2018 Minnesota Boys’ Ice Hockey State Tournament Preview

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2018 Minnesota Boys’ State Ice Hockey Tournament Preview

The regular season is finished, sections have wrapped up and we finally know who will be taking the ice for the always anticipated MSHSL Boys’ State Hockey Tournament. After a hectic last week of section finals producing memorable outcomes, including Minnetonka’s double-overtime thriller over Holy Family, the field is set and it’s time to look into how these teams made it to St. Paul and who will be watching beginning Wednesday for Class A and Thursday for Class AA.

This year’s field appears to be one of the better in recent memory with the top four teams — No. 1 Minnetonka, No. 2 Edina, No. 3 Duluth East and No. 4 St. Thomas Academy — all advancing after a regular season where they were all clearly the upper-echelon in the state. After that, you still have teams that can play anyone tough and potentially come away with a victory in St. Michael-Albertville, Centennial, Lakeville North, and Hill-Murray.

It’s a tournament kids dream of playing in before they even learn to skate and it is going to make memories and break hearts across the state. This is the epitome of hockey in this country and nothing compares to it. College and the NHL do not even come close!

Let’s take a closer look at the teams that made it and Thursday’s opening Class AA round. The game previews will go in order of when the game is played. The format is No. 2 vs. Random Draw at 11am, No. 3 vs. Random Draw at 1pm, No. 1 vs. Random Draw at 6pm, and No. 4 vs. No. 5 at 8pm.

11 AM Quarterfinal

No. 2 Edina vs. Lakeville North

These two pseudo-rivals haven’t seen each other since an early 2015 clash that North won. Prior to that, this is a rematch of the 2014 championship game that Edina won 8-2 before the two were the favorites to go at it again in 2015 until Edina lost in the semifinals.

Edina Hornets (26-2, No. 2 in State Rankings)

State Appearances: 38 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s when the schools split)

Last appearance: 2015, Lost in semifinals to Duluth East 3-1

Championships: 12 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, 2013, 2014 as Edina; 1974, 1978, 1979 as Edina East)

How they got to St. Paul: They finally overcame the ‘Wayzata Curse’ of the last two years by beating the No. 13 Trojans in an 8-1 smack down. Having only lost twice this season, both times to No. 1-seed Minnetonka, this team is arguably the best of the field. Led by Mr. Hockey finalist Sammy Walker, this team has lightning speed and an all-around skill that will frustrate even good teams when they’re on. Jett Jungels and Mason Nevers will help feed Walker the puck on the scariest first line in the state. Demetrios Komountzis, the other Edina Mr. Hockey finalist, is also a force to be reckoned with on the second line as he receives the help of captains Lewis Crosby and Ben Brinkman. Add the defensive pairing of Jake Boltmann and Mike Vorlicky and this team can be nearly impossible to score on. Garrett Mackay will be the starter in net, and there have been some concerns about his play, but if he continues to play with the confidence he has built through sections this team is the favorite to win it all.

Edina, seen here after beating White Bear Lake 4-3 in OT at Braemar Arena in Edina, have all the tools to succeed and win the tournament. (Photo courtesy of Bob Peck)

Lakeville North Panthers (16-10-2, No. 19 in State Rankings)

State Appearances: 7

Last Appearance: 2015, beat Duluth East 4-1 in championship

Championships: 1 (2015)

How they got to St. Paul: They barely snuck past their rival No. 24 Lakeville South 4-3 in their Section 1AA final, but the Panthers are back in St. Paul to try and win only their second ever title. They won’t blow you out of the water like Edina will, but they can keep things tight and competitive for all three periods if they want. They proved this by tying Minnetonka and only losing to Duluth East by a single goal early on in the season. If goaltender Will Johnson gets hot, they may have a chance at upsetting the Hornets in the first round, but they will also need help from their offensive pairing of Blake Brandt and Spencer Schneider to carry them there.

1 PM Quarterfinal

No. 3 Duluth East vs. St. Michael-Albertville

Two more teams that have not played since 2015, a game in which STMA won, these two are a pairing of one of the most prolific programs in the state against a newcomer to the party.

Duluth East Greyhounds (23-2-3, No. 4 in State Rankings)

Duluth East, celebrating a goal over Elk River earlier in the season at Duluth Heritage Sports Center, are back in state and looking for their first title since the late 90’s. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

State Appearances: 23

Last Appearance: 2015, Lost to Lakeville North 4-1 in championship

Championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)

How they got to St. Paul: It took them overtime and a miraculously late two goal comeback to beat No. 8 Andover 3-2 in the Section 7AA final, but they won and get to make the trek back to the Twin Cities with their fans who travel extraordinarily well. If Edina’s top line is the best in the state, then the Hound’s is a clearly the second best. Ian Mageau, Ryder Donovan, and goal magnet Garrett Worth will give any defense their best test. However, their defense is always looked at as the backbone of this program. Head Coach Mike Randolph has a knack for getting his kids to play physical and focused. All you have to do is look at the only defenseman Mr. Hockey Finalist in Luke LaMaster to see this is the case. If this team doesn’t lose focus as they somewhat did at times down the stretch this season, we could be in store for an all-time Friday night matchup of Hounds-Hornets.

