AA Rankings for 1/25/15

Teams are running out of time to make moves here, and the week ahead is loaded with fantastic section games. Your final set of January rankings:

1. Lakeville North (19-0)

-The Panthers checked off another key box on the road to an undefeated season by shutting out Burnsville on the road. Even when the scores aren’t blowouts, their strong play in every zone makes it very difficult for opponents to sustain much of anything. Only one team left on their schedule is in the top 15, though the South Suburban Conference is filled with respectably deep teams that could make things interesting if the stars align. Their first order of business is a surging Rosemount team, followed by a rematch with rival South.

This week: Thurs vs. Rosemount, Sat at Lakeville South

2. Edina (16-1-2)

-The Hornets continue to roll along after a pair of 4-goal wins over Lake teams. They’ve played three top teams in the past three weeks, and haven’t been challenged once. If they can keep up the momentum, look out. Eden Prairie gave them a good game back in December, so this week’s rematch should be a good one.

This week: Thurs at #10 Eden Prairie, Sat at Holy Angels

3. St. Thomas Academy (16-2)

-No trouble this past week, with a 19-3 aggregate score in their two games. This week, they play their most serious challenger in 3AA, a team that did beat them in the regular season last year. Time to learn just how big the gap is between the Cadets and the rest of the section.

This week: Tues vs. Cretin-Derham Hall, Sat at Tartan

4. Elk River (15-4)

-A win over Andover should guarantee the Elks the top seed in 7AA, and with everyone else in this total mess from 4-11 hitting bumps in the road, the Elks’ consistency speaks volumes. They haven’t taken a bad loss in the way any of these other teams have The upcoming week features their last two games of any difficulty, as they host up-and-down Centennial and try to avenge last year’s painful section final loss to Duluth East.

This week: Thurs vs. Centennial, Sat vs. Duluth East

5. Hill-Murray (13-6)

-The Pioneers’ loss to Mahtomedi isn’t a total shocker, but the final score (4-0) was. Keeping them in the top five is generous, but nothing else compels me here, so the Pioneers remain. This team has the potential to be very good in the playoffs, but there have been a few red flags along the way, and they have to get the offense going consistently. This week, they renew one of the state’s greatest rivalries with White Bear Lake, with the gap between the two the narrowest it’s been in a long time.

This week: Thurs at Simley, Sat at #8 White Bear Lake

6. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (10-7-2)

-The Red Knights’ scoring was snake-bitten this week, as they lost to Blaine and waited until the last minute of overtime to get by Bloomington Jefferson, despite heavy shot advantages in both games. Because of that, they’re getting a bit of a break here. They get a bit of a breather this week with two Metro West teams.

This week: Thurs at Bloomington Kennedy, Sat vs. Chanhassen

7. Blaine (11-5-1)

-The Bengals scored a big win over Benilde, but their inability to finish off Anoka keeps them from making a more drastic move in the rankings. They’ve got as many big wins as anyone outside the top two, but one gets the sense they’re just as likely to lose in the section semifinals as they are to go to State. Things ease up a bit from here on out, though Andover can give top teams a good game when they’re on, as they did the first time around with the Bengals.

This week: Tues at Irondale, Sat at Anover

8. White Bear Lake (14-4)

-Lost to Hermantown, but that’s not a loss that’s going to hurt anyone’s ranking this season, and then flattened Grand Rapids in a 5-0 game. Between that and the mess in 6AA, they’re on the rise; they’ve certainly looked like they belong up here when I’ve seen them. The week ahead is a huge one, as they face their two biggest 4AA competitors.

This week: Thurs at Stillwater, Sat vs. #5 Hill-Murray

9. Wayzata (9-8-2)

-In a low-scoring week, the Trojans pulled out a 2-1 win over surging Minnetonka before dropping one to Grand Rapids. There’s plenty of talent here, but they have yet to get into any sort of rhythm. Five of their last six are in the section, so it’s all right there in front of them.

This week: Thurs vs. Hopkins, Sat at #10 Eden Prairie

10. Eden Prairie (12-7)

The Eagles exploded for 7 goals against Bloomington Jefferson, but also needed a huge comeback before getting past Hopkins in overtime. They finally have a 6AA win now, though they could use a little more consistency. Their last six games are brutal, with four in the section and two against Edina.

