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Boys Hockey: North-South Classic in Brainerd this weekend

Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd will be site of the second annual North-South Classic Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8.

The event will kick off Friday with the Eden Prairie Eagles playing the Hermantown Hawks at 6 p.m. followed by the Brainerd Warriors and Benilde-St. Margaret Red Knights at approximately 8 p.m.

Saturday's games will feature Brainerd and Hermantown at 12:30 p.m. and Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Eden Prairie at 2:30 p.m.

Hermantown, Eden Prairie and BSM have combined to win seven state championships and make 29 state tournament appearances. Eden Prairie has won two 2A titles in 10 trips to state. Hermantown has won two 1A titles and has played in 15 state tournaments. BSM has won two 2A championships and one in 1A in its four state appearances.

"This should be a tremendous event for our hockey community and our team," Warriors coach Dave Aus said. "We are eagerly looking forward to having these four hockey-rich schools come to our rink and participate in this great event.

"It should be great for hockey fans from our area, not just Brainerd, to get a chance to see some high-level teams coming into our building."

Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith is happy to see the 4-team event continue.

"The thought of having this tournament go again is exciting because last year it was a huge success down in Eden Prairie having Brainerd and Hermantown come in and Benilde already being in the Cities," Smith said. "It did really well as far as people having interest in it and the quality of the games was fantastic.

"I'm glad that Brainerd stepped up and is keeping it going this year. We're looking forward to coming up. I grew up in Willmar (1984 graduate) so were part of the (Central Lakes Conference). Any time I go to Brainerd or St. Cloud, or any of those places, it's always good memories."

Hermantown coach Pat Andrews said the teams and coaches in the Classic are top-notch.

"It's an honor to be a part of such a great event," Andrews said. "I have nothing but the (utmost) respect for coaches Aus, Smith and (Ken) Pauly. As a young coach, it is great to be able to be around these three and their great programs to see how they operate, how their teams prepare and play."

Through games Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Warriors and BSM are 2-1, Hermantown 1-1 and Eden Prairie 1-0-1. Eden Prairie is ranked eighth in Class 2A and Hermantown No. 1 in 1A.

Eden Prairie beat Class 2A's fifth-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall 3-1 in its opener and tied 2A's No. 6 St. Thomas Academy 2-2 Tuesday, Dec. 4.

"We feel pretty good about our team," Smith said. "We're an older team. We bring back a lot of experience from last year. Last year we had some growing pains with guys stepping in and having to take bigger roles maybe than they were ready for. This year they seem ready to handle them."

Hermantown lost its opener 4-3 to 2A's 10th-ranked Wayzata and beat Lakeville South 1-0 Saturday, Dec. 1.

Andrews said the season is young and he's still trying to get a handle on who should be playing where and what the final lineup will look like.

"That being said, I really like what I see at this point," Andrews said. "We seem to have 3-plus lines that can all play high school hockey as well as some really special forwards. Blake Biondi is a Division I commit to Duluth. He scored 30 goals for us last year and already has two goals and two assists. He is joined by seniors Brady Baker, Elliott Peterson, Justin Thomas and sophomore Joey Pierce as top forwards.

"In addition, our back end seems solid led by senior defenseman and fellow UMD commit Darian Gotz who has fellow senior Sam High as a defensive partner as well as several underclassman that all have varsity experience from last season.

"In net, senior Cole Manahan has been outstanding to start the season. He was the starter last season leading us to a third-place finish at the state tournament."