Minnesota High School Hockey Class AA Sectional Playoff Preview

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Playoff hockey in Minnesota is finally upon us! With a season full of upsets, big games and huge names, this season is setting up for what is sure to be an excellent state tournament. But before teams can get to Xcel Energy Center, they must battle through their sections the next two weeks.

Minnesota has eight sections in both Class A and AA, although I will only touch on AA, spread out according to geography with some competitive match-ups mostly in the Twin Cities. The sections are typically reconfigured every two years and this year the hype has already begun. May we see any upsets?

Section 1AA

Often considered one of the weakest, if not the weakest, sections in the state, this southern Minnesota grouping does not have the fire power to compete with the top teams from the metro or northern areas of the state. Having produced only a finalist at states twice in the current millennium with Lakeville North being the runner-up in 2014 and champion in 2015, this section probably won’t see another this year.

1st Round Play-In – 2/20 at High Seed
Quarterfinals – 2/22 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/24 at Rochester Rec Center
Finals – 3/1 at Rochester Rec Center

1. Lakeville North (13-10-2, No. 19)

You know this section is bad when your top team is ranked 19th in my Top 25 and has only 13 wins on the year. They won the top spot because of who they played outside of the section. They will win games with their defensive pairings and have shown to be a nuisance to some top teams.

2. Rochester Century (20-4-1)

A 20-win team and they haven’t cracked my Top 25 or any others I have seen floating around. That shows you the lack of depth this section has. They did beat No. 7 White Bear Lake which is a game to note and what gave them the second seed. Now is their chance to prove they deserve respect.

3. Lakeville South (12-11-2, No. 24)

Losing twice to your rival is never fun. Having it be the difference between being the home or away team in the section semifinals is even worse. That is what has happened to South after losing to North this past week. They could sneak into the finals or even state if things fall their way, but I am not putting my eggs in that basket anytime soon.​

4. Owatonna (12-11-2)
5. Farmington (7-18)
6. Rochester Mayo (12-12-1)
7. Rochester John Marshall (6-16-3)
8. Hastings (5-19-1)
9. Dodge County (13-12)

Section 2AA

It has been argued, Section 2AA is among the toughest sections in the state all year alongside 6AA and 7AA. Now are these team’s chances to prove it. Although I doubt that is what any of the players will care about. This section is historically strong with its roots in west metro teams and sees the teams in it bounce between 2AA and 6AA. When Edina played in it, they dominated. Now it has been a more competitive section with the teams below.

Quarterfinals – 2/22 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/24 at Braemar Arena
Finals – 2/28 at Mariucci Arena

1. Minnetonka (21-2-2, No. 1)

Minnetonka celebrates Grant Docter’s power-play goal in the second period against Wayzata. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

They received the top ranking in the entire state with their two wins over Edina this season and everyone is wanting a fourth chapter to that epic rivalry. When healthy, their depth is unmatched outside of Edina and it has shown since junior defender Josh Luedtke has become available. Charlie Glockner, as seen in the last Edina-Tonka match-up, has been an all-star for the Skippers. These kids have experience winning after going back-to-back in Bantams, but this is a whole new level of competition. Let’s see if they can finally get over the hump and win their first ever state title.

2. Holy Family (21-3-1, No. 6)

Holy Family has flown under the radar as of late due to the competition they have played. That does not mean this team has played cupcakes all season. But when they played teams ranked above them, things have not turned out as well. They shouldn’t face any huge hurdles before the finals which would lead to one of the bigger section finals of the year against what everyone assumes will be Minnetonka.

3. Prior Lake (10-15)

All this proves is that section games matter and winning them is even more important.

4. Eden Prairie (10-14-1, No. 22)

Mason Reiners (26) and Tyler Sweeney (21) face-off in a battle between Edina and Eden Prairie at the Community Center in Eden Prairie on Feb. 15, 2018. (Lasalle Boston BostonCreations.net)

Having seen the Eagles many times throughout the season, they have a chance to get back to state if they can play cohesive hockey against better opponents. They proved it by hanging around all their conference opponents even going up 3-1 over Edina this past week. However, drawing a good Chaska team could prove to be devastating to their
chances of getting past the quarterfinals.