This week: Thurs vs. #2 Edina, Sat vs. #9 Wayzata

11. Minnetonka (11-7-1)

-The Skippers are the unfortunate losers of this week’s crazy fight for spots 4-11, as their recent win streak came to a crashing halt with losses to Wayzata and Edina. They aren’t terrible results, but someone has to take the fall, and the Skippers have a few more questionable losses than the rest of the teams in this tier. Things get a tiny bit easier this week, but their opponents are still no pushovers.

This week: Tues at #13 Prior Lake, Sat vs. Hopkins

12. Bemidji (16-3-1)

-The Lumberjacks posted a couple of shutouts this past week, including one over a quality Alexandria team. A second battle with Roseau looms this week; the Rams gave them a one-goal game back in December.

This week: Thurs vs. Roseau, Sat at River Lakes

13. Prior Lake (11-6-1)

-The Lakers had a strong week, beating Burnsville a second time to lock up the 2-seed in 2AA. They can continue to help themselves in the rankings this week if they beat Minnetonka.

This week: Tues vs. #11 Minnetonka, Thurs at Eastview, Sat vs. Shakopee

14. Burnsville (9-9-1)

-Gave Lakeville North a decent run, but fell in the end, and also dropped a second tight one to Prior Lake. Most of those losses are to pretty good teams, but they are starting to mount. Things look a little easier over the next few weeks, with Eastview posing their most serious test.

This week: Thurs vs. Apple Valley, Sat at Eastview

15. Holy Family (10-6-2)

-Collected two more comfortable wins in Wright County Conference play, including one over a decent Orono team. They stay in the conference this coming week as well, though they do have to play Delano, who beat them earlier this month and is the class of the conference at the moment.

This week: Tues vs. Litchfield-Dassel-Cokato, Thurs at Delano

The Next Ten

Cretin-Derham Hall (11-4-3)

-A big win over Stillwater avenges one of the Raiders’ losses and has them on a roll with an 11-game unbeaten streak. Their visit to St. Thomas this week is the ultimate test of that recent run of success, and gives them a chance to make some real noise in the rankings. After that, it’s back to conference play, as they face off against Woodbury and Mounds View.

Moorhead (11-6-2)

-The Spuds celebrated 50 years of hockey by taking care of Roseau and ensuring themselves a top-2 seed in 8AA yet again, something they’ve achieved every year since the two-class split. This week they play Brainerd a second time, then face Grand Rapids in a game with some ranking implications.

Farmington (13-6)

-The Tigers are limping some down the stretch, with losses in three of their past four, and while Rosemount is a tough squad, that is the sort of game they need to win to be a top-15 team. A key battle for the 2-seed against Lakeville South looms this week.

Grand Rapids (10-10-2)

-The Rapids roller coaster rattles along, as they pulled out their first win over a top Metro team of the year when they took down Wayzata, then got roughed up by White Bear. The Bears are a good team, but Rapids was never really in the game. In one of the more bizarre schedules I’ve ever seen, they only play 3 times in the last 3 weeks. That could help keep them healthy heading into the playoffs, but there’s also a serious risk of rust and losing their recent momentum. At any rate, their lone game this week is against Moorhead, which gives them a chance to climb a bit further here.

Lakeville South (9-7-1)

-A 4-0 win over Eastview avenges an earlier loss for the Cougars, who have now won four of their last five. The upcoming week is a 1AA tour de force, as they visit likely 4-seed Mayo, square off with Farmington to decide the 2-seed, and host their undefeated crosstown rival on Saturday.

Centennial (9-9)

-The Cougars took a rough loss to Champlin Park this past week, but bounced back to hold off Maple Grove in a key 5AA game. This week they get conference leader Elk River and a chance to avenge that loss to Champlin.

Anoka (10-7-1)

-The Tornadoes seem to have Blaine’s number, tying them after an earlier win. The week ahead is a busy one, with games against similarly-ranked Duluth East, rival Andover, and a 5AA fight with Maple Grove.

Eastview (9-9)

-The Lightning were shut out by Lakeville South, but they bounced back with a strong win over Eagan. They have a 3-game week ahead of them, including two tough ones against Prior Lake and Burnsville.

Duluth East (10-8-1)

-The Hounds are starting to put things together, winning four straight and taking care of the somewhat weaker teams on their schedule. They can complicate 7AA some by winning in Elk River on Saturday, but they have to deal with a quality Anoka team first.

