MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When the puck drops Wednesday morning at Xcel Energy Center, it’ll mark one of the most exciting and entertaining weeks of state tournament action.
Between two classes, 16 of the top boys high school hockey teams in Minnesota will converge on St. Paul this week. Two of them will be getting gold medals and state championship trophies when it’s all over. In between, there are sure to be plenty of great games, thrilling moments and individual performances.
It simply doesn’t get much better than the State Hockey Tournament. It’s the week that most Minnesota high school sports fans live for, and it’s more the official start of March Madness with state tournament games behind held on live TV.
This year, with a few top teams falling in their sectional tournaments, the field for both classes is wide open. Here’s a look at each tournament team at a glance.
East Grand Forks (25-2-1)
East Grand Forks is one of the best teams in the state this year, and the Green Wave enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed. They’re looking to take home a title after getting to the semifinals and losing to St. Thomas Academy 11-0. East Grand Forks has won 17 straight games and knocked off Warroad in overtime to get to the Class A State Tournament. The Green Wave is led by Reed Corbid’s 32 points in the regular season.
Hermantown is another squad looking to bring home some hardware after getting to the state title game last year and losing to St. Thomas Academy. The Hawks enter the state tournament as the No. 2 seed and have won five of their last seven games. They took care of a talented Duluth Marshall squad to get to state. Hermantown is led by the duo of Ryan Kero and Nate Pionk, who combined for 82 points in the regular season.
New Prague (21-4-3)
New Prague is a relative newcomer to the state tournament, but it’s as capable of making noise at Xcel Energy Center this week as any team there. The Trojans are the No. 3 seed and have won eight straight games heading into the tournament. That includes a 3-2 win over Mankato West in the section title game. New Prague is led by the trio of Augie Isaacson (52 points), Seth Kriha (45 points) and Alex Gregor (40 points).
St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7-1)
St. Cloud Cathedral is no stranger to Xcel Energy Center, but is looking to make a run as the No. 4 seed this year after falling short of the state tournament last year. The Crusaders lost their regular season finale, but won three straight to earn a trip to St. Paul. They’re led by Will Hammer’s 46 points, which included 22 regular season goals.
Totino-Grace has had something of up-and-down season, but the Eagles got hot at the right time to advance to Xcel Energy Center. Totino-Grace came back from a two-goal deficit to force overtime in the section title game against Mahtomedi, then came away with a 5-4 victory. The Eagles, seeded No. 5 in the tournament, have won seven of their past nine. They’re led by Nick Tandeski and Kai Barber, who combined for 55 points in the regular season.
Luverne enters the state tournament this week in pretty unique territory. The Cardinals are unbeaten on the season, but did not get seeded and spent most of the winter out of the top 15 in the state polls. They got by Hutchinson and New Ulm to get to the state tournament, and the reward is a tough match-up with Hermantown. The Cardinals are led by Chaz Smedsrud and Logan Norman, who combined for 145 points in the regular season. That’s a mark that includes 56 goals.
Chisago Lakes (20-8)
Chisago Lakes is another relative newcomer to the state tournament, but the Wildcats are another team that got hot at the right time to earn a trip to St. Paul. Chisago Lakes has won seven of its past eight games and edged Princeton 5-4 to win the Section 5A title. The Wildcats are led by the trio of Brandon Gillespie (43 points), Trevor Luschanko (40 points) and Blake Lizotte (40 points).
Orono is one of the bigger surprises of this year’s state tournament. The Spartans had to knock off perennial state power Breck and pulled off the 2-1 upset to advance. Orono ended a late-season skid just in time and is riding that momentum into the biggest week of the season. The Spartans, who have won four straight games entering the tournament, are led by Joey Luedtke’s 31 regular season points.
If the seeds hold, East Grand Forks and Hermantown would meet Saturday for the Class A state title, which would be one of the best games of the year. Quarterfinals start Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
Edina won the Class AA state title last year and the Hornets, trying to defend it, are one of four teams back at Xcel Energy Center from last year. They are the favorite, but it’s a tournament anyone can win. Edina enters the state tournament as the No. 1 seed and has won 10 straight games. The Hornets, who have been at or near the top of the rankings all season, are led by the trio of Miguel Fidler (41 points), Cullen Munson (34 points) and Dylan Malmquist (32 points).
Lakeville North (23-4-1)
The No. 2-seeded Panthers have had a fantastic season after getting to the state tournament and losing to Edina in the quarterfinals. If the two teams meet this week, it’ll be Saturday night for the Class AA state championship. Lakeville North enters the tournament having won the South Suburban Conference as well as 16 of their last 17 games. The Panthers lost their regular season finale, then breezed through the playoffs to get back to Xcel Energy Center, outscoring opponents by a combined 24-2. Lakeville North is led by the brother combination of Jack and Nick Poehling, who combined for 80 points during the regular season.
Eden Prairie (17-8-3)
Eden Prairie is back at the state tournament after a brief absence, and the No. 3-seeded Eagles have gotten a roll at the right time to solidify their spot. Eden Prairie has won seven of its last nine games and surprised Benilde-St. Margaret’s in overtime of the Section 6AA title game to advance to state. Eden Prairie is led by Steven Spinner and Luc Snuggerud, who combined for 77 points in the regular season.
Duluth East (21-6-1)
Duluth East is back at the state tournament after getting to the semifinals and losing a heartbreaker to Edina. The Greyhounds are something of a household name at Xcel Energy Center, and they enter the week as the No. 4 seed on a seven game win streak. They beat Elk River 3-2 in overtime to punch their ticket to state. Duluth East is led by Philip Beaulieu and Nick Altmann, who each had 38 points during the regular season. The Greyhounds are always a tough out at the state tournament.
Eagan might be the surprise of the AA field this week. The Wildcats are the No. 5 seed for the tournament but were the No. 4 seed in the section playoffs. Their route to Xcel Energy Center included upsets over Cretin-Derham Hall and St. Thomas Academy. Eagan, which has won five of its last six, is led by Jack Jenson’s 48 points during the regular season. The Wildcats are definitely a team to keep an eye on this week.
Even though they’re not seeded this year, Roseau will be as competitive as any team at Xcel Energy Center this week. The Rams knocked of Moorhead to advance to the state tournament and enter the week on a five game win streak. Roseau scored seven goals in its section championship victory. The team is led by Zach Yon and Alex Strand, who combined in the regular season for 137 points. That mark included 58 goals.
Centennial is another team that’s a bit of a surprise to get through the section playoffs and advance to the state tournament. The Cougars beat Maple Grove 4-0 and Blaine 2-1 to punch a ticket to state. They’ve won four in a row. Centennial is led by Ryner Gorowsky’s 35 points in the regular season.
Stillwater is another team looking to turn some heads at Xcel Energy Center this week. The Ponies come in having won six of their past eight games and knocked off Hill-Murray, one of the favorites to win it all, 2-1 in the Section 4AA title game. Stillwater is led by John Heddle’s 29 points in the regular season. The Ponies will need great goaltending if they hope to pull the upset of Edina in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
If the AA seeds hold, Edina and Lakeville North would meet Saturday night for the state championship. Quarterfinals start Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.