Brainerd Warriors junior defensemen Drew Olson's friendship with Little Falls Flyers sophomore forward Ben Hanowski will end at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
That's when the Flyers travel to Brainerd Area Civic Center for a two-point Central Lakes Conference tilt against rival Brainerd.
Conference standings are a minor story line for the matchup between Class 1A's fifth-ranked Little Falls (14-1, 7-0 conference) and Brainerd (8-6-1, 5-2 conference).
Two keys for the CLC showcase showdown include: Can Brainerd stop the potent scoring punch of Little Falls? Can the Flyers overcome Brainerd's top-shelf depth?
Warriors vs. Flyers
Who: Class 2A's Brainerd Warrior boys' hockey team (8-6-1) vs. Class 1A's Little Falls Flyers (14-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Brainerd Area Civic Center
At stake: Two points toward Central Lakes Conference standings
Cost: $5 adults, $3 students
The Flyers' first line of Jared Festler (34 goals), Ben Hanowski (22 goals) and Beau Hanowski (15 goals) have combined for 71 goals and 165 points. Festler, a junior, is the leading scorer in Little Falls history. Ben Hanowski reached 100 career points earlier this season.
Brainerd has allowed 40 goals in 15 games for a 2.6 goals-against average.
"They've got kids who certainly put up big numbers," Warriors head coach Ty Eigner said. "They have very talented offensive players, but they're going up against our strength with Landon Snider in the net. He's playing very well for us and our defense is, too.
"Depth and defense are our strengths. In the past, depth has certainly helped us against Little Falls."
The Warriors own a seven-game win streak in the series and are 12-1-0 since the 1999-2000 season. The Flyers' lone victory in that stretch came during the 2001-02 season and they have forced three overtimes in the last six seasons. Brainerd leads the series 43-3-1.
Flyers head coach Tony Couture knows that 10 years ago this game meant nothing to Brainerd. But he said because of the Flyers' recent success, including two straight 1A state tournament appearances, this game means more for both teams.
"At one time we were taking it on the chin in the conference," Couture said. "Just the fact that in recent history this game has been close, and Brainerd is a big school, and they have been on top of the conference the last couple of years, this game means a lot. Our kids look forward to going up to Brainerd and playing."
This game also allows Couture to better gauge the talent of his team. In its 14 wins, Little Falls has outscored opponents 107-26. Brainerd, on the other hand, has played seven teams that are ranked, or have been ranked during the season and is 3-3-1 in those games.
"This game will show us where we are as far as skill level," said Ben Hanowski. "Brainerd has played and beat some really good teams, like St. Thomas Academy and Blaine and they played right with Cretin-Derham Hall. This will show us where we're at with everyone else in the state."
Hanowski hopes he's not in the sights of Olson, a former USA National and USA International team teammate. The two formed a friendship during their offseason exploits, but that means nothing Tuesday.
The offensive phenom said more effort will be needed to score against Brainerd's defense. He hopes Olson doesn't have too many free shots at him and that the "hockey gods" work in his favor.
For Olson, it will be Hanowski who?
"When you lace up your skates it doesn't matter, nor do I care, who your opponent is," Olson said. "We might be friends off the ice, but once you get on the ice everything kind of drops. I would say this is one of our biggest rivals because we're so close and it seems like it's always a battle."
Olson said when these teams face off it's always a battle and he expects nothing less Tuesday. Olson's battle will be stopping the Flyers' first line. But the increased scoring from Little Falls' second and third lines won't give Brainerd's defense much of a break. Olson said constant pressure and cutting down space will be the keys.
"It will be a fun game to watch," said Ben Hanowski. "Everyone needs to come up to Brainerd and watch. It's a big rivalry and both teams are going to come and play, especially because this is a two-point conference game. It's two games wrapped into one.
"As far as conference standings, this is a big game. Most of us don't care for Brainerd and we know Brainerd doesn't care for us. It will be fun."
While Hanowski doesn't care for Brainerd, he does respect its talent. He knows Little Falls hasn't played anyone as good as Brainerd and is expecting a tough game, a packed rink and a few hard checks from Olson followed by a handshake after the contest.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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