family was able to cut the lead to 3-2, making it a very close game right up until the end, despite HFC not really doing much offensively all night.
In the grand scheme of things, I absolutely applaud Holy Family's decision to move up to Class AA, but they're probably going to have a tough time in the very deep Section 6AA, where they look to be a pretty clear fifth behind Benilde, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, and Wayzata. Then again, it's still early in the season, and perhaps once they start to gel a little more, there's the potential for them to be very good offensively.
Elk River has been a team has been on the cusp of the top ten in the state since the beginning of the year. They opened the season with a tough 2-1 overtime loss to Wayzata, which doesn't look so bad given how the Trojans have played, and now have two decent wins against Andover and Holy Family. I really like the way this team plays defensively. They're smart and responsible and don't give up many free chances. The only problem is that they don't leave themselves much margin for error because they just don't have the big-time goal scorers to put up a lot of offense. With Andover struggling and some injury concerns up in Grand Rapids, I could see Elk River being the second best team in Section 7AA, and could see them being an interesting sleeper pick to make the state tournament.
Individually, Holy Family's Shane Gersich was rated as the top sophomore in the state here, and is considered one of the best '96-born forwards in the United States. Of course, with any player that young, there's going to be a lot of ups and downs along the road, and this game was a down night for him. He really struggled going up against a big, physical team. He's still a tremendous skater, but generated one, maybe two scoring chances the whole night.
On defense, I thought junior Ryan Swanson had a nice game, and 8th grader Matt Anderson will be a player to watch in the future.
Elk River isn't a team loaded with future college prospects, but they're a team I would classify as full of B/B+ level talent. The top forward for the Elks is sophomore Jake Jaremko. Defensively, they rely a lot on senior Wyatt Ege and junior Blake Hillman, who showed a nice ability to jump into the play offensively, as well as be an excellent defender tonight. They have a very deep junior class with some pretty good sized guys that will be worth watching to see how they develop.