Minnesota High School AA Rankings: 2/19/2012

Happy end to the regular season, and welcome to the playoffs. The format this week is different; first, I’ll list the top 25, then cover all of these teams (plus a few more) within their sections. So, the rankings:

1. Duluth East
2. Minnetonka
3. Maple Grove
4. Edina
5. Eagan
6. Eden Prairie
7. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
8. Wayzata
9. Hill-Murray
10. Lakeville South
11. Moorhead
12. Burnsville
13. Elk River
14. Grand Rapids
15. Blaine
16. Andover
17. Centennial
18. Cloquet
19. Prior Lake
20. Apple Valley
21. White Bear Lake
22. Lakeville North
23. Roseville
24. Brainerd
25. Mounds View

Honorable Mention: Stillwater, Bemidji, Roseau, Bloomington Jefferson, Cretin-Derham Hall

And now, sections; teams are listed in the order in which they are seeded.

First Round: 2/21, High Seed Home
Quarterfinals: 2/23, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, Rochester Rec Center
Final: 3/1, Rochester Rec Center

1. Lakeville South (17-8/#10)
-The Cougars wrapped up on a high note, edging past a good Burnsville squad to secure the finest regular season in their brief history. Now, Kloos and company load up for one last try at the 1AA title; the talent is there, and the path to the section final is easy. That game will likely be a grudge match with Lakeville North; they have to build on their late season win against the Panthers and the bad memories of the past few years. If they do make it through, they’ll give 1AA its best shot at success in the Tourney in years.

2. Lakeville North (12-13/#22)
-The record doesn’t look all that great, but all but one of the Panthers’ losses did come against teams ahead of them, plus they have the all-important January win over South, which proves they can win this section if they put it all together. If they were to make it to State, they wouldn’t be any worse than these past two North teams, but it probably wouldn’t be very pretty, either.

3. Rochester Century
4. Rochester Mayo
5. Rochester John Marshall
6. Owatonna
7. Farmington
8. Winona
9. Dodge County

Quarterfinals: 2/23, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, BIG/Braemar Arena
Final: 2/29, Mariucci Arena

1. Edina (20-5/#4)
-The Hornets took a stumble against Wayzata in their last week of the season, but Eagan’s loss to Burnsville allows them to hold onto the 4-spot in the rankings. They responded to the loss with a methodical win over Eden Prairie, which gave them a share of the Lake title. One line may do most of the scoring, but they know how to beat up other teams and wear them down. The youth movement seems to have worked out in the regular season; time to see if they hold up under some playoff pressure.

2. Burnsville (15-9-1/#12)
-The Blaze had a tough final week, and they came out looking pretty good, beating an Eagan team that had roughed them up in January and playing Lakeville South relatively well in a losing effort. It hasn’t been a banner year, but a strong close to the season has them in pretty good shape in a weaker-than-usual section. They match up pretty evenly with Edina, and if they get a goaltending performance like the one they got in the Eagan game, a state tournament booth is in the crosshairs.

3. Prior Lake (15-10/#19)
-Beating Bloomington Jefferson is a good sign heading into sections, though the loss to Eagan did get out of hand. This program took some big strides forward this year with a number of big wins, but for the most part their games against elite teams have not quite worked out. A semifinal berth is likely, but anything beyond that is probably asking too much, at least this year.

4. Bloomington Jefferson (6-16-3)
-Could give Edina a good game if enough goes right.

5. Chanhassen
6. Holy Angels
7. Shakopee
8. Bloomington Kennedy

First Round: 2/21, High Seed Home
Quarterfinals: 2/23, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, State Fairgrounds Coliseum
Final: 3/1, State Fairgrounds Coliseum

1. Eagan (21-3-1/#5)
-The Wildcats stumbled some down the stretch, including a tie against Bloomington Jefferson and a loss to Burnsville. Since a loss to Burnsville (a team Edina beat) is a bit worse than a loss to Wayzata, I don’t see any reason to move them up any further–based on their regular season, this is the rank they’ve earned. But they do have the easiest road to State of any top seed, and it’s hard to argue with the talent they have on hand. They have a very strong defensive corps, two Mr. Hockey finalists at forward, and the deepest senior class in the state. This is their opportunity to put it all together and bring this program to the top.

2. Apple Valley (11-11-3/#20)
-Given what the Eagles lost off of last year’s team, they had a pretty nice season, and usually kept it close against other top teams. The problem: they didn’t keep it close against Eagan in either of their two meetings, and will have to come out flying to change that.

3. Cretin-Derham Hall (11-11-3)
-Not a great year for the Raiders, but they did have a reasonably strong finish to the season, and a tight game with Edina shows they have at least some upset potential. They could upset an unready opponent.