St. Michael-Albertville Knights (23-5, No. 18 in State Rankings)

State Appearances: None

Last Appearance: None

Championships: None

How they got to St. Paul: The newcomers to the party are the Knights of one of the largest growing schools in the state in St. Michael-Albertville. They proved the Moorhead was somewhat of an overrated team this season by beating them 6-5 in the Section 8AA final. However, they nearly let it slip through their grasp as they let the Spuds have hope after going up 6-3 in the third. They have a relatively young, and definitely inexperienced team, so they are coming in as an unknown entity as to how they will perform. If Justin Damon in net can withstand the onslaught that is Duluth East and receive some support from Luc Laylin and Adam Flammang, they could potentially upset another top team in their first ever state tournament appearance.

Related: “Mr. Hockey” Finalists and Snubs

6 PM Quarterfinal

No. 1 Minnetonka vs. Hill-Murray

Personally, this is the game I am most excited for out of the quarterfinals. These two programs are considered bluebloods and it will be a rematch of the epic four overtime classic in 2010 that was won by the Skippers. I remember falling asleep and then waking up on my couch right before they won. Classic memory from growing up in this state. These two also played to a 4-2 Tonka win in December, but Hill-Murray has the series record at 11-7-1.

Minnetonka Skippers (24-2-2, No. 1 in State Rankings)

Minnetonka, lined up for The National Anthem prior to their loss at Edina on Jan. 25 at Braemar Arena in Edina, are the top seed once again and looking for their first-ever title. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

State Appearances: 6

Last Appearance: 2010, Lost to Edina 4-2 in the championship

Championships: None

How they got toe St. Paul: The Skippers are finally headed back to the holy land of state hockey after beating No. 6 Holy Family in a two-overtime classic 5-4. They claim the top seed after beating Edina twice in three games, and they field a squad that is solid from front to back. Bobby Brink and Jack Bayless will be relied on to get them on the board early and often. Mr. Hockey finalist Luke Loheit will also be relied on to provide the leadership needed to win their first title. If things all fall in place, this team could be hoisting the title on Saturday night with a team that won two straight Bantam AA titles and have a first-year coach in Sean Goldsworthy. However, this also is showing signs of 2010 when they had the top seed…but every year is different and to emulate a whole different group of guys is unfair to the ones this year.

Hill-Murray Pioneers (13-11-4, No. 25 in State Rankings)

State Appearances: 29

Last Appearance: 2017, Lost to Moorhead 4-2 in quarterfinals

Championships: 3 (1983, 1991, 2008)

How they got to St. Paul: They had an abysmal regular season for such a successful program, going 10-11-4 before tearing off three wins in Section 4AA to get back to St. Paul for a second consecutive year by beating an overrated White Bear Lake team in the final. This squad is extremely young, but full of talent. They were led into sections by eighth-grader Nick Pierre who completely revitalized a wallowing offensive attack. However, if you think Tonka will just roll through them due to talent and age, you may want to check yourself. Head Coach Bill Lechner will have the nerves of his young team under control and with the ability to overcome anything Minnetonka throws at them.

8 PM Quarterfinal

No. 4 St. Thomas Academy vs. No. 5 Centennial

Both teams will be searching for some form of signature win in the tournament as both have struggled in the early rounds. It should be St. Thomas Academy’s game to lose, but Centennial can play anyone tough as seen in their game against Edina earlier in the season.

St. Thomas Academy Cadets (25-2-1, No. 3 in State Rankings)

State Appearances: 3 in AA; 8 in Class A

Last Appearance: 2017, Lost to Lakeville South 5-2 in quarterfinals

Championships: 5; all in Class A (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013)

How they got to St. Paul: The Cadets ran into a scare in the Section 3AA final when they went down 1-0 to Eastview in the second, but their elite players overcame that to go on and win 4-1. A prolific offense should be on display with the likes of brothers Ray and Rob Christy being joined by Payton Matsui. Chase Foley on the back line shouldn’t be counted out of the offense either as he has emerged as the most efficient defenseman in the state. If they can’t break through offensively, they will still be able to rely on the best goaltender in the state in Atticus Kelly. The humble Frank Brimsek Award finalist will make sure everything is kept out of net.

Centennial Cougars (19-6-3, No. 14 in State Rankings)

Centennial was up 2-0 over Edina in their January 30th contest at Braemar Arena in Edina. They lost 3-2, but have made it to state once again. (Photo courtesy of Jon Whear)

State Appearances: 4

Last Appearance: 2014, Lost to Eden Prairie 4-3 in quarterfinals

Championships: 1 (2004)

How they got to St. Paul: Clearly the most middle of the road squad of the eight who qualified for state, Centennial has struggled to find a true identity all season. Mr. Hockey finalist Lucas McGregor will carry the offense, but if he is off then this season may have been a lost cause. Their depth is lacking in comparison to the Cadets in the first round, but they can play with the best as they were leading Edina 2-0 in January before losing 3-2.

 

Written by Jack Kewitsch / @JackKewitsch 

Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: Hill-Murray celebrates advancing to state after beating White Bear Lake on March 2, 2018 at Aldrich Arena in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Courtesy of TeMo Photo @T3Morris)

 

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