Bloomington Jefferson (10-9)

-Gave Benilde a good run, which is enough to hang on to the last spot listed here. They have a chance to build some momentum in their late-season schedule, with games against Chanhassen and Bloomington Kennedy this week.

***

With three weeks to go, we’re going to get even more thorough on the section tour and introduce in-section records. The records give are those against other listed teams in the section. Wins over lower teams are ignored, while losses or ties to those teams are mentioned after team names.

1AA

1 Lakeville North 3-0

20 Lakeville South 1-1

18 Farmington 0-3

-North is #1, and everything else will likely be sorted out this week, as Farmington and South meet Thursday to decide #2, and South plays Rochester Mayo to see if the southern half of this section has any prayer of making things interesting for the top two. Farmington’s games with Mayo and Century back in December were relatively close, so it isn’t totally out of the question. Mayo has the current edge for #4, but they play Century again on the season’s final day.

2AA

2 Edina 1-0

13Prior Lake 3-0

14 Burnsville 0-2

25 Bloomington Jefferson 0-1

-Prior Lake’s second win over Burnsville gives them the 2-seed. It might actually be a bit hasty to assume Burnsville is the 3-seed; Bloomington Jefferson has a slightly better record, and doesn’t play the Blaze. I’d still give it to Burnsville, but it’s not unthinkable to imagine the Jags grabbing the 3-seed if they finish the season on a stronger note.

3AA

3 St. Thomas Academy 0-0

16 Cretin-Derham Hall 1-0

23 Eastview 0-1

Rosemount

-St. Thomas may be the best team here, but a loss to Cretin on Tuesday could conceivably cost them the top seed, given their lack of section games. Thing have been shifting some after that; East Ridge, who had looked like a 4-seed, lost to Eagan, while Rosemount is suddenly on a roll, beating Eastview this past week. The Irish now sit just outside the top 25 and have a good argument for a top-4 seed; they could even be #3 if they continue their quality play.

4AA

5 Hill-Murray 0-0

8 White Bear Lake 1-0

Stillwater 0-1

-This section race has gotten interesting, and #1 will be decided this Saturday, when Hill and White Bear meet. White Bear and Stillwater also play this week, and while I think the Bears are probably a top-2 seed even if they lose, dropping that one does open the door for Stillwater if White Bear struggles down the stretch. Roseville’s crazy 8-7 win over Mounds View probably gets them #4, and those two will likely face off again in the 4/5 game.

5AA

7 Blaine 3-2-1

22 Anoka 2-2-1 (loss to Rogers)

21 Centennial 3-3 (loss to Champlin Park)

Maple Grove 2-3

-Blaine should be guaranteed the top seed in this entertaining 4-team race, but #2 is still up for grabs. Anoka can probably claim it with a win over Maple Grove this week, but a loss would probably leave it in the hands of Centennial, and could possibly drop the Tornadoes down to #4, depending on how much weight the coaches give their strong results against Blaine. No matter what, the semis and final in this section should provide plenty of drama.

6AA

9 Wayzata 3-1

6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s 2-1-1

11 Minnetonka 4-2 (lost to Armstrong/Cooper)

15 Holy Family 2-2-1

10 Eden Prairie 1-4

Hopkins 0-2

-Things are starting to take shape here, and if I had to circle a date on the calendar that will likely decide the top seed, it’s the February 10 game between Wayzata and Benilde. Minnetonka is complicated, with wins over Eden Prairie and Benilde, but losses to Holy Family and Armstrong/Cooper; we’ll see if the coaches throw the latter out as a fluke or hold it against them. For now, I’ve taken the middle ground on the Skippers, and have them at #3. Eden Prairie has struggled so much in the section that it’ll probably take a very impressive run down the stretch to escape the 4/5 game with Holy Family, though they do have the schedule to pull it off, with four section games in their last six. Hopkins, likely a top-4 seed in most other sections, will be hard-pressed to avoid #6. There’s still a lot of hockey left here, though.

7AA

4 Elk River 2-0

19 Grand Rapids 1-1 (loss to CEC)

24 Duluth East 1-1 (tie with Andover)

St. Michael-Albertville 0-1

-The Elks are sitting pretty at the top, and Grand Rapids has done enough that it will take a very strong finish from East to dislodge them from the 2-seed. Struggles by the 5-7 group have St. Michael-Albertville pretty solidly in the top 4 at the moment, though they do have one section game left against Cloquet, and could really use a win over Breck this coming week to give that weak schedule some meat.

