Edina Hockey Classic Preview
The Edina Holiday Classic is an annual tradition in Minnesota. The three-day showcase, featuring the Edina Hornets, Eden Prairie Eagles, Elk River Elks, and Grand Rapids Thunderhawks, the 36th edition takes place this weekend, beginning Thursday and concluding Saturday at legendary Braemar Arena.
Braemar is one of my favorite rinks to watch a game in the metro with its intimate seating arrangement and trademark low ceiling providing for good acoustics. This is an event I have followed closely for the last seven or eight years and it is something I look forward to every December.
Last year’s showcase raised expectations that will be impossible to exceed. It featured four of the top six teams in the state, making for some memorable, close games. On paper, this year will see a bit of a drop off, but Edina and Eden Prairie enter the showcase as top-10 teams, ranked first and ninth respectively, by State of Hockey/Let’s Play Hockey. Elk River is on the bubble, coming in at number 11, and Grand Rapids looks to make a statement after early season struggles this year, arriving as an unranked team.
Elk River vs. Eden Prairie, 6:00 pm
Edina vs. Grand Rapids, 8:30 pm
Eden Prairie vs. Grand Rapids, 6:00 pm
Elk River vs. Edina, 8:30 pm
Grand Rapids vs. Elk River, 6:00 pm
Edina vs. Eden Prairie, 8:30 pm
Here is a look at the teams:
The top-ranked Hornets have dominated the Holiday Classic since 2005, posting the best record of the four participating teams. After a 1-2 record last year as the lowest ranked team in the showcase at number six, undefeated Edina looks to reclaim the crown as a result of a wider gap in the competition attributed to a team loaded with star power. Five Division I College commits are on the roster: Demetrios Koumontzis (Center, 10 points, Arizona State), Sammy Walker (Center, nine points, Minnesota), Jett Jungels (Left Wing, seven points, Northern Michigan), Ben Brickman (Defense, six points, Minnesota), and Jake Boltmann (Defense, two points, Minnesota). That does not even include other offensive standouts such as, Lewis Crosby (eight points), Mason Nevers (eight points), and Liam Malmquist (seven points). The Hornets have only allowed five goals in their four games this season and goaltender Garrett Mackay has posted a very impressive .946 save percentage in three of those games. This will be a fun team to watch over the three days. While the match-up with Grand Rapids could get out of hand with the wide talent gap between the two teams, Eden Prairie and Elk River should be respectable opponents for the Hornets. History shows the Edina vs. Eden Prairie games tend to be narrow margin affairs. Since 2005, eight of the 12 contests at the Holiday Classic have been two-goal differences or less.
#9 Eden Prairie
Eden Prairie posted a disappointing 1-2 record at the 2016 Classic as the number one team in the state. The Casey Mittelstadt era is over, however, and the Eagles enter the season with a new identity. The star of the team is junior Jack Jensen, a Minnesota commit, with six points. The Eagles still have a Mittelstadt presence on the roster as Casey’s younger brother, John, has shown a strong start on varsity scoring five points so far. Other scoring threats on the team are forwards Ryan Lesko, Joey Graen, Rhode Island import Chris Konin, and Carson Jones, who has made a nice transition from the junior varsity roster. This is a nice team that runs about two lines deep. Playing more games should assist team chemistry with the roster turnover. If the Eagles can pull off wins against Elk River and Grand Rapids, and be at least competitive against Edina, that should be enough to keep them in the top 10. A win against Edina could boast them into the top five, depending on other factors.
#11 Elk River
The Elks were 2-1 at last year’s Edina Classic as the state’s fourth-ranked team. Elk River has turned a bunch of heads early this year with a trio of eight-goal games to start before falling to sixth ranked Centennial, 6-3. The standout on this team is junior Jack Perbix, a Notre Dame commit, with 14 points on the year. Other skilled players capable of scoring are forwards Connor Bizal and University of Nebraska-Omaha commit Zach Michaelis. Two-way defenseman Joey Foss is capable of finding the net and has nine points. This team is not as deep as Edina or Eden Prairie, but should at least get one win in the showcase over Grand Rapids, and could possibly grind out a victory against Eden Prairie to go 2-1. Elk River gets Edina on the second night, which may equate to a competitive game if they can catch the Hornets off-guard with the back-to-back games and playing mistake-free hockey.
The defending state champion Grand Rapids Thunderhawks come into 2017 with a much different look than their 2016 counterparts that featured Micah Miller, Blake McLaughlin, and Gavin Hain and went 2-1 at the Classic as the number three ranked team. That trio has since departed, along with coach Trent Klatt, leaving not much behind. After starting this year with three losses, including a pair to two Class A schools (Greenway and Virginia), the Thunderhawks responded against northwestern Minnesota icons Roseau and Warroad with wins. Mike Heitkamp, a solid defenseman, returns this year with four points thus far, and forward Nano DeGuiseppi has been an assist machine with all five points coming as such. Grand Rapids is really going to have to fight their way to win any of the games over the three days, and will be a big underdog against Edina. A win over Edina will no doubt be the highlight of the season, and perhaps rival any accomplishments from last season. An overlooked Grand Rapids team could make a splash in the showcase.
Edina Hockey Classic Recap
I attended games on Day 2 and Day 3 Edina vs. Eden Prairie game of the Edina Holiday Classic. Here are the game recaps.
