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H.S. Hockey | Lourdes feels ready for New Prague

It should come as no surprise that top-seeded and No. 3-ranked Rochester Lourdes feels ready to face third-seeded New Prague in Thursday's Section 1A championship game.

After all, Lourdes is 6-2-1 against the Trojans since the 2007-08 season, including a 5-0-1 mark in the past six meetings. That stretch includes three consecutive victories by Lourdes against New Prague in the section tournament; the Eagles have ended the Trojans' season in the section semifinals each of the past three seasons.

A little more is at stake Thursday night.

HIstory seems to be on Lourdes' side. The Eagles have been to state six times in school history, including each of the past two years. New Prague has never been to the state hockey tournament. Of course, none of that has any bearing on this year's teams.

Lourdes has five seniors who are chasing a third state tournament berth -- G Nick Heimer, D Rory Vesel, Sam Slightam and Alec Brandrup, and F Brian Wasz.

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Lourdes (23-3-1) is playing well, but so is New Prague (14-11-2). Both teams have goalies who are playing at a high level. New Prague's Joe Morrisleads all goalies in Minnesota in playoff save percentage (.982), while Lourdes' Nick Heimerhas the most victories of any goalie in the state (23) and ranked eighth in goals-against average in the state in the regular season (1.85), among Minnesota goalies who played 12 or more games.

I don't see my game preview posted online yet, but I'll post a link to it if/when it gets posted this afternoon.

After talking to several Lourdes players yesterday, I'd say they're confident, but not overly confident. And, all the Eagles coaching staff has to do to find some more motivation is point out a couple of scores from other sections. In fact, two of the eight No. 1 seeds in Class A didn't make it to their section title games. Little Falls was upset by a No. 9 seed, St. Cloud Apollo, in a Section 6A quarterfinal last week, while No. 6-ranked and top-seeded Blake was upset by fourth-seeded Orono last night in a Section 2A semifinal.

What Lourdes can't do is get sucked into New Prague's style of game. The Trojans will probably muck it up, play a physical style to try to neutralize Lourdes' speed. New Prague was outstanding against Albert Lea in the section semifinals at slowing the Tigers' top line, and taking advantage of offensive chances when they had them.

The way Lourdes is playing defense right now, I'd be shocked if New Prague gets 34 shots on goal, like it did against Albert Lea.

The blueprint for Lourdes is pretty clear: Use its speed early, get an early lead and clamp down defensively. Easier said than done, though, right?

Here are a few comments from Lourdes coaches and players that didn't get into my article in the print edition today:

LOURDES GOALIE NICK HEIMER

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On the possibiility of the game being a goaltending battle...

"Anytime it comes down to defense and goaltending, it's going to be a good game. We wouldn't have it any other way."

On what it's like to not face many shots (he's seen only 17 total in two playoff games) ...

"It's nice to face a lot of shots because it gets you into the game, but I've been able to stay focused. It's nice to see a lot of shots, but at the same time, that can wear you down, so it's kind of a double-edged sword."

On what makes Lourdes' defense so good ...

"A lot has to do with our forecheck and when (the opponent) does get the puck in our zone, we don't run around (chasing it). The defense does a good job protecting against back-door plays, too, so I don't have to worry about them being there. The guys talk a lot, too. They're always hollering to each other so we always know where everybody is."

SOPHOMORE FORWARD ALEX FUNK

On his recent scoring success against New Prague (6 points in past 3 meetings) ...

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"It's just the luck of the draw, I guess; being in the right place at the right time."

On the pressure of being the No. 1 seed and the No. 3-ranked team in the state ...

"The nerves will be there, but we all know what to expect. ... There's a little pressure, but we just have to come out, play our game and deal with it. ... We feel like we can play with anybody. When we went to OT with (No. 1-ranked) St. Thomas (Academy), we realized we can play with the big boys."

SOPHOMORE DEFENSEMAN KARL KRECKE

On the Eagles' successful penalty killing units (Lourdes has killed 15 of 16 in past five games)...

"Everyone is really comfortable out there. We all know our roles so well. We always know where to be and where everyone else is, and we all know how to stay calm."

COACH JOSH SPANIOL

On whether the game will come down to the play of the goalies...

"I hope not" (laughing), "but it's a section final, so it could come down to who gets the better bounces and turns them into goals."

On Lourdes' effort against Red Wing in the section semifinals ...

"We need to come out with a better effort against (New Prague). Their goaltender is good, but we have a very good goalie, too. They like to bang a lot, and we can't get into that game. We can't get into a battle along the boards. We want to use our speed, get the puck out of the zone quickly."

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