Denfeld News

Feb. 23, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Hunters blank Trojans in quarterfinals
By Rick Weegman

With all the talented nonseniors on its team, Duluth Denfeld can expect to be a contender in boys hockey next season.

But the Hunters aren’t looking that far ahead — they aren’t done with this season.

Denfeld began play in the Section 2A tournament by crushing Duluth Central 9-0 in a quarterfinal game Thursday night at the DECC. Chris Stafne scored four goals, including registering a hat trick in a span of 2:20 in the first period, while fellow junior Jake Johnson had a goal and four assists and sophomore Max Skarman scored twice as the second-seeded Hunters (18-7-1) advanced to play No. 3 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-3-3) in a semifinal Saturday night in Blaine, Minn.

“We have so much potential with our underclassmen. I think our future is really bright,” said Johnson, who is 95 percent certain he will come back to Denfeld next season despite being drafted by Sioux City of the United States Hockey League. “I hope to go to state and win a state championship [next season].”

The main reason why Denfeld has risen from being an also-ran in recent years to state tournament wannabe is the development of its younger players. First-liners Johnson (30 goals, 48 assists, 78 points), Stafne (37-24—61) and sophomore Cody Hotchkin (15-27—42) lead the way.

That trio combined for four first-period goals, but a nongoal perhaps summed up how good they can become. Midway through the period, Johnson eluded two defenders along the left-wing boards, and then centered the puck to Stafne, who sent a touch pass to Hotchkin, who let fly with a shot that Central goalie Trevor Tracey barely got a pad on. Seconds later, Johnson found Stafne for the game’s first goal and the first of Stafne’s natural hat trick.

“We’ve been fortunate to have good, talented younger guys,’’ Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley said. “Our JV program has come a long way, and it’s getting these guys ready to go. [The young players] want to be in this lineup.”

Johnson and Stafne teamed up again on the second goal, during which Stafne simply guided the puck into the net with the blade of his stick, and on Stafne’s breakaway goal at 13:20. Skarman and Johnson made it 5-0 with goals less than a minute apart to end a dominating opening period.

Still, Smalley wasn’t completely satisfied.

“I don’t think we played that well in the first period, yet we had five goals,’’ he said. “It seemed like every good opportunity we had, we put it away. That’s a good sign, but we need to get off to an even better start than that.”

Denfeld outshot Central 39-21 as Aaron Kolquist posted his third shutout. The Hunters know they will need a similar performance against Cathedral, which they beat 9-6 during the regular season.

“That was a sloppy defensive game,’’ Johnson said. “Hopefully, we can tighten up defensively and put on an offense like that.”

Don’t bet against it. Stafne has three four-goal games this season and also scored three times during the Hunters’ 10-1 regular-season win over Central (10-16-1). If the younger players keep improving — and Johnson stays — the Hunters could contend for their first state berth since 1989.

“It’s nice to have everyone stick around,’’ Stafne said. “Next year we will be just as strong. But we’re looking to go all the way [to state] this year.”

Duluth Central 0-0-0—0
Duluth Denfeld 5-2-2—9

First period — 1. DD, Chris Stafne (Jake Johnson), 10:53. 2. DD, Stafne (J. Johnson, Hotchkin), 13:02. 3. Stafne (Hotchkin, J. Johnson), 13:20. 4. DD, Max Skarman (Charlie Oliver), 15:11. 5. DD, J. Johnson, 16:08 (pp).

Second period — 6. DD, Skarman (Oliver, Milan Basnak), 7:19. 7. DD, Josh Wentz (Anthony Leone), 8:26.

Third period — 8. DD, Jack St. John-Stebe (Leone), 6:11. 9. DD, Stafne (Trent Johnson, J. Johnson), 9:00 (pp).

Saves — Trevor Tracey, DC, 30. Aaron Kolquist, DD, 21.

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