Well, we’ve come to the end of the regular season. As always, this means a format change in the rankings; first, I’ll list the top 25, then sort the teams into sections for explanations. In that part, teams are listed in order of seeding.
1. Edina (20-4-1)
2. Hill-Murray (22-3)
3. Lakeville North (20-4-1)
4. Wayzata (19-5-1)
5. Blaine (20-4-1)
6. Burnsville (18-6-1)
7. St. Thomas Academy (18-6-1)
8. Elk River (18-6)
9. Duluth East (18-6-1)
10. Eden Prairie (14-8-3)
11. Eastview (18-6-1)
12. Andover (17-8)
13. Eagan (15-9-1)
14. Maple Grove (14-8-3)
15. Holy Family (19-5-1)
16. White Bear Lake (18-6-1)
17. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (13-8-3)
18. Cretin-Derham Hall (16-6-3)
19. Roseau (17-7-1)
20. Grand Rapids (17-8)
21. Bloomington Jefferson (13-10-2)
22. Forest Lake (15-6-4)
23. Centennial (13-10-2)
24. Moorhead (11-12-1)
25. Prior Lake (10-14-1)
QF 2/20 High seed home
SF 2/22 Rochester Rec Center
F 2/27 Rochester Rec Center
1. Lakeville North (20-4-1/#3)
-The Panthers stumbled in their final regular season game, dropping from the top spot and taking their first loss in over two months. They’re still heavy favorites in this section, and will have no trouble grabbing a top-4 seed if they do. The chemistry of their all-Poehling line is unmatched, and while they’re a young team in uncharted territory, they have balance across the board. Time to see what they can do under the bright playoff lights.
2. Farmington (21-3-1)
-The Tigers are a relative unknown due to a schedule that only included one top-25 team, but they have taken care of business against all comers, and have won 16 straight heading into sections. Common opponents have them about on the same level as third-seeded South; simply making a section final would be a step in the right direction, though they are, naturally, aiming for more than that.
3. Lakeville South (8-17)
-The Cougars have a bad record, but they did stick around against rival North for two periods in their last meeting, and have had a couple of other good results against quality teams. If their top line has a big night and the defense hangs in there, they could score an upset.
4. Rochester Mayo (15-9-1)
-The best of the rest, but lost by 3 to both Farmington and South.
6. Rochester Century
7. Rochester John Marshall
8. Dodge County
QF 2/20 High seed home
SF 2/22 BIG/Braemar
F 2/26 Mariucci
1. Edina (20-4-1/#1)
-The Hornets beat Eden Prairie to wrap up an undefeated Lake Conference schedule, and I’ve bumped them to the top spot on the strength of an eight-game winning streak, over the course of which they’ve given up just eight goals. It’s not a decisive ranking; Hill and North both have good arguments as well, and the Hornets have had some flashes of inconsistency. Still, it’s tough to argue against their depth and talent across the board, and Curt Giles’s teams know how to lock down a late lead in the playoffs. As there are only seven teams in 2AA, they have a bye to the semifinals.
2. Burnsville (18-6-1/#6)
-The Blaze slipped a tiny bit behind Edina over the past few weeks, but they did take an important step this season in finally getting a win over their section rival. They don’t have the depth of the Hornets, but they can hold their own at every position, and if it comes down to a rematch in the 2AA final, they’ll have as good a shot as anyone at knocking off the defending champs. First, however, they have to get past a Jefferson team that beat them two weeks ago.
3. Bloomington Jefferson (13-10-2/#21)
-The Jaguars finished an up-and-down season on a high note, winning their last four, including the Burnsville win. They’re much more reliant on their top few players than the two teams ahead of them here, but they’ve shown they can beat top teams when they’re on.
4. Prior Lake (10-14-1/#25)
-It’s hard to know what to expect out of the inconsistent Lakers; the win over North shows they can knock off anyone, but they were also shut out by Eastview and lost to limping Minnetonka in their final week. If they make the semis, they have played Edina fairly tight the past two seasons, for whatever its worth.
6. Holy Angels
1st Rd 2/18 High seed home
QF 2/20 High seed home
SF 2/22 Coliseum
F 2/27 Coliseum
1. Cretin-Derham Hall (16-6-3/#18)
-The Raiders have been inconsistent down the stretch. They tied a potent Benilde team on Tuesday, and have beaten St. Thomas in recent memory, but Thursday’s loss to White Bear Lake rounded out a very mediocre finish to Suburban East play. They are probably the most balanced team in the section; they’re not as strong in back as Eagan or Eastview and don’t have the forward talent of St. Thomas, but they play with good energy, and have as good a shot as anyone in 3AA when they’re on.
2. Eastview (18-6-1/#11)
-The Lightning fell to Eagan in overtime, but bounced back with a shutout win over Prior Lake. With a stout defense in front of goalie Zach Driscoll, they’re one of the toughest teams to score on in the state; their chances at a return to St. Paul rest on their ability to capitalize on their chances on offense.
