One last ceremonial set of rankings, with heavy emphasis on playoff performance:
-The Trojans are a testament to that old maxim: defense wins championships. They locked down over the second half of the season, and while they sometimes teetered on the edge, there was never any doubt that the talent was there. In the end, they all bought in, and their depth wore down the rest of the state as they marched to a first ever title. It’s a well-earned crown for the Trojans.
2. Eden Prairie
-After an up-and-down regular season, the Eagles turned it on in the playoffs, and the Casey Mittelstadt show nearly became the headline of the Tourney. But in the end, they were just a little too vulnerable in back, and they were worn down by a deeper, more defensive squad. It’s a bitter end for a loaded team, but we’ll be seeing a lot more of some of these players long beyond high school.
3. Grand Rapids
-It was a banner year for the Thunderhawks, who finally broke back through in 7AA, and went home with 3rd place honors at State. It was their most talented team in many years, and they now have a chance to continue this quality run. One of the state’s most storied programs renewed its tradition in dramatic fashion.
-The Ponies dominated the east metro and had a breakthrough year by making their way to the state semifinals as a high seed. The weak schedule may have been an issue when they finally collided with other deep, talented teams that could wear them down, but they have plenty of quality in their own right. If everyone comes back, they’ll be among the favorites again next season.
-Lost a heartbreaker to Grand Rapids at State, but followed it up with a solid run through the consolation bracket. This Lumberjack group has had an impressive run, with two straight Tourney berths and a 25-win season this year.
6. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-A dream season went sour in the section semis for the Red Knights, as an undefeated run came to a very unexpected end. Still, they performed far better than most would have guessed, and one bad loss doesn’t invalidate that.
-The Skippers were as good as anyone over the second half of the season, but it all came crumbling down against Prior Lake in the 2AA semifinals. With a fairly young core and a top-flight bantam team coming up, they should be back with a vengeance next season.
-Proved their worth with three wins over Lakeville North and a first AA Tourney berth. They looked respectable at State, too. They’ll be back in the not-so-distant future.
9. Lakeville North
-The Panthers looked like one of the teams to beat in the state, but never could figure out Farmington, and were left watching the Tourney from home for the first time since 2012. Their weakness in back came back to haunt them at the worst possible time.
-An old Tourney standby brought back the glory days as they roughed up St. Thomas Academy to claim a 3AA crown. They went on a very strong run near the end, and while they were two-and-out at State, it was still a memorable run.
-The Tufte and Notermann show put up some big numbers all year, but their lack of depth was a concern all season long, and it came back to bite them against Maple Grove in sections. They were a very senior-heavy team, so it may be another year or two before they’re back in the picture.
12. Prior Lake
-The Lakers took a step forward for their program with a win over Minnetonka, and gave Eden Prairie a decent game in the final as well. While they’ll miss a number of departing seniors, the future does look pretty bright here.
13. Holy Family
-The Fire had some decent moments this season, especially around Christmas, and gave Eden Prairie a very good fight in their semifinal. Still, they have yet to break through into a final, and that Wright County portion of their schedule doesn’t do them any favors.
14. Duluth East
-The Hounds had an up-and-down season, but were playing some of their better hockey at the end when they rolled past Elk River and pushed Grand Rapids to the brink before falling.
-The Hornets had a rebuilding year, missing the Tourney for the first time since 2006. They stayed a step behind the top teams from start to finish, but are primed to return to normal next year.
-The Tornadoes busted through to become this season’s surprise Tourney entrant. They had a streaky season and didn’t do much at State, but did upset Centennial and put away Maple Grove to claim a crown few would have expected.
St. Thomas Academy
-The Cadets had a fairly strong year with a young team, though they ran into a Burnsville buzzsaw in the 3AA final. They should be the clear favorite in the section next year.
-The Pioneers had one of their weaker regular seasons, but still managed to give Stillwater all they could handle in the 4AA final.
-Did somewhat better than expected in the regular season with a young team, but beating Duluth East in sections apparently remains too much to ask.
-Like Elk River, had a pretty strong year, but got upended by Anoka in sections.
As always, I have to offer up a host of thank yous: to Doug at FollowThePuck, to my brothers in arms on the weekly Cold Omaha podcast, to everyone who puts games up online so that we can watch or listen from home (particular thanks to Pete Waggoner, Bart Archer, and Zach Halvorson for the on-air call-outs and guest appearances), my press box friends at the Tourney (Tim, Dave, and Dave…thanks for the candy)…I could go on and on. Basically, thanks to anyone who puts in the effort to promote high school hockey and carry on this tradition. And, of course, thanks to my loyal readers for all their comments and nitpicking over the course of the season…your feedback makes it much more fun than it would be if I just talked at an empty room.
I’ll see you again in earnest in another nine months, though I’ll certainly be around as the summer months go by. The annual reflection essay should be along sometime in the next 48 hours as well.