Class AA State Tournament Preview

-The first AA quarterfinal match has a fun storyline, one of the state’s great traditional powers against a new rising star. This appears to be the first meeting between these two teams.

Roseau (20-7-1, #19, 1-seed in 8AA)
State appearances: 34 (first since 2010)
State championships: 7 (1946, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1990, 1999, 2007)
Key section win: 7-4 over #24 Moorhead
-The Rams had few games against most state powers, leaving them one of the bigger unknowns heading into the Tourney. What isn’t in doubt is the top-end talent on their first unit, which includes Mr. Hockey finalist Zach Yon (18), his partner in crime Alex Strand (9), and high-scoring defenseman Cole Bjugson (21). They have some offense on their second line as well, but any chance at a first-round upset will require tight defense in front of goaltender Ryan Anderson (1). If they can withstand North’s depth, stay out of the box, and spring their top guns, they’ll have a fighting chance.

Lakeville North (23-4-1, #3, 1-seed in 1AA)
State appearances: 5 (2 in a row)
Key section win: 6-0 over 2-seed Farmington
-The Panthers took the state by storm this season, surging into the top 5 with a 19-game unbeaten streak over the second half. They are led by the all-brother, St. Cloud State-bound line of Jack (3), Nick (7), and Ryan (4) Poehling, but have good depth beyond them, with no obvious weaknesses. The second and third lines can match anyone’s; Tristen Hazlett (11) is up amongst the Poehlings in points, and Jack McNeely (20) leads a quality crop of defensemen. The only real question mark here is how a very young team that is used to being the underdog will handle the pressure of being a favorite in the Tourney. They only have 6 seniors and play 3 freshmen regularly, including goaltender Jake Oettinger (29).

-Two large suburban schools meet in the second quarterfinal. Their only recent meeting was in 2012, a 4-3 Eden Prairie win.

Centennial (16-10-2, #23, 3-seed in 5AA)
State appearances: 3 (2 in a row)
State championships: 1 (2004)
Key section wins: 4-0 over #14 Maple Grove, 2-1 over #5 Blaine
-For a second straight year, the Cougars have found their way to St. Paul, and this year’s run was even more impressive, as a team with a mediocre record dispatched of two higher-seeded teams, including vaunted Blaine. Ryner Gorowsky (20) and Connor Lovick (17) lead the attack, and Adam Anderson (27) rounds out the top line. They aren’t going to overwhelm anyone, but they have good depth and balance, and defensively, they’ve bought into coach Ritch Menne’s scheme. Goaltender Blake Miller (1) came up big in the Blaine upset, and will have to do so again to beat Eden Prairie. 5AA is trying to break a four-year winless streak at the Tournament.

Eden Prairie (17-8-3, #10, 2-seed in 6AA)
State appearances: 7 (first since 2011)
State championships: 2 (2009, 2011)
Key section wins: 6-2 over #15 Holy Family, 3-2 (2 OT) over #17 Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Eagles have won the past two Tournaments they appeared in, and bring back plenty of talent this time around, including Mr. Hockey finalists Steven Spinner (25) and Luc Snuggerud (4). Sophomore Michael Graham (16) pairs with Spinner to lead the attack up front, while the versatile Snuggerud often moves up from defense to aid in the rush. The Eagles’ challenge this season has been in playing a complete team game—as they do have reasonably good depth—and not relying just on their stars. Veteran Jake Gerdes (31) gets the nod in goal.

-The primetime battle in Class AA is a good one, as the top-ranked defending champs take on the upstart Ponies. These two have no recent history against one another.

Stillwater (16-10-2, unranked, 3-seed in 4AA)
First State appearance
Key section wins: 2-1 (OT) over #16 White Bear Lake, 2-1 over #2 Hill-Murray
-The Ponies are this season’s AA Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere to take down perennial 4AA favorites White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray. First-year coach Matt Doman has his team playing inspired hockey, taking the game to the opposition and playing tight defense. Forward John Heddle (8) is their only player with over 30 points, but a strong defense led by Mitch Reinke (20) and Zach Eder-Zdechlik (5) form the core of this squad. Goalie Josh Benson (30) will have to be on his game for the Ponies to have any hope of tripping up Edina, but they’ve already shown they can take down elite teams. How far can that momentum carry them?

Edina (23-4-1, #1, 1-seed in 2AA)
State appearances: 36 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s; 8 in a row)
Championships: 11 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, and 2013 as Edina; 1974, 1978, and 1979 as Edina East)
Key section wins: 8-2 over #25 Prior Lake, 5-1 over #21 Bloomington Jefferson
-The Hornets are the clear favorites coming into this tournament, though they bowed out in the quarterfinals the last two times they were the top seed. Miguel Fidler (12) and Cullen Munson (9) anchor one of their two interchangeable top lines, while Dylan Malmquist (20), Garrett Wait (17), and Kieffer Bellows (7) make up the other. Mr. Hockey finalist Tyler Nanne (23) leads the defense. If they have a weakness, it’s probably on their relatively inexperienced defense beyond Nanne; their power play has also been surprisingly poor for a team with their level of talent. Still, the Hornets have the depth and firepower to beat anyone, and when coach Curt Giles’ teams go into lockdown mode late in a game, they rarely lose.

-Two tough teams known for their defense clash in the last AA quarterfinal. These teams have only met once before, a 2012 State consolation final won by the Hounds.

Eagan (18-9-1, #13, 4-seed in 3AA)
State appearances: 4 (first since 2012)
Key section wins: 2-1 (OT) over #18 Cretin-Derham Hall, 4-2 over #7 St. Thomas Academy
-Eagan may have been a 4-seed in its own section with 9 losses, but that’s deceptive, as the Wildcats were among the toughest teams in the State, especially through the second half of the season. The offense isn’t especially deep; Jack Jenson (24) is by far their leading scorer, and Kyle Stebbing (7) is their only other forward over 25 points. Their real strength, however, is in back, where the defensive pair of Nick Wolff (5) and Tommy Muck (2) is as good as any in the state. The Wildcats are a rugged, physical team, and that strength carried them through a difficult section. They also have one of the more touted goaltenders in the Tourney in Andrew Lindgren (35).

Duluth East (21-6-1, #9, 1-seed in 7AA)
State appearances: 21 (6 in a row)
State championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)
Key section wins: 5-2 over #20 Grand Rapids, 3-2 (OT) over #8 Elk River
-As with Eagan, any discussion of the Hounds must begin with their top defensive pair, which is comprised of seniors Phil Beaulieu (25) and Alex Trapp (5). The offense doesn’t put up big numbers, but has come on some as the season has gone along, and is led by Nick Altmann (19) and Jack Kolar (22). These Hounds bear the usual trademarks of a Mike Randolph-coached team with their depth, strong forecheck, and stellar special teams, though they are also on the young side, and do not always dominate play as much as some recent East editions. With strong play out of goalie Gunnar Howg (31), they could be a threat to the top teams in the field.