Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Minnesota Class A state boys hockey tournament: Pedigree of success Tradition-rich Warroad out for another title By: Virg Foss, Courtesy of Grand Forks Herald

ST. PAUL — As Warroad (24-4) heads into tonight’s final opening-round game of the Minnesota State High School Class A state hockey tournament against Rochester Lourdes (17-8-3), history skates into battle with it.

Not only did the Warriors win state titles in 1994, 1996, 2002 and 2005 and come from a community that bills itself as Hockeytown USA, but they are backed by a coaching staff rich in success.

Head coach Albert Hasbargen was co-coach of the 2005 championship team with Dennis Fermoyle, now one of Hasbargen’s assistants.

Another assistant to Hasbargen, Bruce Olson, coached Roseau High School to a state title in 1999. Assistant coach Adrian Hasbargen was a member of UND’s 2000 national championship team. Goalie coach Corwin Saurdiff is a former Warroad High and college standout.

Few teams have coaching staffs with resumes as glittering.

But it’s the product on the ice that will ultimately determine whether tradition-rich Warroad, seeded fourth in the tournament, can bring home another title.

The pedigree of success extends to the players.

Nice lineage

Warroad’s leading scorer, Brock Nelson, is the grandson of 1960 Olympic gold medalist Billy Christian. Another top forward, junior Nick Stoskopf, is the grandson of former UND coach Rube Bjorkman.

Nelson is one of 10 finalists for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award as the state’s top player. The winner will be announced at a banquet in St. Paul on Sunday, with the entire Warroad team staying to attend.

Nelson, a Sioux recruit, is coming off a dazzling eight goals in three games in the Section 8 tournament, pumping his season total of goals to 47 in 28 games.

“To win a championship, your top players have to have the best games of their lives,” Albert Hasbargen said.

As good as Nelson is, he won’t have to do it alone.

Senior Brett Hebel has 26 goals, Stoskopf 18, senior Aaron Rasmusson 12 and an inexperienced defense has come of age.

How sophomore goalie Andy Foster handles the pressure of his first state tournament could be a key. Foster has started just 10 games this season, but one of them was a 25-save shutout of Thief River Falls in the Section 8 final.

He was battling others for the backup goalie spot when the season started. He was thrust into a major role when senior goalie Shaun Storey abruptly quit the team during the section tournament.

“He (Foster) seemed to be the most mature as far as handling things on the ice, not letting things bother him as much,” Hasbargen said of his rise up the goalie ranks with the Warriors.

On the big stage

That calm will be tested under the bright lights and extreme pressure of the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center tonight.

Hasbargen knows from experience that pressure is different at the state tournament. “It seems like when it’s the section finals, it’s the seniors who are most nervous, because it’s their last chance at a state tournament,” Hasbargen said. “But when you get to state, it’s the young guys who are nervous.”

And at age 16, Foster’s nerves will be tested. He carries a 1.9 goals-against average and .910 save percentage into state.

“Any time you go down there (St. Paul), everyone has to be at the top of their game,” Hasbargen said.

“You also need some luck and you need to get some bounces go your way. All teams there are good. There are no easy games.”

Hasbargen said when Warroad beat Osseo and Roseau earlier in the season, he knew this team could be special.

“That was kind of the measuring stick for us, when we beat some of the better teams around,” he said. “We knew then we were a pretty good team.”

Tonight’s game

Who: Warroad vs. Rochester Lourdes.
When: 8:30 p.m., approximate, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
TV: KCPM (GF Channel 9).
Records: Warroad 24-4-0, Rochester Lourdes 17-8-3.
Of note: Warroad has won state titles in 1994, 1996, 2002 and 2005.

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