For the second straight year the Little Falls Flyers will need to pull off a miracle on ice.
After seeding and a blind draw for the Class 1A state boys' hockey tournament brackets, the Flyers will face the top-seeded St. Thomas Academy Cadets at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Flyers opened last year's state tournament against top-seeded and eventual champion Hermantown.
St. Thomas won't be any easier. It enters with a 23-5 record, was ranked second in the final poll and is riding a four-game win streak that includes a 3-0 victory over South St. Paul in the Section 4-1A final.
Beau Hanowski leads Little Falls with 93 points.
"There's a standing joke back home that I'm an unlucky person," said Little Falls head coach Tony Couture. "It holds true because it wasn't a friendly draw, but you have to go and play. We'll get ready for the opponent that we have and hope to get some breaks.
"We're not going down there to say we want to win the consolation championship. We're going down there to win the whole thing."
Cadets head coach Greg Vannelli said he'd like to see all eight teams seeded because he feels, as the top seed, the Cadets are playing a good Little Falls team right away.
"I would be OK having all eight teams seeded because it would be a little more fair," he said. "This year's state tournament, for our class, looks like the depth of teams are good from top to bottom. Anybody could win it."
After hitting a lull late in the season, Couture said the Flyers are playing spirited hockey. A 9-7 victory over St. Cloud Tech to end the regular season, and three solid section victories, is his evidence.
The Flyers own a 25-3 record and are riding a 17-game win streak. They hold quality wins against Rochester Lourdes (3-2), Holy Family Catholic (3-2) and Brainerd (6-3). The only other state team Little Falls faced was St. Cloud Cathedral, which it lost to 3-1.
"We did a lot of early stuff with some better teams," said Couture. "We scrimmaged Warroad, Roseau and East Grand Forks. We added Rochester and Holy Family to our schedule. We added St. Cloud Cathedral and beat two good teams in Brainerd and Tech.
"We played some good teams, but many of them were early on in the season. We tried to get as many scrimmages in against quality schools as we could possibly get. We've done everything possible to play good competition and we'll find out this week if it was enough."
The Flyers outscored opponents by an average of 6.3 to 2.3 and were led by senior forward Beau Hanowski's 93 points (44 goals, 49 assists) and junior center Ben Hanowski's 86 points (41-45). That line also includes Wesley Waytashek, who tallied a hat trick in the section final and has 20 goals and 43 points.
Michael Sperl, goalie, has a 90 percent save percentage.
The key will be junior goalie Michael Sperl, who has a 90 percent save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.0.
St. Thomas is making its fourth consecutive, and fifth overall, state appearance. It won the 1A title in 2006 and finished third last year.
"A lot of those guys are back except we lost three of our leaders prematurely to juniors," said Vannelli. "One of them was our all-state goalie and our top two leading scorers. We've had some young guys come in and we've remolded the team to get to where we want to be."
Vannelli said his team is playing fine and is happy to have won the section and be in the state tournament but is guarded for that flat game or the one bad game from his goalie.
"Hockey is so dependent on your goalie," he said. "That's just the way hockey is. If you're goalie plays well the game seems to go well for the team."
Sophomore goalie Kurt Altrichter played 1,021 minutes in goal and made 357 saves.
The Cadets have outscored opponents 6.4 to 2.1 and are led by senior Conor Rooney (29 goals) and sophomore Ryan Walters (30 goals). Senior James Saintey added 37 assists.
"They're very skilled," said Couture. "They have some premier players. Walters has already verbally committed to the (University of Minnesota). They have some talented players and their defensive core is tough. They'll come after us I'm sure."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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