4. Eastview
5. Park (CG)
6. Hastings
7. East Ridge
8. Woodbury
9. Rosemount
-How quickly some things can change: four years ago Woodbury and Rosemount were the top two seeds in this section and played in the final; now, they’re battling just to make a quarterfinal. Woodbury’s close call with Eagan in December does go to show how wide-open this section is beyond the top-ranked Wildcats.

First Round: 2/22, Aldrich Arena
Quarterfinals: 2/25, Aldrich Arena
Semifinals: 2/29, State Fairgrounds Coliseum
Final: 3/2, State Fairgrounds Coliseum

1. Hill-Murray (19-6/#9)
-The Pioneers wrapped up their regular season on a high note with a 6-1 win over Moorhead. They only have two losses since Christmas–both close games against teams ahead of them in the rankings–and that certainly suggests they’ve improved since some early season struggles. They’re not as experienced as a number of the teams above them, but they could make for a nasty first-round match-up at State. On paper they’re comfortably ahead of the rest of the section, though they’ve had some moments of doubt, most notably the close scrape with North St. Paul

2. White Bear Lake (14-10-1/#21)
-The Bears closed out their season with a home loss to Hastings; though there are several such losses on their record, they are still the class of the SEC and have the best shot of knocking off Hill. Given their late-season loss to Roseville, they could definitely have a fight on their hands to make it back to the section final. They’ve had some flashes, such as the narrow loss to Edina, that suggest the upset could happen again; to get it, they’ll need to rely on some memories of last year and get some production beyond their top line.

3. Roseville (15-8-2/#23)
-Put together a decent SEC season, which gives them a high seed and one of their better shots at making the section final in recent years. They can’t take their first round game with North St. Paul for granted, though.

4. Mounds View (14-10-1/#25)
-A strong closing month turned a team that had been a disappointment into one that could cause some problems in 4AA if enough goes right. They’ve already beaten Stillwater twice this year.

5. Stillwater (12-11-2)
-The Ponies had some flashes, but didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, and their seed suffered because of it.

6. North St. Paul
7. St. Paul Johnson
8. Tartan
9. St. Paul Como Park

First Round: 2/21, Champlin Park
Quarterfinals: 2/25, Champlin Park and Coon Rapids
Semifinals: 2/28, State Fairgrounds Coliseum
Final: 3/2, State Fairgrounds Coliseum

1. Maple Grove (21-2-2/#3)
-The Crimson took care of business against two weaker Northwest Suburban teams, and head into 5AA as the prohibitive favorite for a second consecutive year. They’re a very balanced group that plays well as a team, but will playoff failures of years past come back to haunt them yet again? The recent Elk River loss does prompt some worries. Still, this is their year to make it happen, and they need to seize the opportunity.

2. Blaine (16-9/#15)
-A season-ending loss to Centennial really hurts a team that looked like it had been improving; a seventh straight trip to St. Paul now looks like a very tall order. They’re good enough in enough areas of the game that a run isn’t impossible, but the normal Blaine consistency just hasn’t been there this year.

3. Centennial (13-9-3/#17)
-The Cougars had their rough patches this year, but a season-ending win over Blaine is a nice exclamation point that has them in the hunt for a berth in the section final. That win makes it tempting to put them higher, but they had a few too many rough patches and zero wins of stature outside of this muddled group in the middle of the NWSC.

4. Champlin Park
5. Osseo
6. Anoka
7. Coon Rapids
8. North Metro
9. Irondale

First Round: 2/21, High Seed Home
Quarterfinals: 2/23, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, Braemar Arena/BIG
Final: 2/29, Mariucci Arena

1. Minnetonka (22-3/#2)
-A decisive win over a depleted Eden Prairie squad locked up the top spot in the seedings, but needing overtime to get by Buffalo isn‘t the best way to close out the regular season. Like Duluth East they have the occasional costly defensive lapse, but their deep junior and senior classes give them two very strong forward lines and a quality stable of defensemen. The section is theirs to lose, but all three other teams have shown they can compete with them in at least one of the games they’ve played.

2. Eden Prairie (17-7-1/#6)
-An injury-decimated Eagles squad had a tough last week, getting worn down against deeper opponents Minnetonka and Edina. They have enough depth to hang in there against most teams, but in the 6AA meat grinder, they’re going to need to get healthy to have a real shot. I like the way they play when they are at full strength–they forecheck well and can really frustrate the opposition–and if enough things come together, a repeat in the section is certainly not out of the question.

3. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (19-6/#7)
-The past few weeks have been pretty good for the Red Knights; granted, their schedule is much easier than their Lake Conference rivals, but they’ve quietly gone about their business, and there are some hints that their defense is getting a little better–an imperative if they want to win more than one game in sections. Even if Eden Prairie is at full strength, they have the talent to beat them; whether they can put it all together may be a different story.

