These rankings place added emphasis on playoff performance. One last time before November:
-Two in a row, three out of five: the Edynasty is here. The Hornets may have an edge in numbers and resources that others can only dream of, but these past two years, this team’s coaching staff has taken them to the next level in the playoffs. They set the bar for the rest of the state, and it’s up to everyone else to respond.
2. Lakeville North
-A laugher of a state title game does little to diminish an otherwise superb breakout season for the Panthers, who are now on the map and unlikely to be going away anytime soon. They dazzled with their depth and talent, and were one of my biggest misses in six years of rankings. That won’t be the case next year.
-The gritty Wildcats might have gotten more out of less than any team this season, playing excellent defense and giving Edina its lone close game of the playoffs. On paper this looks to be the end of the line for a bit, but if the coaching staff can get similar defensive performances in the future, they’ll still be a factor.
4. Eden Prairie
-The Eagles went on a strong run through sections, and gave North all they could handle in an instant classic of a semifinal. Their top players gave some heroic performances, and they also found some of the balance that had eluded them at times over the course of the year. Despite the final two losses, it was a memorable year for the Eagles.
-The Rams were one of the most impressive teams in St. Paul, giving North all they could handle in the semis before picking up a consolation title. Their stars were ready for the biggest stage, and they played strong enough defense to compete with anyone. Success for Roseau at State is always a good sign for Minnesota hockey, proving even the smallest communities are capable of great things.
-A strong season came crashing down in the section final for the Pioneers, and for the third time in four years, the end result was a bit disappointing. Still, we all know they’ll just be reloading for next year.
-The Trojans were looking like a serious title contender down the stretch, but it all came apart against Benilde in the section semis, and 6AA remains a minefield for any defending champion. They should be right back in the mix next year.
8. Duluth East
-The Hounds had a strong run through a difficult section to claim a sixth straight tournament berth, though their thin offense ran out of gas in St. Paul. Even if the front-end talent is down somewhat, this program still has good depth and a lot of momentum, and that won’t be changing any time soon.
-It was a year of ‘what could have been’ for the Blaze, as they suffered some of the highest-profile defections in the state, then stumbled in the section semis. The talent was there, and a regular season win over Edina was a nice step, but they still have yet to close the deal.
-Like Burnsville, the Bengals came up short, and the tough results in sections are becoming a theme here. Still, that doesn’t take away from a regular season in which they competed with many of the best teams in the state. The end result was a tough loss for a very deep senior class.
11. St. Thomas Academy
-Like many of the teams in this part of the rankings, the Cadets fell short in sections despite high expectations. Still, it was a strong AA debut for a young team, and they could easily be a serious title contender next year.
12. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Red Knights turned it on in sections after a somewhat disappointing regular season, knocking off Wayzata and coming ever so close to a Tourney berth. They’ll be back in the mix in the 6AA meat-grinder once again next year.
-The Cougars went on a great run in sections, taking down Maple Grove and Blaine, and they gave Eden Prairie a good fight in the State quarterfinals as well. They may have gone 2-and-out the past two years, but that’s a bit deceptive, as they’ve been very competitive in the Tourney, and do a great job despite not being among the favorites.
14. Elk River
-The Elks came awfully close to making their way back to St. Paul, but came up empty in the 7AA final. There’s a lot of talent coming up here, and sooner or later they’ll break through.
-It was a breakthrough year for the Ponies, as they stunned White Bear and Hill and made their first trip to State. That State experience didn’t go particularly well, but it was an important first step, and judging by their youth program, this program should continue to be on the rise in the coming years.
Honorable Mention (In No Real Order)
-Was in the top 15 all season long, though they fell to Centennial in the 5AA semis.
-Like Maple Grove, spent a lot of time in the top 15, and had the misfortune of drawing STA in the 3AA semis, though they came close to beating them.
-Had a decent year and scored a big upset in sections over Burnsville.
-Put together a nice record and made their first AA section title game, which is an important step forward for the program.
-The Fire continued their slow but steady improvement by making their way into a 6AA semifinal.
-Went on a very nice run over the second half of the season, though they couldn’t quite follow it up with any playoff success.