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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
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.
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.
3 St. Thomas Academy 0-0
16 Cretin-Derham Hall 1-0
23 Eastview 0-1
-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.
5 Hill-Murray 0-0
8 White Bear Lake 1-0
-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.
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.
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
-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.
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.
12 Bemidji 3-0
17 Moorhead 3-2
-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.