Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The field for one of the most highly anticipated state tournaments will be set before the weekend is over.
The boys State Hockey Tournament is always one of the most-watched and best-attended every year in Minnesota. There’s nothing better than watching the best players in the “State of Hockey” play their best on the state’s biggest stage.
Six teams punched their tickets with wins in the section championship games Wednesday night. In Class AA, defending state champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s was knocked off by Wayzata. Moorhead is back and perennial power Edina beat Burnsville 3-2 at Mariucci Arena to advance to the state tournament. In Class A, Rochester Lourdes, Marshall and Duluth Marshall have all advanced to the state tournament.
The rest of the field will be decided by the end of the week, and there are four fantastic match-ups Friday night to determine state tournament teams. Here are those match-ups.
Section 4AA: Hill-Murray (24-2-1) vs. White Bear Lake (17-9-1)
One of the great hockey rivalries in the metro will be on center stage Friday night as No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray faces White Bear Lake in the Section 4AA title game. The Pioneers beat the Bears 6-1 earlier in the season, but with the season on the line for both teams, expect this game to be much closer. Hill-Murray is led by Zach LaValle and Mitch Slattery, who each have 52 points on the season. LaValle had 22 regular season goals and Slattery had 23. Goalie John Dugas also has a .938 save percentage.
White Bear Lake is led by standout Jake Wahlin, who has 31 goals on the season.
It’s almost always a great game when these two teams meet, and I expect nothing less in this one with a berth to the Xcel Energy Center at stake.
Section 4A: St. Thomas Academy (23-2-2) vs. Totino-Grace (21-6-1)
St. Thomas Academy might be the best team in the state regardless of class, and the Cadets will get quite the test as they face Totino-Grace for the Section 4A title at Aldrich Arena. The Cadets are led by Tom Novak’s 47 points, including 25 goals. St. Thomas Academy is a loaded bunch with five players who have at least 12 goals on the season. Totino-Grace is led by T.J. Roo’s 72 points, including 27 goals. Derek Lodermeier leads the team with 32 goals. If the Cadets advance, they are the favorite to win the Class A State Tournament.
Section 5AA: Champlin Park (10-13-4) vs. Centennial (21-4-2)
Expect this one to be entertaining from beginning to end. Centennial beat Champlin Park 3-2 back in December, but a January meeting between the two that went into OT ended in a 3-3 draw.
Ryner Gorowski leads Centennial with 30 points, and Hans Gorowski leads the Cougars with 20 goals. As for the Rebels, Bryce Plunkett’s 19 assists are a team high, and Luke Dalman’s 18 goals are a squad-best.
Section 5A: Hermantown (22-4-1) vs. St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7)
Two perennial Class A state powers are battling for one spot in the state tournament Friday night as Hermantown will face St. Cloud Cathedral for the Section 5A title. In the lone regular season meeting between the two teams, the Hawks won 5-4 in overtime. It sets up a great match-up for a title game. Chris Benson leads Hermantown with 58 points, including 26 goals. Travis Koepke and Bo Gronseth also each have 23 goals on the season. Austin Pogansky leads St. Cloud Cathedral with 47 points, including 25 regular season goals. He’s also had 10 goals in their first two playoff wins. It’ll be a great battle between two teams that don’t like to lose to each other.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max and John Lauritsen will have all the action covered, including a full day at the State Wrestling Tournament.