Denfeld News

Feb. 27, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Lake Superior Conference could place 4 teams in state tourneys
By Rick Weegman

The 8-team Lake Superior Conference — known for its depth — has three teams that easily could earn a state tournament berth. A fourth, Superior, already did.

As usual, the Lake Superior Conference is well-represented in the high school boys hockey playoffs.

Just how deep is the eight-team conference? Half of the members could qualify for a state tournament berth.

Regular-season champion Duluth Marshall, Duluth Denfeld and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton all earned spots in this week’s Minnesota section tournament finals and are one win from playing at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center next week. Superior already has qualified for the Wisconsin state tournament a seventh straight time and is seeking an 11th state title later this week in Madison.

The conference is so deep that defending Class A champion Hermantown, which went through the 2006-07 season undefeated yet couldn’t win the LSC, was just a middle-of-the-pack team this season that lost in the Section 5A semifinals.

“I’ve said it before, that I think our conference is one of the toughest conferences in the state,” Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley said. “Year-in and year-out we have four or five teams battling to get a state tournament berth. The more teams that we have that are competing at this level in our conference, the better output we’re going to have in tournament play.”

The Hunters battled the momentum game in Saturday’s 5A semifinal against Sauk Rapids-Rice.

A 3-0 lead turned into 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5 ties. Cody Hotchkin eventually ended matters in Denfeld’s favor by scoring with 20 seconds remaining.

Smalley says that’s been the Hunters’ trait all season, and he doesn’t expect anything different for today’s 7 p.m. section final against fifth-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral in Cloquet.

“These guys won’t quit until the final buzzer goes off, a perfect example was Saturday night,” Smalley said. “Things didn’t go well in the second period and [Sauk Rapids] took the momentum from us. And once you lose momentum in high school hockey, it’s tough to get it back.

“But they got behind in some games earlier in the year and never quit. They showed a lot of character, that’s just the nature of these kids.”

If that characteristic lasts one more game, the Hunters will be going to the state tournament for the first time since 1989.

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