MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Early March marks one of the best times for high school sports in Minnesota.
It’s poised to be an intense and emotional week in St. Paul and around the Twin Cities as the best boys hockey teams in the state hit Xcel Energy Center for one of the best state tournaments around. That, and state tournament bids get handed out for next week’s boys state basketball tournament at Target Center.
By Saturday, two state champions will be crowned in hockey and the state boys basketball tournament will start to take shape.
Here’s a look at some of the top quarterfinal hockey match-ups and a glance at section finals for basketball.
Class A State Hockey
The Class A boys State Hockey Tournament starts Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center with a field loaded full of talented squads. The eight teams left are New Ulm, Mahtomedi, New Prague, East Grand Forks, Spring Lake Park, Hermantown, St. Cloud Apollo and Breck. Here’s our top quarterfinal match-up.
Breck (21-7) vs. St. Cloud Apollo (22-4-2)
Neither Breck or St. Cloud Apollo was in the state tournament last year, but they are both strong programs and they meet in the final game of Wednesday’s state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. It should be an even match-up as it’s a game between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the tournament. The Mustangs have won 12 of their past 13 games entering the state tournament and knocked off Delano 3-2 in double overtime to get there. They were led in the regular season by Chase Ellingson’s 39 points, which included a team-best 21 goals.
The Eagles have won nine straight games heading into the state tournament and beat perennial power St. Cloud Cathedral 4-2 last week to earn their tip to Xcel Energy Center. They were led in the regular season by Tanner Breidenbach’s 33 points. Gino Lucia and Jason Omann tied for the team lead with 16 goals.
In the other quarterfinals, New Ulm faces Mahtomedi, New Prague meets East Grand Forks and Spring Lake Park squares off against Hermantown. If the seeds hold, Hermantown would face Mahtomedi for a state title Saturday.
Class AA State Hockey
The Class AA boys hockey tournament always has quality teams, but this year might be one of the best fields ever assembled. The eight-team tournament, which starts Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, includes Bemidji, Edina, St. Thomas Academy, Duluth East, Hill-Murray, Lakeville North, Eden Prairie and Blaine. Edina is looking to defend its 2014 state title.
Hill-Murray (21-7) vs. Lakeville North (28-0)
The best game of the quarterfinals for the entire tournament might be Thursday’s evening session between unseeded Hill-Murray and No. 1 Lakeville North. The Panthers need three more wins to complete a perfect season. The two teams met just before Christmas, with the Panthers winning 4-3.
Lakeville North coasted through the section playoffs, beating three teams by a combined 30-1 to earn a trip to the state tournament. The Panthers are led by Jack, Nick and Ryan Poehling. The trio combined for 138 points in the regular season, a mark that includes 65 goals. Nick Poehling led the team with 26 goals.
Hill-Murray also dominated its section bracket, outscoring three opponents by a combined 14-2. The Pioneers got revenge against Stillwater from last year’s section title game with a 4-0 victory to advance to the state tournament. They’re led by Zach Mills’ 40 points in the regular season, which includes a team-best 19 goals.
Thursday’s other quarterfinals include Bemidji against Edina, St. Thomas Academy against Duluth East and Eden Prairie against Blaine. If the seeds hold, Lakeville North will meet Edina on Saturday for the state title.
Thursday Boys Basketball: Apple Valley (26-2) vs. Cretin-Derham Hall (25-3)
(Farmington High School)
Two of the best teams in the state will meet Thursday night in a rematch of last year’s Section 3AAAA title game as Cretin-Derham Hall faces Apple Valley at Farmington High School. The Eagles were a favorite to win a state championship last year before losing in upset fashion to the Raiders in overtime. The two teams have not met this year, but it promises to be a game that’s just as close and exciting. Apple Valley, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A, is led by Gary Trent Jr.’s 21.3 points per game. The Eagles have four players who average scoring in double figures. The Raiders, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, are led by Sam Neumann’s 20 points per game and Joe Rosga’s 19 points.
Thursday Boys Basketball: Orono (23-5) vs. Rocori (24-4)
(St. Cloud State)
It should be a great match-up Thursday night as Orono, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA, faces Rocori at St. Cloud State University in the Section 5AAA title game for a trip to the state tournament. Orono enters the contest having won 12 of its past 13 and is led by Cole Hennings’ 18.7 points per game in the regular season. Rocori hasn’t lost in 2015, mark that’s now at 17 games. The squad is led by Jon Olson’s 16.7 points per game on a team that has four players in double figures regularly. The two teams met early in the season at the Monticello Tournament, with Orono winning 67-55.