8AA

12 Bemidji 3-0

17 Moorhead 3-2

Roseau 0-3

Buffalo 0-1

-With Moorhead’s second win over Roseau, the top two are set. Roseau is probably the 3-seed, though Buffalo will have an argument, too, and those are pretty clearly the top four. Roseau and Bemidji meet this coming week, and while the game probably won’t affect the seeds much, it could matter for the teams’ psyches heading into sections.

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AA Rankings for 1/18/15

After a brief hiatus, we’re back up and running with Karl’s weekly AA rankings here on mnhockeyprospects.com! Here are the rankings that came out this past Sunday:

I hope you all had a happy Hockey Day. Just four weeks to go until sections. Need I say more?

1. Lakeville North (17-0)

-The pressure is mounting on the Panthers, but they survived a test against Duluth East and scored a decisive blowout against Farmington to secure the top seed in 1AA. This week they face Burnsville, who is the one top-flight opponent left on their schedule. With a win, the path to 25-0 is probably clear.

This week: Thurs at #11 Burnsville, Sat at Apple Valley

2. Edina (14-1-2)

-The Hornets scored a convincing win over Wayzata to keep the pressure on top-ranked North. With St. Thomas losing twice this past week, the top tier now consists of the same two teams that were there from the start, and the Hornets are right there to snag the top spot should North falter. It’s back to Lake Conference action this week, with a road game against Minnetonka posing one of their toughest remaining challenges.

This week: Thurs vs. Hopkins, Sat at #5 Minnetonka

3. St. Thomas Academy (14-2)

-The undefeated season has come to an end, though I’m giving the Cadets some benefit of the doubt for their outdoor loss on Hockey Day. Their strong season to date gives them enough of a cushion over Hill and the 6AA teams, though their losses this past week eliminate any margin for error they might have had. They shouldn’t have any trouble getting back into the win column this week.

This week: Tues vs. Totino-Grace, Thurs at Simley

4. Hill-Murray (12-5)

-The Pioneers pulled out the Hockey Day win over St. Thomas, and survived an adventure against Tartan as well. If this team can generate enough offense, they’ll be one of the most dangerous teams in the state down the stretch. Mahtomedi could pose a challenge this week, though they weren’t much trouble back in their December meeting.

This week: Thurs at Henry Sibley, Sat at Mahtomedi

5. Minnetonka (11-5-1)

-This is a case where we trust recent history over overall record: the Skippers are on a roll, winning six straight and showing great offensive potential against a number of quality teams. This coming week will be a huge one as Pagel, as they can either build on this momentum, or regress back to the messy 6AA pack. Time to learn how real this Skipper surge is.

This week: Thurs vs. #8 Wayzata, Sat vs. #2 Edina

6. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (9-6-2)

-A win over St. Thomas Academy keeps the Red Knights climbing upward; they finally seem to be coming together as a unit. They face another team on the rise in Blaine this week, and a second win over Jefferson would effectively hand them a conference title, too.

This week: Tues at #9 Blaine, Sat vs. Bloomington Jefferson

7. Elk River (13-4)

-After a string of wins that gave encouraging signs about the Elks’ defense, they coughed up six goals in a loss to Blaine. Given their relatively weak schedule down the stretch, that could prove costly when it comes to State seeding. Still, they are the class of their section, and a win over Andover this week should guarantee the top spot in 7AA. Kiersted’s status bears watching.

This week: Thurs vs. Andover, Sat at Coon Rapids

8. Wayzata (8-7-2)

-A win over Eden Prairie helped stem the Trojans’ downward slide, though their record in recent games remains pretty ugly. Edina is the clear frontrunner in the Lake Conference, but if they can take down Minnetonka this week, they could reclaim some stake to the #2 spot there, and Grand Rapids poses a mystery sort of challenge, too. Time to learn if this team belongs among the state’s elite or not.

This week: Thurs at #5 Minnetonka, Fri vs. Grand Rapids

9. Blaine (10-5)

-The Bengals have been up and down this season, but this past week was definitely a high point, with a win over Centennial that should clinch the 5AA top seed and a huge win over Elk River. Benilde this week is their lone remaining ranked opponent, though they have a score to settle with Anoka, too.