5. Chaska (17-8, No. 20)

Chaska can definitely beat Eden Prairie, but their lack of experience in this situation could come to haunt them. If they beat the Eagles, though, I can see them taking out either Holy Family or Chanhassen in the semis before hanging with Minnetonka as they did earlier in the season.

6. New Prague (11-11-3)
7. Chanhassen (9-15-1)
8. Shakopee (6-18-1)

Related: Minnesota Class AA State Rankings for Feb. 18

Section 3AA

Section 3AA could provide some intrigue this season from the top three teams. Outside of them, it would be considered an all-time run to state.

1st Round Play-In – 2/20 at High Seed
Quarterfinals – 2/22 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/24 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Finals – 3/1 at Braemar Arena

1. St. Thomas Academy (22-2-1, No. 3)

The Cadets should have no issue rolling through to St. Paul this year. They dismantled the top team in section 1AA in Lakeville North and have great wins lining their schedule. They’re one of the most explosive teams in the state that can compete with anyone. It is still shocking that neither Payton Matsui or Ray Christy were given a nod for Mr. Hockey after they both finished the regular season with over 50 points. If they can continue their production along with the help they’ve received, they should be back in state and not watching at home as in past season where inconsistent play killed them.

2. Eastview (21-4, No. 12)

Even though the Lightning have been on a hot-streak, I am still unsure if they can get to state let alone the section final. They drew Jefferson, who ended their season a year ago and played them tough in November, in the first round. If they can jump them now and get past a Rosemount team they beat twice, they could get the St. Thomas revenge they are looking for.​

3. Rosemount (20-4-1, No. 16)

A 20-win season is never something to scoff at and push aside. This team just has not been tested enough to but that much faith behind it. If Brimsek finalist Ben Garrity becomes hot this stretch, the Irish could be extremely threatening to Eastview and St. Thomas.

4. Burnsville (10-15)
5. Eagan (14-9-2)
6. Apple Valley (11-14)
7. Bloomington Jefferson (10-14-1)
8. Cottage Grove (9-14-2)
9. East Ridge (13-12)

Related: 2016-17 Minnesota State Finals Recap

Section 4AA

This section is basically White Bear Lake and the field. But with the teams in this section being historically being led by the top three seeds named, anything could happen as they all have decent experience in this situation.

1st Round Play-In – 2/20 at Aldrich Arena
Quarterfinals – 2/24 at Aldrich Arena
Semifinals – 2/27 and 2/28 at Aldrich Arena
Finals – 3/2 at Aldrich Arena

1. White Bear Lake (20-3-2, No. 7)

Edina senior forward Lewis Crosby (11) squares off against Owen Gallatin (3) of White Bear Lake. Crosby scored twice in the game. (Photo courtesy of Bob Peck)

Outside of a scare against Blaine this past week, the Bears have steamrolled everyone else on their schedule since their narrow loss to Cretin in late January. Their defense is going to need to come ready to play in every single match-up from here to section finals and beyond. With the rest of the section having a down year, this is their opportunity to strike and potentially come home with some hardware.

2. Hill-Murray (10-11-4, No. 25)

Don’t look now, but the Pioneers are getting dangerous. A banner program like this rarely has a down year as strange as this, but anything can happen come section time. They beat a top ten team in Moorhead on the road to end the season which shouldve provide them with enough confidence to make it the finals. Add in the fresh face of 8th-grader Nick Pierre who has 11 points since getting called up late in January and this team could make it back to St. Paul. Additionally, Aldrich is their home arena, so they definitely will have a boost over whoever they play thanks to comfort and a home atmosphere.

3. Stillwater (12-12-1)

The Ponies just fell out of my Top 25 this week so they deserved to get a highlight during sections. They have the firepower to beat Hill-Murray and hang, but not beat, with most teams. It’s just not going to be their year…maybe when they become Mustangs or something more formidable they will get back to state.

4. Tartan (17-7-1)
5. Mounds View (7-17-1)
6. North St. Paul (11-11-2)
7. Irondale (11-11-3)
8. Roseville (4-21)
9. Woodbury (5-19-1)

Related: 2017-18 Minnesota State Preview

Section 5AA

If you thought Sections 1AA and 4AA were bad after what I wrote, then Section 5AA is basically buried 50 feet under a pile of hand-me-down skates and broken sticks. These teams all play competitive schedules, but I can’t put up with writing about the teams up top if they can’t produce consistent results.

