The end of the regular season is in sight now, and teams are running out of time to beef up their resumes for section seeding. Lake Conference play and the Grand Rapids win over Moorhead have further confused the 6-10 section of the rankings, and there’s some room for argument even among the teams above that.
I’ve added the “need” feature once again this week to point out what the teams in the top 15 will have to work on as they head into sections. I’ve seen all of them play except Lakeville South and Andover now, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen some of them. As always, feel free to chime in if you disagree, or think something else is more pressing.
1. Duluth East (20-1)
-The Hounds had an adventurous night in Wisconsin on Thursday, struggling to hold off a good Superior team. But they responded to the loss by thrashing then-ranked Blaine, showing off what they can do now that they are finally healthy. It’s rivalry week for the Hounds: they face Cloquet in what could be an interesting game if the Jacks are on, then crosstown foe Denfeld.
Need: They still have some defensive lapses that need to be straightened out; they’ve shown they can shut down other teams, but every now and then give up breakaways that allow opponent to hang around. Beyond that, they just need to maintain their discipline and play their game.
This week: Mon vs. Cloquet, Thurs vs. Duluth Denfeld
2. Minnetonka (18-3)
-It wasn’t easy, but the Skippers escaped Braemar with a second win against Edina in three tries to maintain their tenuous hold on the #2 spot. It was an impressive win considering they didn’t get any production out of the Lettieri line; Baskin and Rothstein seem to be carrying the load in many of their most important games. Another important test this coming Saturday; a win should probably seal up a top-2 seed, and they didn’t have much trouble with Wayzata the first time around.
Need: Scoring balance; the defense has the occasional lapse that needs to be corrected, too.
This week: Thurs vs. Hopkins, Sat at #10 Wayzata
3. Maple Grove (19-1-2)
-Cruised to victory over Champlin Park, then shut down Centennial to stay undefeated in their last ten games. Only one game this week, though they can’t take the trip up to Elk River for granted. It’s the last real test they’ll face in the regular season.
Need: A little more offensive production; it’s been a bit lacking in some of their recent games against other good teams.
This week: Sat at #15 Elk River
4. Eagan (20-2)
-Became one of two AA teams to reach the 20-win plateau in a week that included wins over a good Hill-Murray team and a decisive victory over section rival Apple Valley. They round out their regular season against some of the better South Suburban teams, though they have already beaten all of them handily.
Need: It’s hard to pick out much; given the strength of this team’s defense, I’ll say they need a little more offensive production across the board.
This week: Thurs at Bloomington Jefferson
5. Edina (17-4)
-The Hornets continue to look very good, taking apart Eden Prairie 4-0 and getting edged out in overtime against Minnetonka. When on, their puck movement is as good as any team’s, and there are no glaring weaknesses, either. All four of their losses are to Tonka and Maple Grove. They shouldn’t have much trouble this week as they rest up for a very tough closing week
Need: Scoring from the lower lines.
This week: Thurs vs. Buffalo, Sat at Hopkins
6. Moorhead (16-4)
-It’s hard to find a good team to slot in at #6; the Spuds actually climbed a spot this week despite losing to a lower-ranked team. But with a 3-1 record against the three 6AA teams immediately below them, it’s hard to justify moving them much further back. The loss to Grand Rapids is a setback, but we knew that the Thunderhawks were probably a better team than the rankings had shown. The Spuds must now focus on closing out on a positive note; Blaine could pose a challenge, and Bemidji gave them a very close game last time around–they would put some worries to rest with a better showing this time.
Need: No great surprise–a little more offensive output.
This week: Tues vs. Blaine, Sat at Bemidji
7. Eden Prairie (14-5-1)
-So, which team is the real Eden Prairie: the one that upsets Minnetonka, or the one that loses 4-0 to Wayzata and Edina? They’ve obviously shown they can beat anyone when they’re on, but with two listless losses after the first round of Lake play, there are some clear doubts about this team. We’ll see if they can do better against Wayzata the second time around. If they can’t steady themselves here, they’ll probably drop a few more spots.
Need: more offensive production, especially with one of their top line forwards going down with an injury this past week.
This week: Thurs vs. #10 Wayzata, Sat at Buffalo
8. Grand Rapids (17-5)
-Probably the hardest team in the state to rank right now. The Thunderhawks’ win over Moorhead shows they can take down top teams, and one could logically argue that this win means they’re good enough to be as high as #6. But one tight home win does not a season make, and the losses to EP, Elk River, and Hermantown loom as reasons for some skepticism. How high is their ceiling? We may not find out until sections, though they do have two tests against 7A teams coming up that could get interesting if they’re not careful.
Need: Players to step up to fill the gap left by Travis Underwood. They’re already playing a defenseman at forward; can they continue to patch the holes?
This week: Mon vs. Hibbing, Fri at International Falls
9. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (15-5)
-Marched through two relatively easy games and now face one of their toughest tests of the season. To avoid the 4-seed in 6AA, a win over Wayzata is a must. After that they give their defense a real challenge as they face Shattuck, and then round out the week against a decent Totino-Grace team.
Need: As has been the case all season, better defensive play.
This week: Mon at #10 Wayzata, Wed at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep, Sat vs. Totino-Grace
10. Wayzata (13-6-1)
-Rolled through the easiest week on their schedule, and now are set to play one of the most difficult weeks any team will have to go through this year. The Trojans play the other three top teams in 6AA in succession, and by the end of the week could be playing for the top seed or relegated to #4, based on how it all turns out.
