Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Denfeld Looks to Make History

It isn't often that history is made.

I mean, technically, history is made all the time. But not this kind of history.

The last time Duluth Denfeld made a state tournament, gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and a movie starring Jessica Tandy was winning tons of awards. The tournament was a one-class affair, with Denfeld advancing by winning Section 2 before falling to eventual runner-up Rochester John Marshall in the semifinals.

Those on that team are old enough to have grandkids now, it's been so long.

Wednesday night at Amsoil Arena, it might all change.

Denfeld will battle cross-town rival Duluth Marshall for the Section 7A championship. A win will send the Hunters off to state for the first time in 24 years, though much of their work is already done. West Duluth hasn't been known for hockey in many years, but the work Kevin Smalley has done over the years has helped reinvigorate the Denfeld program, and the Hunters hit a home run with three mainstay players who are enjoying wonderful senior seasons.

Forward Levi Talarico has topped 30 goals and hit 70 points on the season. He's been the go-to offensive player for most of the season, though it isn't like he lacks help on the roster. Twin brothers Alex and Zach Thompson have been around a while, with Zach having started in goal for most of the last four years.

Alex has nine game-winning goals this season, and his 26 total goals are second on the team to Talarico. Zach has a save percentage of .901 for the season, but he's come up huge in wins like Hermantown and Duluth East, games in which Denfeld was badly outshot but still found a way to get the job done.

Denfeld's push to St. Paul will have to find a way past the experienced Hilltoppers, who don't have the dynamic players like Talarico and Alex Thompson, but have plenty of options to make Denfeld pay for an off night.

Jeremy Lopez leads the team with 35 points, and the Hilltoppers can turn to guys like Kris McKinzie, who has 18 goals, and Matt Klassen, who has 13 and scored the winner in the semifinals against Hibbing. Goalie Caden Flaherty has been good throughout the season, but he's really gotten it going as of late. Marshall has gotten healthy recently, and if the Hilltoppers can contain Talarico and Alex Thompson, they have a very good chance of pulling the upset.

Hopefully, Amsoil Arena sees a big crowd Wednesday night. It could be a huge moment for the western part of Duluth if the Hunters make state, and it certainly would be a great way for this strong Denfeld senior class to close out its time at the school.

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