4. Wayzata (15-9-1/#8)
-A win against Edina coming on the heels of an overtime loss to Minnetonka has to be encouraging for the Trojans, though an equally narrow win over Hopkins will keep me from getting too excited. They don’t quite have the depth or the top-end talent of the three teams ahead of them, but they’re close enough in both categories to give them all a good run. Goaltending and strong defense was the key in taking Tonka to overtime two weeks ago, and they’ll need that again to have a shot in the semifinal.

5. Hopkins
6. Holy Family
7. Robbinsdale Armstrong
8. Minneapolis
9. Robbinsdale Cooper

1st Round: 2/18; St. Francis def. Cambridge-Isanti 12-3
Quarterfinals: 2/21, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, Amsoil Arena
Final: 3/1, Amsoil Arena

1. Duluth East ( 24-1/#1)
-The Hounds rolled to a pair of easy wins this past week, completing one of the finest regular seasons in program history. No one in this section can match their depth or star power, and they will look to match the poise they displayed under pressure last season. They could run into trouble if they lose their discipline, either by taking too many penalties or being too casual in their defensive responsibilities. But if other teams let them impose their style and can’t catch a few breaks, East is in very good shape.

2. Andover (17-6-2/#16)
-The Huskies cruised into the playoffs with two easy wins and now enjoy their highest seed ever. They’re a young team in uncharted territory here, and they don’t have any big wins against anyone other than Elk River. But they’ve shown all year long that they can give anybody a tight game, and with quality goaltending and a few breaks, they might just make a run.

3. Grand Rapids ( 19-6/#14)
-The end of the season had its ups and downs, leading to questions about the Thunderhawks’ consistency. But they still have enough front-line talent to make a run through this section, and they are more experienced than their likely semifinal opponent, too. Beyond that, it’s hard to get a good feel for this team.

4. Elk River (15-8-2/#13)
-Got two easy wins against weaker NWSC teams, keeping up their momentum into the playoffs. We’ll have to see how the ongoing Sarsland saga plays itself out, and how that might impact their playoff run, for good or ill. They will need to rely on their veteran goaltender and hope the offense can carry on with its late-season burst. Getting saddled with the 4-seed leaves them with no easy games on the road to state.

5. Cloquet (17-8/#18)
-The Jacks had a very strong season but went 0-5 against the top three seeds, making for a tough first-round road trip. To get past Elk River, they’ll need a huge performance out of their flashy top line, and their goalie will have to be on his game as well. They certainly don’t have the Elks’ depth; we’ll see if Esse’s crew can pull another upset in sections.

6. Forest Lake
7. St-Michael-Albertville
8. Cambridge-Isanti
9. St. Francis

First Round: 2/18; River Lakes def. Northern Lakes 3-2 (2 OT), Monticello def. Becker-Big Lake 8-2
Quarterfinals: 2/21, High Seed Home
Semifinals: 2/25, High Seed Home
Final: 2/29, Thief River Falls/Fargo/SCSU/Bemidji

1. Moorhead (18-6/#10)
-The Spuds won a fairly comfortable game against Brainerd, but a tough loss to Hill-Murray is their second straight loss against a good non-8AA team, raising some questions about their ability to compete should they make the tournament. They still have the defense and goaltending that earned them some big wins over some of the Metro’s finest teams this year, but narrow margins of victory in recent games against Roseau and Bemidji mean nothing will come easy for them in sections.

2. Bemidji (14-11)
-A loss to Thief River Falls closes out a very inconsistent year. They’ve had some rough losses, but when the defense locks down, they can give anyone in this section a good game. They lost twice to Moorhead in overtime, and have had a lot of narrow losses lately; can they finally break through, or are they stuck in a losing rut against the Spuds?

3. Brainerd (21-4/#24)
-A weak schedule worked wonders for the Warriors’ record, and two wins over Roseau earned them the 3-seed. Based on their results against the other top four, Bemidji is their worst possible quarterfinal draw. However, their 5-2 loss to the Jacks was in December, and there are some signs of improvement since then. They have some nice talent on offense, but until they get a big win it’s hard to say they’re a legitimate threat to make a run.

4. Roseau (15-9-1)
-Got a nice win against East Grand Forks, but took a nasty loss to St. Thomas Academy to round out their year. They’ve have had their share of inconsistency, but the Rams do have some serious firepower, and in a weaker section, that gives them a fighting chance. They gave Moorhead a one-goal in their last game and also beat Bemidji, so if they can keep the puck out of the net, a section title is within reach. But even their first round game may not be easy, as Buffalo has given some of the Lake teams pretty good games in the past few weeks.

5. Buffalo
6. St. Cloud Tech
7. River Lakes
8. Monticello
9. Becker-Big Lake
10. Northern Lakes

Well, there you have it. I’ll have a short update next week and a set of final rankings once it’s all over, but for the next few weeks I’ll just be trying to enjoy it all. Congratulations to all our seniors for their contributions to high school hockey, and let the fun begin.

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