MINNESOTA HIGH SCHOOL SECTION AA PLAYOFF PREVIEW
In Minnesota March Madness ironically always starts in late February as High School Hockey begins their Section Playoffs in order to decide who makes the State Tournament. It is a crazy time of year with young players reaching towards a dream that may become reality. Making the State Tournament in Minnesota means that you will be on state wide television and will be watched by the entire state. Similar to when you viewed or attended it as a child and routed for your home town.
Playoffs in the State of Hockey consist of Sections and then the State Tournament. The state is broken up into 2 divisions in ‘A’ and ‘AA’. The divisions are determined by the enrolment size of the school with ‘AA’ being the largest populated schools. Each ‘A’ and ‘AA’ then divide up into 8 Sections to determine who makes the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. Only 8 teams move on in each class and have a chance to win 3 more games to win the entire state.
With the Section Playoffs being comprised of young players who are excited as well as nervous it makes for the dramatic. Outcomes that you would think were highly doubtful become reality. Each team needs to rattle off 3 consecutive single elimination wins in order to make it to the big dance. When the pressure is on you don’t know what can happen next. One bad bounce or penalty can shatter your dreams of taking the big stage with a chance to win the ultimate prize. THE STATE TITLE!
Take a look at the Neutral Zone’s AA Section preview and predictions:
SECTION 1 AA
- Hastings (19-4-1)
- Lakeville North (13-12)
- Rochester Century (20-3-0)
- Lakeville South (11-12-1)
- Rochester Mayo (17-6-2)
- Owatonna (15-9-1)
- Farmington (5-17-3)
- Rochester John Marshall (4-18-2) / Dodge County (8-16-1)
Hastings: The Raiders are coming off of one of their best seasons in recent history. They are led by sophomore (F) Jonathan Peine (36pts) and may return their best player (F) Leo Otto (6gp/12pts) to the lineup for their Section 1AA run. They have played a relatively light schedule and haven’t been tested the way they will in Section play
Lakeville North: Bowling Green Commit (F) Spencer Schneider (31pts) leads the way for his squad having them look for another State Tournament berth. Many players on their team have been through the pressure cooker before and are playoff hockey tested.
Rochester Century: (F) Gavin Gunderson has had a huge year racking up 52 points. They are led on the blue line by Minnesota State-Mankato commit (D) Bennet Zmolek. They haven’t played the schedule that the Lakeville teams have played but have won a lot of games this year. The Section 1AA semis and finals are played in Rochester which will give them an advantage.
Lakeville South: With a younger D core they stumbled down the stretch and paid for it with a 4 seed. They were led up front by (F) Adam Harvey (11goals) and have gotten consistent goaltending from their Captain (G) Henry Welsch (.925%). This is a team that is well coached and works very hard which makes them a tough out.
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (LAKEVILLE SOUTH)
This section is up for complete grabs! Great parody and a mix of different styles of play make it one to keep an eye on. Lakeville South and Lakeville North have played much tougher schedules and faced more adversity. Hastings and Rochester Century have had more success and will likely come in with more confidence. We will go with the upset here and take #4 seed Lakeville South to be the last team standing.
- Minnetonka (20-2-3)
- Chaska (18-7)
- Eden Prairie (14-9-2)
- Prior Lake (13-10-1)
- Holy Family (14-9-1)
- Chanhassen (8-14-3)
- Shakopee (7-16-2)
- New Prague (10-14-1)
Minnetonka: The defending State Champs reloaded this year and cruised to a #1 seed in Section 2AA. They have only suffered 2 losses this season both on the hands of Edina. They have depth and are stingy defensively. Michigan Tech commit (D) Grant Docter and Denver commit (D) Josh Luedtke make it very hard for opponents to get sustained pressure. Not only do they keep the puck out of the net but they produce offensively both tying for the team lead in points (36pts).
Chaska: Has the game breaking talent to compete with Minnetonka with Minnesota commit (F) Rhett Pitlick (28goals) along with Minnesota commit (D) Mike Koster (59pts). Their top two lines are strong but their depth on the blue line and in goal is not as potent as Minnetonka’s.
Eden Prairie: The Eagles are led by Minnesota commit (F) Jack Jensen (32 goals) who was at times unstoppable at the high school level. He is big and strong making him difficult to defend for opponents. The also bolster two other Minnesota commits in (F) John Mittelstadt and (D) Luke Mittelstadt. The brothers both had over a point a game during the regular season and can make an impa
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (MINNETONKA)
Although Chaska and Eden Prairie have the top end talent to match Minnetonka, they lack the depth and consistency needed. Look for Minnetonka to get through Section 2AA and make a run at becoming back to back State Champions.
- St. Thomas Academy (21-3-1)
- Rosemount (22-3)
- Eagan (18-7)
- Burnsville (9-13-3)
- Eastview (13-11-1)
- Bloomington Jefferson (13-10-2)
- Park of Cottage Grove (10-14-1)
- East Ridge (10-14-1) / Apple Valley (2-22-1)
St. Thomas Academy: The Cadets have been very difficult to handle up front as they display four forwards with over 12 goals on the year in Ryan O’Neill, Brendan McFadden, Luke Herzog and Rob Christy. They gained even more punch up front with the return of Ben Stucker (9goals/15gp) to the lineup. They are well coached and are no stranger to coming out of Section 3AA.