This week: Tues vs. #6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Thurs at Champlin Park, Sat vs. Anoka

10. Eden Prairie (10-7)

-The Eagles were competitive in both their Lake games this past week, but lost both of them, and perhaps more troublingly remain winless against 6AA competition. This week offers some chance to restore order before a brutal finish to their schedule.

This week: Thurs at Bloomington Jefferson, Sat at Hopkins

11. Burnsville (9-7-1)

-A week after the ugly loss to Lakeville South, the Blaze bounced back with a convincing win over Farmington, and for the most part have looked solid against quality competition. With Lakeville North and a section battle with Prior Lake on the docket, this is their biggest week of the regular season. Can they get out of this seemingly eternal rut of good-but-not-great?

This week: Thurs vs. #1 Lakeville North, Sat at Prior Lake

12. White Bear Lake (13-3)

-Rebounded from their Cretin loss with a pair of impressive wins over Suburban East teams. The schedule finally grows a bit more challenging this week, as two northern powers pay visits to Vadnais. They should be good warm-ups for the following week, which will make or break their 4AA seeding fate.

This week: Fri vs. Hermantown, Sat vs. Grand Rapids

13. Bemidji (14-3-1)

-A second win over Moorhead should lock up the top seed in 8AA for the Lumberjacks, but a pair of losses to top-flight Class A teams does raise some doubt about their ability to compete with the AA elite. They basically have to run the table to tread water; arguably their toughest remaining test will be this coming week against undefeated Alexandria.

This week: Tues vs. Sauk Rapids-Rice, Sat at Alexandria

14. Holy Family (8-6-2)

-Steamrolled Mound-Westonka, as expected. Section games certainly suggest they can compete with anyone in 6AA, but a couple of bad losses to Class A teams hold them back for now. They continue with Wright County play this week, though Orono might be able to give them a game.

This week: Tues at Waconia, Thurs at Orono

15. Farmington (12-5)

-The Tigers had a tough week as they failed to give Lakeville North or Burnsville very good fights, but they’ve done enough against a tough South Suburban slate to stay toward the top of this convoluted tier of teams. Things ease up over the next couple of weeks, so wins here are essential for their ranking fate.

This week: Thurs vs. Apple Valley, Sat at Rosemount

Bubble Teams

Prior Lake (9-6-1)

-A loss to Rosemount has the Lakers sliding backwards, though they did pull out a decent win over Lakeville South. A pivotal 2AA game against Burnsville looms this week.

Moorhead (10-6-2)

-A second loss to Bemidji puts the Spuds out of the running for the top seed, but they can probably lock up the 2-seed in 8AA with a win over Roseau on Saturday.

Cretin-Derham Hall (9-4-3)

-Got past Forest Lake in their lone game this past week. A big SEC battle with Stillwater is up next; they lost 6-3 the first time around. This team has been surging in the right direction lately, but could use another quality win to make it all a lot more convincing.

Stillwater (13-4)

-The schedule’s been pretty easy, but the Ponies deserve some credit for their success against a conference of large metro schools. This week brings a rematch with Cretin, and a win would solidify their top-20 standing.

Centennial (8-8)

-Still probably the second-most dangerous 5AA team, and they gave Blaine a second one-goal game this past week, but a loss to Andover drops them from the top 20. They can clinch the 2-seed with a win over Maple Grove this week; a loss complicates things.

Lakeville South (7-7-1)

-Lost to Prior Lake, which keeps them hovering around #20 here. Their game with Eastview this week has some ranking relevance.

Bloomington Jefferson (10-7)

-Sailed through an easier week, but have to deal with Benilde and Eden Prairie this week.

After that, in no particular order: Anoka, Grand Rapids, Duluth East, Hopkins, St. Michael-Albertville

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2014 State Hockey Tournament Reflection

The seventieth State Tournament has come and gone, its whirlwind collision of nostalgia and renewal consuming us for four days before melting away into a Minnesota spring. The best team in each class was obvious, but it was still more competitive than last year’s, particularly on the Class A side. We had one instant classic, a double overtime thriller with drama and intrigue at every turn, as stars dropped like flies with injury and exhaustion late in the game. Gary Thorne graced the Tourney with an added dose of gravitas, and the referees made their presence felt a bit more than usual. Edina’s repeat at the top of the heap lets us use the word ‘dynasty’ for the first time in many years, and with an all-public AA field, the Hornets had little trouble claiming the villain tag.

