PREVIEW: MAML, Northfield to square off at 11 a.m. Friday with a berth in the state championship game on the line

What: The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake boys hockey team is set to take on the Northfield Raiders in a Class A State Semifinal.

When: 11 a.m. Friday, March 10.

Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN.

Headed to the X: Tickets cost $17 adults, $11 students for games held at Xcel Energy Center;

If you can’t make it: The first round, semifinal round and championship games will all be carried live on 45TV. Webcasts will also be available at Prep45.com with a paid subscription. KRWC1360 out of Buffalo will be on-hand broadcasting radio coverage of the game. Radio broadcast is also available through Minnesota Sports Broadcast Network, at http://www.msbnsports.net/

At stake: The Moose and Raiders will square off with a spot in the Class A State Championship game (Saturday at noon) on the line. The loser of Friday’s semifinal contest will play in the third-place game at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Getting to this point: MAML finds itself in the semifinal round after pulling off the biggest upset in Class A since the tournament started being seeded 10 years ago. For the first time in those ten years, a team knocked off a Top-2 seed in the opening round. The Moose did it by beating the high-powered No. 2 Delano Tigers 3-2 on Wednesday morning. Prior to that the Moose rolled through Section 5A, dominating Moose Lake and Princeton before winning a more closely contested game against Chisago Lakes last Thursday night, 3-1.
Northfield, playing immediately after the Moose on Wednesday, caught the upset fever. The Raiders, unseeded like MAML, took down No. 3 Mahtomedi in a 3-1 contest. Northfield got off to a slow start and fell behind 1-0 before outscoring the Zephyrs 3-0 during the final two periods. Northfield was outshot 35-22 in the contest. Nicholas Kvernmo scored twice to pace the Raiders attack.
Northfield qualified via winning Section 1A. It wasn’t without some nailbiting for the Raiders, who won both the semifinal game (Vs. Mankato East) and the final game (Vs. Red Wing) in overtime.

Common opponents: Like with their opening opponent, MAML did not play Northfield this season, but they did play some of the same teams. Northfield played Sartell-St. Stephen and St. Cloud Cathedral. The Raiders fell 4-2 to Cathedral, just as MAML did, and tied Sartell. MAML lost twice to the Sabres.

About the Raiders: Northfield brings a record of 21-5-3 into the semifinal round. The Raiders were ranked No. 13 in the final Let’s Play Hockey rankings of the season, one spot above the Moose. Northfield allowed just 56 goals during the regular season, less than 2.25 per game. The Raiders scored 103 goals for a positive goal differential of 47. Northfield was it its best in the first period, outscoring opponents by a 34-12 margin. Northfield’s power-play connected on 27.8 percent of chances for 25 power play goals during the regular season, while allowing goals on 21.2 percent of opponents power play opportunities. For the season, the Raiders outshot opponents by a total of 824-617.
Northfield used a balanced offensive attack during the season with four players recording between 35 and 41 points. Jacob Halvorson led Northfield with 41 points, including a team-best 23 goals during the regular season. Grant Sawyer and Jackson Cloud both recorded 36 points, with Cloud finishing second on the team with 14 goals. Kvernmo, the hero Wednesday, was fourth on the team with 35 points, including 12 goals. Three more players, Devon Jirik (23), Griffin Loecher (22), and Conner Malecha (21), all recorded more than 20 points during the regular season.
Northfield leaned very heavily on goaltender Ryan Bielenberg this season, as the senior played all but 85 minutes between the pipes during the regular season. He carries a record of 20-5-3 into Friday’s semifinal. Bielenberg allowed just 2.29 goals per game during the regular season with a .908 save percentage. He has allowed five goals in four postseason games.

About the Moose: Following the first state tournament win in program history, MAML holds a record of 21-6-1, the best mark in program history. The Moose finished tied for third in the Mississippi 8 this season with marquee wins against Buffalo and Rogers in the conference and against Orono out of conference. MAML finished the season as the 14th-ranked team in Class A, their highest showing of the season.
The Moose outscored opponents by a wide margin this season, totaling 112 goals for to just 64 goals against. The second period was MAML’s strongest, as they outscored opponents 48-28. The Moose scored 15 power play goals, connecting on 25 percent of opportunities this season. They allowed the exact same percentage to opponents. In postseason play, MAML has outscored opponents by a 19-2 margin.
MAML has been paced all season by the top line, and the story remained the same through section play. During the regular season, junior centerman Ben Ward led the Moose with 57 points, leading MAML in both goals (23) and assists (34). His senior winger Nick Zwack finished second with 46 points and 20 goals, while sophomore winger Troy Dahlheimer was third on the team with 35 points. Second line winger Casey Chiodo was third on the team with 18 goals during the regular season, leading the team in power play goals. Zwack, Chiodo, and Dahlheimer have all recorded hat tricks already this postseason, while Ward leads the team with 17 postseason points, including 14 assists. The junior has had a hand in 17 of MAML’s 22 postseason goals. Tyler Klatt has been MAML’s primary goaltender all season. The junior had a very solid season in net, allowing just 2.72 goals per game to go with a save percentage of .880. Klatt backed that up with a save percentage of .960 in the section tournament, stopping 48 of 50 shots, then stopped 33 of 35 shots to help carry MAML past Delano Wednesday. The Moose, who put a focus on the forecheck and limiting opponents opportunities, outshot opponents by an impressive 760-548 margin this season.

Checking in on the other half: The bottom side of the bracket held a bit closer to form, but barely. No. 1 Hermantown was able to shake off a real scare from unseeded Luverne, holding off the upstart squad with a 3-2 overtime victory. St. Cloud Cathedral, the No. 5 seed, skated past No. 4 East Grand Forks 6-3 in the closing quarterfinal Wednesday. The two squads met during the regular season, with Hermantown cruising past St. Cloud 6-1. They will face off Friday following the MAML/Northfield game, at approximately 1 p.m.

Delano bounces back: The Tigers showed their teeth in a big way Thursday morning, crushing No. 3 Mahtomedi 8-1 in the consolation semifinal round. Delano will now play East Grand Forks Saturday for the consolation championship.

The Bracket