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The playoffs have arrived

Haley's Comet isn't due to make an appearance until 2062. The next total solar eclipse visible in North America will be on Aug. 1, 2008. So for the next biggest spectacle, local residents should make their way to the Worthington Ice Arena tonight...

Haley's Comet isn't due to make an appearance until 2062. The next total solar eclipse visible in North America will be on Aug. 1, 2008. So for the next biggest spectacle, local residents should make their way to the Worthington Ice Arena tonight to watch the Trojan boys hockey team play its first home postseason game since 1999, a Section 1AA tilt against Winona.

"This game is huge for us," Worthington head coach Ken Clark said. "The crowd could be a very big factor for us."

Another big factor will be travel time.

The Trojans will face off against the Winona Winhawks, a team that will have over a four-hour bus trip before it steps on the ice. For a club that finished the regular season with a 0-20-1 record, that's a lot of time to think about past failures -- or a postseason run.

"Neither team has anything to lose," Worthington senior forward Jared Smith said. "So both teams are going to be dangerous. We can't take them lightly."

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The winless Winhawks will certainly look to finish the season having posted a least one victory. Although they haven't broken through yet, they play in the Big 9 Conference, with the likes of Rochester Mayo, Rochester Century and Faribault, where victories don't come easy.

"Were a very young team, but a hungry one," Winona head coach Fran McDevitt said Monday. "We're going to have to play with a lot of energy from the very start."

Perhaps the hungriest of the Winhawks will be their senior line of Robby Lloyd, Nick Miller and Anthony Brickner. This trio won't want to end their high school careers with a goose egg as their legacy.

This line, along with the rest of the Winona team, hasn't been able to produce much offense this season. The Winhawks are averaging a scant 1.4 goals per game this year. Of their 21 contests, the Winhawks have posted nine multi-goal games, with the best output coming against La Crescent, an 8-4 loss, Feb. 14.

Winona hasn't faired well defensively either, allowing 6.8 goals per game. Senior defenseman Dan Bechtle and senior netminder Luke Kronebusch will try to reverse that trend tonight.

"The key for us against Worthington will be for us to be ready from the start," McDevitt said. "We can't dig an early hole. The first period will tell a lot."

That's when the Trojans should have an edge. With a raucous home crowd and the advantage of short travel time, the Trojans will look to jump on the opening face-off. And they have the legs to do it.

Senior forwards Smith, Jason Johnson, Nate Peterson, Curtis Lingle and Cameron Koopman all have excellent breakout speed. Together with precision stick handling, this group could put this game away early if they can get out of their zone clean.

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"We've been focusing on breakouts, power plays and winning the races to the puck," Clark said. "We have to be quick to the puck. If we can win the races, get control and move out of the zone, we'll put some pressure on their (Winona's) net."

The Trojans (10-9), who were third in the Southwest Conference, have scored an average of 3.7 goals per game. It will likely take at least that to skate away with a victory.

"We're going to have to really hustle out there," Lingle said. "We have to keep our heads in the game and use our home-ice advantage -- we know how our boards play."

At the other end, Worthington has a tenacious goaltender in Ted Gibbons. The senior has come up big for the Trojans all year, posting three shutout victories. Senior defenseman Anthony Bui knows what this means for the seniors.

"This is BIG for us," he said. "Hopefully we'll get a big, loud crowd and we'll (the seniors) be playing another game."

On paper, the sides appear evenly matched, each team having faced both Faribault and Austin with similar results -- lopsided losses. But at this time of year, all bets are off and the game becomes more about mental preparation.

"The kids have been through the season, they know what to do," Worthington assistant coach Gary Brandt said. "It's about 90 percent in the head for this game -- anticipating both offensively and defensively -- being assertive."

The winner of tonight's contest will face No. 1 seed Lakeville North Thursday in Lakeville.

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Section 1A

Luverne at

Windom Area, 7 p.m.

WINDOM -- The Windom Area Eagles enter the playoffs on a bit of a roll, having won their last three games in a row, including a 3-0 decision against Luverne last Tuesday.

Even with that, and a 15-9-1 record overall, Windom Area head coach Steve Clark was a little surprised his team received a No. 8 seed. He thought it would've been better.

"It is what it is," Clark said. "Sometimes those coaches from the Big 9 don't really care what your record is."

Windom Area has rode the strong play of Brett Oltmanns in net and the offensive push from Lee Fast for most of the season, but has had to do without Fast for the last eight games due to a separated shoulder. Fast, who scored 30 points (17 goals and 13 assists) in 12 games, is not expected to play today.

Oltmanns, though, will be in net, bringing with him a 2.56 goals against average and a save rate of 92 percent.

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"He's not had a real shaky performance to me," Clark said. "He's had some games where he gave up one goal or two that weren't so great, but he's pretty solid."

On offense, Marcus Schultz, Jason Cook and Kirby Johnson will be counted on to pick up the scoring load, while Kody Johnson and Jordan Lewis take the lead on defense.

As for Luverne, the Cardinals come in as the No. 9 seed, with a record of 9-10-1. Luverne and Windom Area have faced off twice this season, with Windom Area going 2-0.

But Luverne is riding a hot streak, too. Including the Windom loss on Feb. 14, the Cardinals are 6-2-1 in their last nine games played.

With that in mind, Clark knows it will not be easy for Windom Area to get its third victory of the season against Luverne.

"They're a good team," he said. "We have to show up and play them."

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