Everything started with a 1-0 victory over the Virginia Blue Devils.
Another victory over Virginia is needed if the Little Falls Flyers hope to claim the Class 1A state hockey title as the two teams meet in Wednesday's quarterfinals.
The second-ranked Flyers, the state's only unbeaten team at 28-0, picked up the tournament's No. 1 seed. Fourth-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral, which Little Falls beat 5-4, is the No. 2 seed and faces 11th-ranked Mahtomedi, which upset defending state champion and No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy in the Section 4-1A final.
Fifth-ranked Warroad (26-2-0) picked up the No. 3 seed and faces unranked Hutchinson (20-7-1).
Senior center Ben Hanowski brought the puck up the ice during the Little Falls Flyers 9-1 victory over St. Cloud Apollo Feb. 19 in Little Falls. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Should the Flyers win Wednesday they would face the winner of No. 4 Breck (24-3-1) and Rochester Lourdes (20-7-0). Breck was the No. 3-ranked team, while Rochester Lourdes was the 15th-ranked team.
"We're very capable of playing good hockey, especially with the games that we've won and this season as a whole," said Flyers head coach Tony Couture. "But I've told people that any of the teams down there could win the state tournament. I wouldn't be surprised with any team that wins this or of those that go home with two losses. Class 1A is very competitive this year."
The Blue Devils were ranked 12th and own a 23-5 record. After opening the season with losses to Cloquet/Esko/Carlton and Little Falls, Virginia won 17 of its last 18 games, including 12 straight.
Senior forward Chris Westin leads the Blue Devils with 31 goals and 72 points. Sophomore forward Garrett Hendrickson has 22 goals and 61 points. He's followed by junior defenseman Jordan Krebsbach (17-39), junior forward Andrew Judnick (14-38) and sophomore forward Travis Eddy (9-19).
"They have a very good first line, but they pride themselves on playing four lines," said Couture. "They're a scrappy team and have really played well the second part of the season.
"They're very good on special teams."
Class 1A state hockey
Who: Little Falls Flyers (28-0-0) vs. Virginia Blue Devils (23-5-0)
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
At stake: Winner advances to semifinals 1 p.m. Friday.
Virginia senior goalie Will Lustig owns an 18-5-0 record with a 1.74 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
The Blue Devils average 5.5 goals a game, while holding opponents to 1.9. Little Falls has outscored opponents 250-38. Senior goalie Michael Sperl has been in net for every minute of the Flyers' season and owns a .930 save percentage and 1.49 goals-against average.
"I think with four senior defensemen we're very good in that department," Couture said. "They're moving the puck pretty well and keep getting stronger and stronger in our D-zone. Defensively, we're playing pretty well. Michael has had an awesome season for us and hopefully he can continue that run at the state tournament."
Senior Ben Hanowski now has 125 points (65 goals, 59 assists). Riley Hirsch is second with 62, followed by Izaak Berglund's 58 points, Wesley Waytashek's 57 and Ben Nelson's 46.
Scoring the lone goal in the Flyers' season-opening, penalty ridden victory over Virginia was unheralded senior Hirsch. His unassisted short-handed score came at 13:08 in the first period. Sperl deflected 25 Virginia shots for the first of his 10 shutouts.
"This group has been to state three times now and some of them four times," said Couture. "They're pretty excited. They're happy with the No. 1 seed. It's just like the whole year, we've had a target on our back. It should just fuel the fires for Virginia to come in strong and play a good game against us."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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