Rosemount: The Irish have jumped onto the scene this season leading them to one of their highest seeds in some time. Defense has been a big part of their success as Minnesota commit (D) Jake Ratzlaff and (D) Mason Wheeler log a ton of ice time. William Tollefson has rattled off a .914% giving them consistency in net. Up front they are led by (F) Jackson Sabo (41pts), Connor Kenefick (40pts) and Wisconsin commit (F) Luke Levandowski (21goals).
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (ST. THOMAS ACADEMY)
We see this section as a two-horse race between St. Thomas Academy and Rosemount. Rosemount may have a tough semifinal with Eagan but we like them to come out on top. The experience of St. Thomas gives them an advantage in the finals as they know what to expect. Rosemount is up and coming and should have a shot to get through in the next couple of year, but for now we like St. Thomas Academy.
- White Bear Lake (18-4-1)
- Hill-Murray (14-8-2)
- Stillwater (15-10)
- Woodbury (10-15)
- Irondale (11-13-1)
- Mounds View (9-15-1)
- Tartan (13-11-1)
- Rosevillle (4-20) / North St. Paul (1-23-1)
White Bear Lake: The Bears have had a strong year only losing 4 games and getting a huge win over rival Hill-Murray in the regular season. They are getting it done with their depth by having six players scoring between 32 and 21 points. Defensively they have been tough to score on while allowing only 1.9 goals per game as a team.
Hill-Murray: Charlie Strobel has the led the way for the Pioneers by tallying 20 goals in the regular season. Minnesota-Duluth commit (D) Brett Oberle has averaged a point per game along with big minutes on the blue line. In the pipes (G) Remington Keopple has been a pleasant surprise with a .929% save percentage.
Stillwater: The Ponies have had an up and down year and are not where they expected to be at the beginning of the season. Looking ahead they can take solice in the fact that they had two very close losses to White Bear Lake (1-2) and Hill-Murray (1-2). They are led by Adam Eisele (40pts) and Minnesota commit (F) Noah Tussey (35pts).
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (HILL-MURRAY)
We like to see a finals tilt of the top seeds in White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray. For those who aren’t familiar with Minnesota High School Hockey, this is a huge rivalry going back decades. Many White Bear Lake youth hockey players in the past have transferred to Hill-Murray leaving animosity between the two schools. It is always physical and fast when these two teams get together. We like Hill-Murray in a one goal game that shouldn’t disappoint fans.
- Blaine (19-2-2)
- Maple Grove (19-4-1)
- Champlin Park (19-6)
- Centennial (9-14-1)
- Coon Rapids (9-16)
- Anoka (6-17-2)
- Spring Lake Park (5-18-2)
- Osseo (5-18-2)
Blaine: The Bengals are led by the dangerous duo of Minnesota commit (F) Bryce Brodzinski (76pts) and (F) Carsen Richels (69pts). Both players have size and strength which will be in their favor come playoff hockey time. Making them a team with depth (F) Will Hillman and (F) Cole Hansen. On defense Senior (D) Nick Hauck has had a breakout year (31pts). They are stabilized in the pipes with (G) Joe Daninger with a .928% save percentage.
Maple Grove: The Crimson have shown they can put the puck in the back of the net and are led by Freshman Notre Dame commit (F) Justin Janicke and Sophomore Michigan Tech commit (F) Kyle Kukkonen. The young tandem tore it up in their first year of high school hockey as Janicke (49pts) and Kukkonen (47pts) picked up right where they left off in Bantam AA hockey last season. They are supported by Michigan Tech commit Trevor Kukkonen (43pts) and Arizona State commit (F) Tyler Kostelecky (30pts) who have been to the State Tournament before.
Champlin Park: The Rebels are the one team that could come through with a big upset as they have the proper ingredients to do so. They are led by (F) Derek Roberts (52pts) and star goalie Brennan Boynton who has an amazing .94% save percentage.
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (MAPLE GROVE)
We like this section to come down to a great game between Blaine and Maple Grove which will result in one of them punching their ticket to the big dance. A slight advantage goes to Maple Grove as they played a tougher schedule and have the winning pedigree. They have players that have been to the State Tournament before and several players that won the Bantam AA State Championship last season. If the Maple Grove is able to get through, it won’t be easy as Blaine has been rolling coming into Section play.
