Boys Hockey Class A | Lourdes forwards keep opponents in check
Brian Wasz, Connor Nellans and Ryan Nicolay have been on the ice to start almost every game and every period since late in the regular season.
But the trio of Rochester Lourdes hockey players aren't your typical first line.
In fact, their job is more about shutting down the opposing team's top line than producing points.
"That's what's expected from our line," Nellans, a junior, said. "That's what we need to do to help the team and we've accepted our role."
They've done more than accept the role. They've excelled at it. Lourdes (24-3-1) allowed just two goals in three games en route to a third consecutive Section One, Class A championship.
The Eagles, who are 2-1 this season against teams that have qualified for state, take the No. 3 seed into this week's Class A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center. They have a tough test right off the bat, facing 10th-ranked Hibbing (17-9-2) at approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The Nicolay line faces possibly its toughest challenge of the season, too. It will be charged with containing Hibbing's first line, consisting of senior center Nick DeCenzo (23 goals, 55 assists, 78 points), and wings Joe Anderson (20-30—50) and Adam Johnson (38-42—80).
Johnson and DeCenzo finished in the top 10 in the state in scoring for the regular season.
"It will be a hard test," Wasz said, "but a lot of it goes to our defensemen and what they do, too. We know that Rory (Vesel) and Sam (Slightam) will be back there working hard. It will take all six guys (including goalie Nick Heimer) to shut them down."
While Nicolay, Nellans and Wasz are charged with tracking the opposing team's top line, they've shown an ability to score, too. They've combined for 21 goals and 46 points this season.
"Our first priority is defense, shut the other team down," said Nicolay, who centers the line and has 19 points this season, "but when we have a chance to score, we'll take it."
There's not a group that Lourdes coach Josh Spaniol would rather have on the ice against Hibbing's high-powered line that has accounted for 208 points this year.
"They've really accepted their role and what they are," Spaniol said. "They're a very, very big part of this team. If they don't do their jobs, we won't be successful.
"They've accepted what we've asked them to do. Without them, we wouldn't be where we are."