Some of the best stories in this Tourney came far from that small town on the west side with a dream, though. Feisty Luverne proved its doubters wrong and proved it can compete on the highest stage, while New Prague recorded the South’s first top-3 finish in over ten years. Roseau added to its proud Tourney history with a very competitive 5th place showing in AA, its stars once again coming south to dazzle the St. Paul crowds. The biggest of the small-town winners, though, was East Grand Forks, and with its seamless breakouts and a relentless Green Wave of powerful hits, the Class A champion’s mysterious mascot only seemed apt. There is room for all types at the Tourney, but the growth and sustenance of hockey in small towns keeps the Tourney in touch with its roots. There were good storylines among the big city schools, too: Stillwater made its debut, Lakeville North’s thrilling overtime victories put AA’s southernmost section in the title game for the first time in 25 years, and while their faces are a bit more familiar, section wins by Eagan, Centennial, and Duluth East were a reminder of what good coaching and smart defense can do in the playoffs.

As always, the players make the Tourney. There was the delight of Eddie Eades, posing theories on cookies and ice cream, and then there was the agony of Luc Snuggerud, the wounded warrior bowed in defeat. Tyler Nanne channeled his grandfather’s ease with words, while Nick Wolff probably still hasn’t finished his latest shift for Eagan. Zach Yon of Roseau made a last-second pitch for Mr. Hockey, while Luverne eighth-grader Jaxon Nelson gave us a glimpse of the future. Erik Gadbois proved an unlikely hero for scrappy St. Cloud Cathedral, and Eden Prairie’s Michael Parrish mustered a heroism that transcended hockey, putting together a hat trick in the shadow of his father’s death.

The coaches, too, add their own distinct flavor. The old guard was on hand, still plugging along; Bruce Plante was understandably chastened after a fifth straight second place finish, but still managed to show why he is beloved in Hermantown, and a vintage Mike Randolph pulled all the levers he could in a losing cause before making “embellishment” the word of the Tourney. The bubbly and quotable Trent Eigner took his program to the next level, while Luverne’s rising star, Derrick Brown, did a victory lap for all of small-town hockey. But the clear-eyed focus of Tyler Palmiscno (with an assist from the peerless Scott Oliver) and the supreme confidence of Curt Giles carried the day.

Giles is normally one to run a tight ship; he’s not one to furnish reporters with juicy quotes, nor does he hold strong public opinions on the endless debates over private schools and junior hockey. Such is the luxury of Edina, of course: he presides over a program of unmatched depth, and he knows he’s blessed not to have many of the worries facing others. Back at the pinnacle yet again, though, Giles let the façade come down and channeled that old Herb Brooks line, saying the emotion of a Tourney win rivals that of the Stanley Cup. Repeats may tire some fans, especially when they taste of cake, but sports need dominant powers to serve as the measuring stick. Edina sets the standard for all of hockey in Minnesota, and it’s up to the rest of the state to find a response to this latest Hornet run. They came in with the flair and swagger of champions, a fast and edgy team unafraid to show off its talents and let the world know who is number one. Oh, to be young and a Hornet.

The whole weekend overflows with youth, even for those whose follicles have forsaken them, rendered them ineligible for the Hockey Hair Team. This year there was no one quote that fixed itself in my mind, no one poignant moment that pierced through the din. Instead, it was a steady, sustained buzz, fueled by stops at bars between sessions and those incessant Hornets. There are the kids doing what we once did: plotting an off-color chant, smuggling in a beach ball, fighting the crowds at the Expo, bumming around the upper deck, perhaps going on a run through the St. Paul night in the ecstasy of victory, or off to a party in some hotel room, all pretense of dignity and decorum forgotten for a weekend at the start of Lent. For those of us with some remove from the glory days, we have the impromptu reunions, the ease of chatting up anyone knowing we have common ground, the gathering of generations, the march of time and a ceaseless cycle bearing us back to the past. Those of us in the stands can lose track of the constant turnover, forget the rawness of emotions that come out no matter who is on the winning or losing end. That part never changes, and even as we head into summer or perhaps out into the world beyond high school, it long lingers, waiting to be brought forth again for four more days next March. No matter where the world takes us, the memory endures.