- Edina (21-2-1)
- Benilde-St. Margaret’s (18-7)
- Wayzata (12-9-4)
- Blake (16-7-2)
- Cretin-Durham Hall
- Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper (13-12)
- Academy of Holy Angels (19-7)
- Hopkins (7-17-1) / St. Louis Park (9-15-1)
Edina: The Hornets have steam rolled through the regular season by trouncing opponents consistently. They have a potent attack up front with Northern Michigan commit (F) Jett Jungels (54pts), (F) Liam Malmquist (52pts) and Minnesota commit (F) Mason Nevers (49pts). It’s hard enough stopping them let alone having to find a way to score on their D core which has three DI commits in (D) Mike Vorlicky (Wisconsin), (D) Jake Boltmann (Minnesota) and (D) Nick Williams (Minnesota). Mason Reiners is a shutdown defender who rounds out their top 4.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s: The Knights have a younger team this season and have had bumps in the road. They are led by (F) Blake Mesenburg (48pts) and anchored on the back end by Colorado College commit (D) Nate Schweitzer (40pts). Freshman (F) Adam Marshall (27pts) has had an impact on the scoresheet this season in his first year of high school hockey.
Wayzata: To put it simply, this team is always tough to play against. They have had a history of playing a team first game and playing physical. They would need to be great on special teams to have a chance. They stand a chance to produce enough goals with (F) Joel Matthews (52pts) and (D) Tommy Bergsland (43pts).
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (EDINA)
In Minnesota, this season, Edina has proven that they are the team to beat for the State Title. They have two wins over defending champion Minnetonka. It would take the perfect storm for someone in Section 6AA to pick them off. At the end of the day Edina has been so consistent that we like them to cruise through to the Excel Energy Center into the State Tournament.
- Andover (22-2-1)
- Duluth East (15-6-2)
- Cloquet-Esko-Carleton (13-11-1)
- Elk River/Zimmerman (9-15-1)
- Forest Lake (12-12)
- Grand Rapids (9-16)
- Duluth Marshall (6-18-1)
- St. Francis (8-17)
Andover: The Huskies are coming off of their best season in program history and looking to take the next step and get to the State Tournament. They have a key win over Duluth East in OT earlier in the season. They are led up front by Arizona State commit (F) Charlie Schoen (41pts) and (F) Nick Dainty (19goals). On the back end they are bolstered by Minnesota-Duluth commit (D) Wyatt Kaiser (29pts) who is have a breakout year. In the crease they display maybe the best goaltender in all of the state of Minnesota in Senior (G) Ben Fritsinger (.932%).
Duluth East: The Hounds are a constant when it comes to talks about making the State Tournament. They have been the team from up North that just keeps finding a way to get there year after year. With great depth and a horse up front like Wisconsin commit (F) Ryder Donovan (37pts), they are looking to make it back to St. Paul. Among the catalysts up front are (F) Logan Anderson (28pts), (F) Ricky Lyle (25pts) and (F) Brendan Baker (21pts). On the blue line they have a solid top 4 and are led by the physical (D) Hunter Paine (20pts).
Cloquet-Esko-Carleton: The Lumberjacks haven’t had the season they had hoped for but are tough to play against. They are physical and compete hard. Their scoring has come mainly from (F) Landon Langenbrunner (39pts) and (F) Christian Galatz (30pts) during the season.
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (DULUTH EAST)
This could go either way in our minds and seems to be a top heavy Section. Duluth East and Andover have both been unreal defensively and play extremely hard. Each team is tightly knit and plays together as a unit. When we looked at it, we gave Duluth East the edge since the Section Final for 7AA is played in Duluth and gives them a home game essentially. Andover has a 2.5-hour bus trip up to Duluth if the two teams face off. This is a coin toss and should be exciting if the two teams do meet up.
- Moorhead (18-6-1)
- Roseau (18-4-2)
- Brainerd (16-9)
- Buffalo (16-6-3)
- St. Michael-Albertville (13-9-3)
- Bemidji (8-15-1)
- St. Cloud (9-14-2)
- Rogers (9-14-2)
Moorhead: One of the best programs to never win the State Tournament has positioned themselves well to get back to St. Paul, MN. The team has had a consistent year and is hungry to return to the tournament. (F) Klyer Kleven (36pts) has been the constant for the Spuds and well complimented by (F) Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe (33pts). Defensively they are stingy and tough to play against and it starts with (D) Northern Michigan commit Luke Gramer (25pts) who is also a threat offensively on the power play.
Roseau: The Rams are led in scoring by the Huglen brothers. Minnesota (F) commit Aaron Huglen (52pts) and (F) Paul Huglen (34pts). They rely heavily on their top end to produce for them offensively and play a sound game defensively. They will need to get some secondary scoring if they are going to make it out of Section 8AA.
Buffalo: The Bison are a sneaky team and have played well down the stretch. They have a game breaker in Minnesota commit (F) Jake Braccini (61pts/34goals) who can take over a game and create an upset. Their goaltending has been solid as (G) Nathan Mueller boasts a .937% save percentage.
NEUTRAL ZONE PICK (MOORHEAD)
We like Moorhead to come out of Section 8AA due to their depth up front and the ability to be strong defensively. Roseau and Moorhead have split the season series so there is no saying what could happen if the two meet up again in the finals. These two teams don’t care for each other and it could be a very physical and emotional contested tilt.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images