TAMPA—Few high school championships capture a whole sport’s attention like the Minnesota high school hockey tournament.
Hockey fans love following from afar.The montages of good (and bad) hair flips in player introductions alone can swallow an afternoon. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Minnesota State High School League Boys State Hockey Tournament. The MSHSL recognized it’s all-time all-tournament team for the occasion, featuring Ryan McDonagh at defenseman.
In 2006, McDonagh, playing alongside his brother Colin, led Cretin-Derham Hall to its first ever state championship. The next year, McDonagh was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey.
“It was great playing with my oldest brother,” McDonagh said asked about his tournament experience. “It’s a great atmosphere playing in front of 18,000 fans at the Xcel Center.”
McDonagh is the youngest player recognized by 11 years. He’s also one of three (out of the seven) with NHL experience and the player with the most established NHL career.
The Minnesota hockey tournament might not be what coaches mean when they refer to playoff experience, but it certainly helped launch McDonagh.
Very special teams
At this point, the Lightning practically leads the NHL in more categories than it doesn’t.
Tampa Bay has been at the top of the list in power play for much of the season. After last Saturday’s win over Ottawa, the team also took over the lead in penalty kill.
For as much of a focus as special teams draws in the league, teams rarely lead both categories. The 2016 Ducks were the only team to do so in the last 20 years.
The Lightning is no longer on pace to be the fourth team in NHL history to finish over 30 percent on the power play. Tampa Bay’s current success rate of 28.6 percent is, however, eighth best in history and the best since the 1982-83 Oilers.
Tampa Bay, which was 1-of-5 Saturday, has a penalty kill success rate of 85.5 percent. It’s a less historic number, but enough to lead the league.
Because that’s just the kind of season the Lightning is having.
Spreading it around
One category in which the Lightning does not lead is time on ice. Tampa Bay has been able to spread around the playing time, which means not relying too much on specific players, particularly as the team hopes to be playing for three more months.
Victor Hedman averages 22:44 to lead the team. He’s 37th in the league. Among forwards, Nikita Kucherov plays 19:42. Again, that falls at 35 in the league.
“It’s the depth, and guys being able to play in all situations,” assistant coach Todd Richards said. “That’s been a great emergence of our young players.”
On the road again
Monday marks the start of the rest of the season for the Lightning. Saturday’s game finished a four-game homestand, the last of its kind for Tampa Bay.
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Of its final 13 games, the Lightning only has four more home games and they come in pairs. These aren’t easy trips either.
First up, Tampa Bay heads to Toronto for the first time, meaning it has another trip in April. The team also heads to Washington and Boston before the end of the regular season.
Those three teams are the obvious tough opponents coming up, representing seven of those last 13 games, but as the Wild demonstrated on Thursday, the Lightning can’t count anyone out.