Quarterfinals – 2/22 at Champlin Ice Forum or Coon Rapids Ice Arena
Semifinals – 2/24 at Champlin Ice Forum
Finals – 3/1 at Aldrich Arena

1. Centennial (16-6-3, No. 14)

With most of their wins coming against lesser opponents, the Cougs should come out of the section unscathed. They played decently against comparable or better teams and even were pesky to Edina twice this year and were up 2-0 over the Hornets before losing 3-2. They also nearly defeated Moorhead in Hockey Day Minnesota but came up short in overtime. Although it should be a cake-walk, they could slip if their guard isn’t up.

2. Maple Grove (10-11-3)
3. Blaine (9-13-3)
4. Champlin Park (13-10-2)
5. Anoka (8-13-4)
6. Spring Lake Park (11-13-1)
7. Osseo (6-19)
8. Coon Rapids (5-20)

Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary (top, second from left) looks to advance to states with his Trojans, but may have to go through rival Edina and coach Curt Giles (bottom, third from left) who is looking to win his fourth title. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

Section 6AA

This is going to get interesting. Probably the most, or second most, competitive section in the state should bring a lot of intrigue and eyeballs on the streams and in the seats. They also have their finals at Mariucci Arena where the Gophers play their home games which shows that this section is the one to envy.

1st Round Play-In – 2/20 at High Seed
Quarterfinals – 2/22 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/24 at Bloomington Ice Garden
Finals – 2/28 at Mariucci Arena

1. Edina (23-2, No. 2)

Having only lost to Minnetonka this season, this team is straight-up scary. They have four players with over 20 goals, three will for sure have 50+ points if they make the section final, and Sammy Walker and Demetrios Komountis are in the running for Mr. Hockey. However, they have been shooting themselves in the foot lately but faced the adversity to come away with big wins. If any year is the year to beat the “Wayzata Curse” of the last two years, this is the one to do it. But Head Coach Curt Giles won’t let that creep into the minds of his players, “We are going to face good teams no matter what…no matter who we see we are going to have to play well.” If there is a weakness, it is going to come from a lapse in focus defensively or in net. Senior goaltender Garrett Mackay had an excellent end to the season in a shutout of conference and section rival Wayzata and his teammates have faith in him as Giles mentioned they have all year.

2. Cretin-Derham Hall (20-3-2, No. 5)

In my opinion, the Raiders are somewhat of a surprise. They played competitively all year and their record shows it. They can beat anyone in the section but will presumably have to get past pesky and hard-hitting Wayzata in the semis before potentially getting a revenge game against the Hornets. If Matt Gleason, who has 50 points as a sophomore, and his supporting cast get comfortable, every team should watch out.

3. Wayzata (14-10-1, No. 13)

They are much improved in regard to record over last year’s team that creeped into state with a 10-17-1 record albeit a better team. That alone should give everyone in the section a second glance at the Trojans. They haven’t been able to hang with Minnetonka or Edina in conference, but as mentioned numerous times in the past, this team has
given Edina fits. When asked about what will be the key to repeating as section champions, head coach Pat O’Leary said it is all about “putting our guys in situations where they can succeed and it’s really all about consistency…” Maybe they will have the juice to get to state and get their second championship after their amazing 2016 run.

4. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (12-11-2)

I nearly put them in the last spot of my Top 25 this week. They played lights out in their conference and it helped them get the opening round home game against St. Louis Park…although they share an arena.

5. St. Louis Park (15-8-2, No. 21)

Even though slowed at the end of the season and took some bad losses to Bloomington Jefferson and Benilde, this team still has shown signs of making a run during sections. If two sport athlete Jonathan Sorenson can keep scoring and carry the load for the Orioles, this team may just have enough juice to be a spoiler.