3. St. Thomas Academy (18-6-1/#7)
-The Cadets cruised in their final week and have won seven straight heading into sections, albeit against fairly weak competition. With Novak and Versich leading the assault they’re as dangerous as anyone in the state, but there are some questions in back, and they’ll have to get past some deep, well-disciplined defensive teams to get out of 3AA—something they didn’t see much of in Class A. Time to see what the Cadets can do on the big stage.
4. Eagan (15-9-1/#13)
-The Wildcats picked up a big win over Eastview, continuing a strong late-season run for a team that is better than its record suggests. Their only two losses over the past four weeks were by one goal to top-6 teams, and they’ve taken care of everyone else. They have one of the state’s top defensive pairs in Tommy Muck and Nick Wolff, and while the offense isn’t deep, it does the job, and there is a strong team concept here. Like Eastview, the offense will need to come together to get out of the section.
5. East Ridge
9. Apple Valley
QF 2/22 Aldrich
SF 2/25 Coliseum
F 2/28 Coliseum
1. Hill-Murray (22-3/#2)
-The Pioneers finished the regular season with the most wins of any team for a second straight year, and are once again primed for a run to State. Their top two lines can match anyone’s, and while the defense is a bit green, it has done well enough in front of goaltender Sam Illgen. As usual, they look to have a relatively easy path to the section final.
2. White Bear Lake (18-6-1/#16)
-The Bears hit a snag against Forest Lake, but went on to beat Cretin to win the Suburban East and finish with wins in 8 of their last 9. They have one of the state’s brightest stars in Jake Wahlin, but a deep playoff run will require some big games out of the supporting cast as well. They can’t get too far ahead of themselves, but if it comes down to the Bears and Hill at the Coliseum, we can throw the records and rankings out the window. This is one of their best chances to pull it off.
3. Stillwater (13-10-2)
-The Ponies have had some flashes and took White Bear to overtime a few weeks ago, but the consistency hasn’t been there for much more.
4. Roseville (14-7-3)
-Like Stillwater, they’ve had some flashes, but haven’t done anything to suggest they’re a serious threat to Hill in the semis.
5. Mounds View
7. North St. Paul
QF 2/22 Champlin Park/Coon Rapids
SF 2/26 Coliseum
F 2/28 Coliseum
1. Blaine (20-4-1/#5)
-The Bengals made a statement in their final week, beating quality Andover and Maple Grove teams by four goals each. They’re a veteran team, and their offense is as potent as any in the state; the questions this season have been in back, and while they’ve cleaned up against lower-ranked teams, they haven’t done much in their few games against the very top teams. They are the clear favorite in 5AA, and will look to atone for last season’s semifinal flop.
2. Maple Grove (14-8-3/#14)
-The Crimson had a strong season, avoiding poor results and consistently playing top teams well. The one exception, though, has been Blaine, who has outscored them 14-4 across two games. If they can withstand the early Bengal barrage, they have the balance necessary to give them a serious run for the section crown. They will need to get past a quality Centennial team to get that far, though.
3. Centennial (13-10-2/#23)
-The Cougars took a poor tie against Armstrong in their final week, but handled two other weaker opponents. As the record suggests, they’ve been a step behind the top two all season, but they’ve also played them both tight every time, and it’s not a big stretch to see them reaching the section title game. Generating enough offense will be key.
4. Anoka (12-12-1)
-Played well down the stretch with a win over Centennial, and have a decent shot at making the semis.
5. Rogers (17-6-1)
-The Royals have a nice record, though they are untested against 5AA’s top teams.
6. Champlin Park
8. Coon Rapids
QF 2/20 High seed home
SF 2/22 Braemar/BIG
F 2/26 Mariucci
1. Wayzata (19-5-1/#4)
-The Trojans’ only two losses over the past two months are to the top two teams in the state, and they have not allowed more than three goals in a game all season. As a result, they’re one of the clearest favorites in memory in the state’s toughest section, and they’ll look to stick with their formula over the next two weeks. The risk with defensive hockey is that it can let less talented teams hang around for longer than they should, but if the Trojans don’t panic, they’re in good shape to become a rare repeat 6AA champion. Their inability to beat the top two keeps them at #4, but this team’s style of play allows them to match up favorably with anyone.
2. Eden Prairie (14-8-3/#10)
-The Eagles have had their moments this season, but ultimately remain on the outside of the top tier of teams; a tie to Hopkins in the last week didn’t help their cause. They have two of the state’s most dynamic players in Steven Spinner and Luc Snuggerud, but they’ll need some support to come out of a loaded section, and team play will be key.
3. Holy Family (19-5-1/#15)
-The Fire shut out Moorhead to pick up one last quality win . The offense isn’t especially deep, but they do score in bunches, and with quality goaltending, they might just have a formula for playoff success so long as they take care of the puck in their own zone. This program could really take the next step with a good showing, though they first must focus on getting past Minnetonka, whom they beat 2-1 during the regular season.
4. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (13-8-3/#17)
-The Red Knights tied Cretin-Derham Hall in the season’s final week, and though they snapped out of a 5-game winless funk by knocking off Stillwater, there’s plenty of room for doubt here. The Spencer Naas-headlined offensive is potent as always, but they’ll need to play some defense if they want to go anywhere in sections.
5. Hopkins (8-15-1)
-The usual Lake Conference bottom-feeder had a pretty good year, beating Minnetonka twice and tying Eden Prairie. They aren’t a great team, but they can trouble some of the section contenders when they’re on.
6. Minnetonka (8-17)
-The Skippers had a rough year, though a season-ending win over Prior Lake ended a long losing streak, and they are better than the record suggests. They are a quarterfinal upset threat, if not much more.
7. Robbinsdale Armstrong
8. Robbinsdale Cooper
QF 2/18 High seed home
SF 2/22 Amsoil
F 2/27 Amsoil
1. Duluth East (18-6-1/#9)
-The Hounds rolled to three more wins to wrap up the regular season. They have one of the state’s top defensive pairs in Phil Beaulieu and Alex Trapp, and their special teams are as good as anyone’s. If they generate consistent offense and avoid some of their periodic lapses, a sixth straight tournament berth is well within reach.
2. Elk River (18-6/#8)
-Like East, the Elks picked up three solid wins in their final week, and seem to have put their 3-game losing lapse behind them. They’ll lean on a flashy top line for most of their offense, though there is some depth here, and they have a quality goaltender as well. If their defense holds up, they too have a good shot at a trip to St. Paul.
3. Andover (17-8/#12)
-A shutout loss to Blaine puts a bit of a damper on the Huskies’ late-season run, but with their results over the past month, they’re right up there with the top two in the section. They have a handful of high-scoring forwards, and while they aren’t terribly deep, they’re deep enough to hang with anyone in this section. Continued tight defense will be crucial.
4. Grand Rapids (17-8/#20)
-The Thunderhawks fell to Duluth Denfeld in their final game, continuing a frustrating year. With Hunter Shepard in goal and Avery Peterson leading a contingent of forwards that includes some talented sophomores, they have the ingredients for a Tourney berth. But they’ll have to win three tough games to get there, and they key will be their inexperienced defense: can it relieve the pressure on Shepard and get the forwards the puck?
5. Forest Lake (15-6-4/#22)
-The Rangers are probably the most dangerous 5-seed in the state this year. They have a little bit of everything, with a few good forwards and decent team defense and an above average goalie, though they don’t really stand out in any one area, either. They’ve knocked off Rapids in the first round twice in the past five years; can they do it again?
6. St. Michael-Albertville
8. St. Francis
-Defeated #9 Cambridge 6-2 Saturday
9. Cambridge (eliminated)
QF 2/18 High seed home
SF 2/22 High seed home
F 2/26 Thief River Falls/Bemidji/St. Cloud
1. Roseau (17-7-1/#19)
-The Rams wrapped up their regular season with two easy wins. With Zach Yon and Alex Strand leading the charge, they have an explosive top unit that no one in 8AA can match. If those players do their thing and the lower lines hold their own, the Rams have a very good shot at an early March six-hour road trip. Handling the deeper, battle-tested champions of other sections could prove a much more difficult task, but they have the front-end talent to possibly make things interesting.
2. Moorhead (11-12-1/#24)
-The Spuds had a tough final weekend against a pair of Metro privates to sink below .500 for the first time in 15 years. Their schedule is by far the toughest in 8AA, and they played a number of close games against quality teams over the course of the season. With their defense and goaltending, they have a decent shot at another trip to State, but they’ll need to find some offense to get past the high-powered Rams.
3. Brainerd (15-7-1)
-The Warriors have a win over Moorhead this year, and a top unit that can put up some points. That’s enough to make them relevant in this section, but the consistency hasn’t quite been there, and they’ll need to find another gear if they want to get out of the section.
4. Bemidji (10-12-3)
-A tie against Brainerd in the season’s final week was encouraging, but Roseau has blown them out twice.
7. St. Cloud Tech
8. River Lakes
-Defeated #9 Becker-Big Lake 9-3 Saturday
9. Becker-Big Lake (eliminated)
Finally, here are a few notes on State seeding: with five different sections in the top five, those five would be the obvious seeded teams if they advance. After that:
-Burnsville would be next in line, and would jump ahead of Wayzata with a win over Edina, as they beat the Trojans head-to-head.
-St. Thomas is next in line, followed by Eden Prairie, should they get a win over Wayzata.
-After that come the top two 7AA teams; after that it gets messier, and we have to look at who beats who.
I’ll give another seeding overview next Sunday, when we’ve cleared a bunch of teams out of the conversation. Happy section playoffs, everyone, and enjoy these moments over the coming weeks—with the extreme parity in the state this year, I’m guessing we’ll have some memorable ones.
I’ll be upping my Twitter game in the next few weeks, too. https://twitter.com/KarlEastHockey for those of you who don’t already follow.