Need: More production from their lower lines.
This week: Mon vs. #9 Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Thurs at #8 Eden Prairie, Sat vs. #2 Minnetonka
11. Hill-Murray (14-6)
-A close loss to Eagan means the Pioneers won’t have any regular season wins against the state’s top tier of teams this year, but they did hang around long enough to show they can give a top team a tight game. After that it was smooth sailing in conference games; they have two more likely wins coming up this week that should lock up the Classic Suburban title, but first they have to get past Lakeville South in what could prove an interesting battle.
Need: Tighter defense in front of Dugas.
This week: Tues at #11 Lakeville South, Thurs vs. South St. Paul, Sat vs. North St. Paul
12. Lakeville South (13-7)
-The Cougars had some difficulty getting by Bloomington Jefferson, but came back later in the week with a comfortable win over a Prior Lake team that had beaten them in their first meeting. They’ve done a good job of holding steady since those ugly losses at the beginning of January, and now face one of their biggest weeks of the regular season. The game against Hill-Murray will play a big role in where they’re ranked next week, and their re-match with Lakeville North will decide the top seed in 1AA and give them a chance to get a huge monkey off their backs. Potential trap game against Apple Valley on Saturday, too.
Need: Goals from people not named Justin Kloos.
This week: Tues vs. #12 Hill-Murray, Thurs at Lakeville North, Sat vs. Apple Valley
13. Andover (15-5-1)
-Continue to plug along following twin 6-3 victories over Robbinsdale Armstrong and Anoka. The week ahead is a tough one, however: the Huskies face two of the Northwest Suburban Conference’s traditional powers, and will need to do well to prove they still deserve this high ranking. Even though both have dropped out of the top 15 (when was the last time neither of them were up there?), they each beat Andover the first time around.
Need: To cash in on they’re scoring opportunities. In big section games they are going to get out-shot and will need to rely on defense and goaltending to win.
This week: Wed vs. Centennial, Sat at Blaine
14. Burnsville (13-8-1)
-The Blaze had themselves a nice recovery week, climbing back into the rankings by putting up eight goals on decent Prior Lake and Lakeville North teams. The Prior Lake win locks up the 2-seed in 2AA; they have a couple tough games left to help them prepare for sections, including one this week against an Apple Valley team they tied the first time around.
Need: It’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but I’d still say they need to do a better job of controlling play instead of relying on their defense and special teams.
This week: Thurs at Apple Valley
15. Elk River (12-8-2)
-Survived an overtime scare against Champlin Park to go 2-0 in a relatively easy week; now they get to take a second crack at Maple Grove in a chance to beef up their 7AA seeding credentials. They’re not an ideal #15, but with Blaine struggling down the stretch and no convincing reason to slide Centennial forward, the Elks hold on to the spot.
Need: Like conference and section rival Andover, goals have been tough to come by in big games. They must clamp down on defense and finish when they get their chances.
This week: Sat vs. #3 Maple Grove
In the Mix
-The Bengals got pounded by Duluth East and have now lost four of their last five. The downward spiral could continue this week, with two games against teams ranked above them. A game against Anoka is sandwiched between a road game against Moorhead and a home game against Andover.
-The Cougars’ tough schedule may be taking its toll, as they’ve gone goalless in their past two games. Still, they gave Maple Grove a pretty good run, which has to be encouraging. Next up is another tough one in Andover, though they have three winnable games after that before the season finale against Blaine. Their other game this week is against Osseo on Saturday.
-The narrow loss to Hermantown is probably for a good sign for a team trying to show some improvement. We’ll learn if they can be a factor in the 7AA playoffs if they can do a better job of hanging around with East this week. The Jacks round out their regular season a week early with a game in Stillwater on Saturday.
Prior Lake (13-9)
-It was a tough week for the Lakers; while it’s not a surprise they lost to Burnsville and Lakeville South, neither game was very close. Still, they’ve shown they can pull the upset from time to time. It was a rough week for the entire SSC second tier. Only one game this week, against Rosemount.
Apple Valley (10-8-2)
-A second lopsided loss to Eagan is a tough blow for the Eagles to take; they have to make some big changes to have a shot at the Wildcats in sections. Still, they should be able to grab the 2-seed and set themselves up for a decent run through 3AA. Two big tests this week against Burnsville and Lakeville South.
Sorting out anything beyond this is not easy. Some notes:
-Brainerd is sitting pretty at 18-3, but games vs. Roseau on Saturday and Moorhead next Tuesday will show us how real that is. With another win, they’ll crack the top 20.
-Roseau (11-7-1), after a key 3-2 win over Bemidji, is probably next in line. They lost badly to Brainerd last time around but get a second crack at them this week, along with a Thief River Falls team they tied the back in December and an easier game against St. Cloud Tech.
-White Bear Lake’s path to the SEC title (and with it, their position in the rankings) became a bit more complicated with a loss to Roseville. Roseville and Stillwater are next in line in the SEC, though they all have enough conference losses that no one really stands out. Cretin has also been doing reasonably well lately. An important game between Stillwater and WBL looms on Tuesday–Stillwater could make a claim to the 2-seed in 4AA with a win.
-Like Prior Lake and Apple Valley, Lakeville North got pounded by a higher-ranked opponent this past week and now has to deal with Lakeville South.
Only two weeks to go–I’ll have a heavy focus on sections over the next two weeks.