6. Blake (16-8-1)
7. Academy of Holy Angels (11-12-2)
8. Armstrong/Cooper (10-13-2)
9. Hopkins (6-19)

Section 7AA

Another section that is competitive and highly intriguing this season is 7AA. With five teams in my Top 25, they could all pull it out if things work in their favor. Grand Rapids took this section last season and used that momentum to win their first title since 1980. But with numerous graduating players and a change at head coach has led to a less than stellar season. They won the play-in game convincingly, but that says more about Cambridge than it does Grand Rapids. Section 7AA is also doing something different this year, to much debate. They are using QRF which ranks teams based on common opponents they won or lost to, their strength of schedule, and more. This has led to my own thoughts of some over-seeded and some under-seeded teams.

1 st Round Play-In – Grand Rapids def. Cambridge/Isanti 9-2
Quarterfinals – 2/20 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/24 at Amsoil Arena
Finals – 3/1 at Amsoil Arena

1. Duluth East (20-2-3, No. 4)

Duluth East vs. Elk River. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

Probably the only No. 1 seed I do not envy, Duluth East will more than likely face an opponent that could beat them in every game in sections. This includes Grand Rapids in the quarterfinals. But even with this year’s competition in this deep section, I do not foresee the Greyhounds slipping before heading back to the X. They are too deep, and I
have seen them play both physical, low-scoring bouts to blowing out their opponent. This team can win in any scenario.

2. Andover (20-5, No. 8)​

Definitely one of the surprises this season, Andover is in great shape to get to the section final as all they have to do is take care of St. Francis and the winner of Elk River/Forest Lake. The only downside to their occupancy in this section is that they are located closer to the Twin Cities than Duluth, which is where Amsoil Arena is located.

3. Elk River (18-7, No. 15)

Getting the benefit of the doubt in regard to QRF, the Elks have a decent path to the section final if they take care of Andover in the semis. This would be a much smoother ride than in past years, but they have appeared to be slipping as of late and if they run into Duluth East in the finals they get to dwell on their last meeting, a 7-0 drubbing to
the Hounds.

4. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (17-7-1, No. 11)

The biggest loser in the QRF ordeal are the Lumberjacks. Yes, they lost to Grand Rapids and have been a rollercoaster to pin down, but this team should have still been the three seed in my mind. Damn the QRF! They have beaten Duluth East and Marshall this year, so if anything, there are positives about what this team can accomplish if they take out the five and one seeds.

5. Duluth Marshall (16-7-2, No. 17)

Some think I am criminally underrating this Hilltopper squad. But their seeding has only proved me right. They have nice wins, but what have they done within their section and outside of being unable to string together quality wins. Grannis was named a Mr. Hockey finalist and finished with 52 points, but he will need to step his game up big time to get over the hump of Cloquet and Duluth East in back-to-back games.

6. Forest Lake (14-10-1)
7. St. Francis (14-11)
8. Grand Rapids (6-18-1)
9. Cambridge/Isanti (4-21)

Section 8AA

In what should be a stellar section with blueblood names like Moorhead, Brainerd, and Roseau, Section 8AA has fallen somewhat short of that billing with how things have lined up outside of Moorhead this year.

Quarterfinals – 2/20 at High Seeds
Semifinals – 2/25 at High Seeds
Finals – 2/28 at Thief River Falls/St. Cloud/Bemidji1.

1. Moorhead (18-7, No. 9)

Even being the team to beat with elite talent has not made me a firm believer in the Spuds this season. They have some quality wins but lost to Hill-Murray to close out the season and have gone on long draughts of limited scoring. Now that doesn’t matter if their winning games, but everything is on a game-to-game basis now, so players need to
start showing up every night.

2. St. Michael-Albertville (20-5, No. 18)

Ending the season with a nine-game win streak and beating of Brainerd has them in a position to crash the party in St. Paul. I would give them nearly a coin flip shot at winning the section if it weren’t for losing soundly to the Spuds in the regular season.

3. Brainerd (19-6, No. 10)

Only dropping to the three-seed due to their loss to St. Michael, this Warriors team has all the pieces to compete and win the section if they can get through their clear obstacles.

4. St. Cloud (18-7)
5. Roseau (13-11-1)
6. Bemidji (10-15)
7. Buffalo (13-12)
8. Rogers (8-17)

 

Written by Jack Kewitsch / @JackKewitsch 

Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: Duluth and Elk River both play in 7AA but won’t meet again until the final if they can survive the gauntlet. (Jack Kewitsch HockeyClan)

 

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