Day 2, Game 1: Eden Prairie 6, Grand Rapids 0
The first game of night number two could be summed up as the Jack Jensen show for Eden Prairie. He had a very strong game as he was flying around on the ice, zipping around Grand Rapids defenders, and created many scoring opportunities. There is no doubt that Jensen is the cornerstone of this Eagles team. Jensen had a pair a goals, along with Tim Piechowski. Piechowski added an assist to Eden Prairie’s second goal to lead the team on the night with three points. The margin of victory could have been much wider as the Eagles managed 51 shots on goal. Carter Clafton got the nod to start in goal for the first time this year for the Thunderhawks, and actually did okay for the amount of rubber he saw. After the tough overtime loss to the Elks the night before, Eden Prairie needed this win to get back on track. I felt bad for Grand Rapids after the beat down they took from Edina the previous night, and was hoping they could generate a little bit of offense. Outside of Nano DeGiuseppi, there is not much offensively with this team, and they rely on Michael Heitcamp on defense and goaltender Gabe Holum to keep the goals against to a minimum. Unfortunately, it is going to be a long year for Grand Rapids. To say they are a shell of their former self from last year might even be an understatement. No way to sugarcoat it.
Day 2, Game 2: Edina 10, Elk River 7
The day two night cap saw the Hornets taking on the Elks, which was the game I was anticipating. With Elk River defeating Eden Prairie the night before, this was the matchup of the two best teams in the showcase. I left this game scratching my head at what I had witnessed. This was no football game, the actual final score was 10-7. If the first game was the Jack Jensen show, this game was the Sammy Walker show. Both teams played at breakneck speed with teams trading goals like a Rocky motion picture for a period and a half. Edina turned it up a notch the later half of the 2nd per scoring four unanswered to take a 9-5 lead at the end of the 2nd period. All the scoring was a result of both teams played aggressively, leading to odd man rushes, and there were some soft goals allowed. Even with Edina pulling away, I did not feel like the game was over with all the goals. Sammy Walker gets his fifth goal and Edina’s final one in the third period. He went head first into the boards hard after the goal, but returned minutes later in the third. The Elks narrow the score to within three on a pair of goals, but could not reduce the lead as the final horn sounded. The first half of the game was fun to watch, but then it got kind of bizarre and I even got a little bored with all the goals. It’s not the style of hockey I prefer to watch. I know a lot of Americans like to lots of offense in sports, and the constant argument of how to generate more scoring in hockey (which does not need fixing, in my opinion). The game got to be too much like the NBA Jam video game but on ice for my liking. This is the most goals I have ever seen at a high school hockey game that I have attended in person.
Day 3, Game 2: Edina 7, Eden Prairie 1
The final game of the Edina Classic is rivalry game between Edina and Eden Prairie. Being an Eden Prairie alum, these games are usually fun to watch. Well, the end result was not so much this year. A competitive first period between the two teams transitioned to Edina opening the game up in the second period. The Hornets cashed in on the power play three times in the game. The issue with Eden Prairie all season is that they take too many bad penalties – infractions away from the puck that are completely unnecessary. Jack Jensen needs all the assistance he can get offensively for Eden Prairie and being shorthanded is of no help. The game went into running time late in the second period. The three period went from being a hockey game to dirty hits and “goon” like play as frustrations with Eden Prairie grew. Demetrios Koumontzis took a hard hit that I do not think he saw coming away from the play, which was pretty much the end of the game and turned into a mockery. The hit may have retaliation for a five-minute major Koumontzis took in the first period for contact to the head on one of the hardest hits I have ever seen. With the clock running, officials had a lengthy discussion deciding whether to call a penalty on the play. When a penalty was called, there was discussions between officials and coaches, with the penalty clocks running, so essentially the penalty was useless other than to get the player off the ice for two minutes, and was back out on the next puck drop. When a game gets out of control like this, you need to start throwing guys out of the game, especially in a running time situation. Tempers only escalated throughout the period. There was no cooling off. Jensen had taken a penalty and was released too early at the puck drop by the off-ice officials, which let to more confusion and chaos on the ice. It was not the finest moment for anyone involved in this game at ice level. As this point, I was pretty much fed up and disgusted with the situation. I am yelling, “C’mon, let’s play some hockey!” (my originally thought was a bit more vulgar, but being at a high school game, would not have been appropriate), but both teams had pretty much decided that was done with. It had crossed my mind to throw my program out on the ice, but that would not have accomplished anything and I wanted to get home without some kind of citation. The game eventually ended, and the handshake line went peacefully until the coaches crossed paths. There was animated argument between coaching staffs in regards to some of the hits I believe. Really ugly end to this game, and plenty of bulletin board material out there for the second meeting. Interesting note: The Braemar scoreboard showed Eden Prairie having a 24-18 shot advantage, but MN Hockey Hub had a 30-13 Edina advantage.
This year’s Classic will probably be remembered most for the clinic Sammy Walker put on against Elk River, and the overtime thriller between Eden Prairie and Elk River. Edina sweeps the Classic going 3-0, which has been a few years since a team has won all three games. Elk River finishes 2-1, Eden Prairie was 1-2, and Grand Rapids has a very rough weekend going home winless.
Republished with permission from Ryan Schwartz, Minn Puck.
Main Image: Edina Hornets forward Samuel Walker (10) shoots on Eden Prairie Eagles goalie Nick Wiencek during a breakaway attempt during their prep hockey game at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina, MN on Dec. 19, 2015. Walker was selected in the 7th round, 200 overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2017 NHL Draft. (Photo by Josh Holmberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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