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2014 Final Class AA Rankings

These rankings place added emphasis on playoff performance. One last time before November:

1. EDINA
-Two in a row, three out of five: the Edynasty is here. The Hornets may have an edge in numbers and resources that others can only dream of, but these past two years, this team’s coaching staff has taken them to the next level in the playoffs. They set the bar for the rest of the state, and it’s up to everyone else to respond.
2. Lakeville North
-A laugher of a state title game does little to diminish an otherwise superb breakout season for the Panthers, who are now on the map and unlikely to be going away anytime soon. They dazzled with their depth and talent, and were one of my biggest misses in six years of rankings. That won’t be the case next year.
3. Eagan
-The gritty Wildcats might have gotten more out of less than any team this season, playing excellent defense and giving Edina its lone close game of the playoffs. On paper this looks to be the end of the line for a bit, but if the coaching staff can get similar defensive performances in the future, they’ll still be a factor.
4. Eden Prairie
-The Eagles went on a strong run through sections, and gave North all they could handle in an instant classic of a semifinal. Their top players gave some heroic performances, and they also found some of the balance that had eluded them at times over the course of the year. Despite the final two losses, it was a memorable year for the Eagles.
5. Roseau
-The Rams were one of the most impressive teams in St. Paul, giving North all they could handle in the semis before picking up a consolation title. Their stars were ready for the biggest stage, and they played strong enough defense to compete with anyone. Success for Roseau at State is always a good sign for Minnesota hockey, proving even the smallest communities are capable of great things.
6. Hill-Murray
-A strong season came crashing down in the section final for the Pioneers, and for the third time in four years, the end result was a bit disappointing. Still, we all know they’ll just be reloading for next year.
7. Wayzata
-The Trojans were looking like a serious title contender down the stretch, but it all came apart against Benilde in the section semis, and 6AA remains a minefield for any defending champion. They should be right back in the mix next year.
8. Duluth East
-The Hounds had a strong run through a difficult section to claim a sixth straight tournament berth, though their thin offense ran out of gas in St. Paul. Even if the front-end talent is down somewhat, this program still has good depth and a lot of momentum, and that won’t be changing any time soon.
9. Burnsville
-It was a year of ‘what could have been’ for the Blaze, as they suffered some of the highest-profile defections in the state, then stumbled in the section semis. The talent was there, and a regular season win over Edina was a nice step, but they still have yet to close the deal.
10. Blaine
-Like Burnsville, the Bengals came up short, and the tough results in sections are becoming a theme here. Still, that doesn’t take away from a regular season in which they competed with many of the best teams in the state. The end result was a tough loss for a very deep senior class.
11. St. Thomas Academy
-Like many of the teams in this part of the rankings, the Cadets fell short in sections despite high expectations. Still, it was a strong AA debut for a young team, and they could easily be a serious title contender next year.
12. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Red Knights turned it on in sections after a somewhat disappointing regular season, knocking off Wayzata and coming ever so close to a Tourney berth. They’ll be back in the mix in the 6AA meat-grinder once again next year.
13. Centennial
-The Cougars went on a great run in sections, taking down Maple Grove and Blaine, and they gave Eden Prairie a good fight in the State quarterfinals as well. They may have gone 2-and-out the past two years, but that’s a bit deceptive, as they’ve been very competitive in the Tourney, and do a great job despite not being among the favorites.
14. Elk River
-The Elks came awfully close to making their way back to St. Paul, but came up empty in the 7AA final. There’s a lot of talent coming up here, and sooner or later they’ll break through.
15. Stillwater
-It was a breakthrough year for the Ponies, as they stunned White Bear and Hill and made their first trip to State. That State experience didn’t go particularly well, but it was an important first step, and judging by their youth program, this program should continue to be on the rise in the coming years.

Honorable Mention (In No Real Order)
Maple Grove
-Was in the top 15 all season long, though they fell to Centennial in the 5AA semis.
Eastview
-Like Maple Grove, spent a lot of time in the top 15, and had the misfortune of drawing STA in the 3AA semis, though they came close to beating them.
Bloomington Jefferson
-Had a decent year and scored a big upset in sections over Burnsville.
Farmington
-Put together a nice record and made their first AA section title game, which is an important step forward for the program.
Holy Family
-The Fire continued their slow but steady improvement by making their way into a 6AA semifinal.
Andover
-Went on a very nice run over the second half of the season, though they couldn’t quite follow it up with any playoff success.

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