It’s the first full week in March, which can only mean one thing: the annual party in St. Paul kicks off this Wednesday, and we get four straight days of nonstop hockey fun. As usual, Danny, Tony, and I have a preview podcast up, and I now offer some storylines and capsules on each game.
An Open Class A Field With no Hermantown for the first time in ten years, the Class A field has a decidedly fresh, open look to it. We’ll see if any of the unseeded teams, two of them making their first Tourney trips, can stick with the top three; otherwise, it has the makings of a very entertaining final two rounds. St. Cloud Cathedral and Mahtomedi are the deepest teams of the bunch, but neither has ever made it out of a State semifinal. East Grand Forks is the only one in this group to win it all in Class A, but will need to prove it has the depth to run with the top two. Greenway, fresh off the upset of Hermantown, is the wild card here: can they build on their momentum and go the whole way?
Edina’s Redeem Team Last season’s Edina team often seemed untouchable, but it all came crashing down when they collided with Duluth East on Friday night. This group of Hornets hasn’t been as dominant as the previous season’s, but they do appear to be peaking at the right time, and have the most talent of anyone at State. In some ways, the smaller gap between them and their competition and help: it won’t be unfamiliar territory if they find themselves in a dogfight, as it may have been for last season’s squad. But they will still need to go through three tough games to finish the deal, and withstand a likely barrage of physical play from their opponents.
A Thursday Night Carnival It doesn’t get much better than this: two northern powers come south to face the two teams I’ve jokingly called Minnesota’s Axis of Evil, Edina and St. Thomas Academy, in back-to-back games on Thursday night. On paper, it’s one of the most entertaining quarterfinal sessions in recent memory, and gives us some chance at a fifth Duluth East-Edina semifinal in nine years. From the Edina-Grand Rapids battles of the 70s to East versus Jefferson in the 90s, these night games between North and Metro are among the most iconic the Tourney has to offer, and we’ll see if these two—and potentially more from there—can live up to the hype.
Power Forwards Collide? The upper side of the AA bracket, which features four big suburban schools, may lack the storylines of the lower side, but there will still be plenty of talent on display. White Bear’s student section should liven up the Thursday morning session as the Bears go for the upset of Blaine, and Lakeville South has slain giants in its other two State appearances this decade. But if the top seeds advance, we’ll be treated to rematch of a 6-5 December thriller in which Eden Prairie beat Blaine. The Bengals’ Bryce Brodzinski and the Eagles’ Jack Jensen are among the frontrunners for Mr. Hockey, and combine physical play with scoring finesse.
Senior Nights While the Tourney often showcases some up-and-coming stars, a lot of the AA contenders this season are dominated by their senior classes. That’s certainly true for Edina, Duluth East, and St. Thomas, and Moorhead and Blaine also rely on some senior big men to carry much of the offensive load. The Lakeville South-Eden Prairie game is the one real exception here, where both teams have a lot of quality sophomores, and White Bear is relatively balanced. Does that veteran leadership carry a team to a title, or do any of these vaunted groups start to feel the pressure to claim a title?
Now, capsules for each quarterfinal:
NORTH BRANCH VS. #2 ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL
-The Tourney opens with a season-long frontrunner in Class A welcoming a new entrant. These teams have no recent history against each other.
North Branch (19-7-2, Unranked, 2-seed in 5A)
First State appearance
Key section win: 3-2 over 4-seed Chisago Lakes, 3-1 over 3-seed Princeton
-The Vikings are new to the Tourney and may have arrived ahead of schedule, as they have a strong sophomore core. Cody Croal (14) is the star of that young group, but Joey Kircher (9) and Tucker Sachs (38) are also among their top four scorers. Jacob Richards (15) is their senior leader, and Jake Turek (35) will get the nod in goal. They don’t have a ton of depth, though they do have a goal-scoring defenseman in Justin Sachs (18), plus a freshman, Alex Langevin (16), who produces some. That defense and Turek will face a stiff test against Cathedral, and needs to come up big for the Vikings to stick around.
St. Cloud Cathedral (24-4, #5, 1-seed in 6A)
State appearances: 9 (last in 2017)
Key section win: 4-1 over #4 Alexandria
-With Hermantown out of the way, the Crusaders probably have the most top-end talent of anyone in the field. The top line, which features Blake Perbix (27), Jack Smith (20), and Nate Warner (8), who missed much of the season with an injury but is playing now, is loaded with skill, and they also have strong depth up front. The defense, led by Reid Bogenholm (2), Jon Bell (4), and C.J. Zins (15), can also move the puck well and contribute to the cause. Senior Noah Amundson (30) has the goaltending job. While they lost 6-2 to Mahtomedi without Warner a few weeks ago, they have the skill to pull off their first trip to the Class A title game and finish the deal. They also enter the Tourney on a strong note after taking care of the team that beat them a season ago, Alexandria, in the 6A final.
MINNESOTA RIVER VS. #3 EAST GRAND FORKS
-As in the first game of the day, a Tourney debutant collides with a regular. These two have no history.
Minnesota River (20-4, #17, 2-seed in 1A)
First State appearance
Key section wins: 6-2 over 3-seed Albert Lea, 5-3 over 4-seed Rochester Lourdes
-The Bulldogs, who formerly went by LSHSPTCUC—the acronym for co-op constituents LeSueur, Henderson, St. Peter, Tri-City United, and Cleveland, and now including Belle Plaine—make their debut at the Xcel Center after a strong season. Hunter Wilmes (8) is their clear leading scorer, and Tyson Sowder (9) isn’t far behind him in goals scored, with Charlie Weick (3) rounding out their offensive headlines. They have respectable depth for an unseeded Class A team, as their top eight forwards all registered over 15 points in the regular season. They did lose to the other two unseeded teams in the Tourney this season, and will be facing an entirely new level of competition in this one, but otherwise had a very strong year.
East Grand Forks (20-8, #6, 1-seed in 8A)
State appearances: 12 (3 one-class, 9 in Class A; last in 2017)
State championships: 2 (2014, 2015)
Key section win: 5-1 over 3-seed Warroad
-The Green Wave are back in the Tourney after a one-year absence, and are the only team with a Class A title in this year’s field; coach Tyler Palmscino, who was behind the bench for their two titles, is also back this season. As usual, they have a tough group of players, with Tanner Mack (19) being their leading scorer and Carter Beck (7) and Jake Hjelle (8) next in line. Sophomore forward Landon Parker (10) and freshman defenseman Trey Ausmus (9) give them some serious young talent; their depth is better than most of the teams behind them, but not quite on the level of Cathedral or Mahtomedi. They lost 7-2 to Cathedral early in the season, so barring a surprise upset, we’ll see if they’ve come along enough to give the Crusaders a game on Friday.
NEW ULM VS. #1 MAHTOMEDI
-The top seed takes on a surprise out of the southwest to begin the evening session. Mahtomedi beat New Ulm 6-3 in a 2015 quarterfinal meeting.
New Ulm (17-8-1, Unranked, 3-seed in 3A)
State appearances: 6 (last in 2015)
Key section win: 2-1 over 2-seed Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, 6-4 over 5-seed Hutchinson
-The Eagles are the mild surprise entrant out of 3A after a run through sections that included a win over defending champion Litchfield. Offensively, junior Glavine Schugel (2) is this group’s clear leader, and he has support from Josh Seidl (3), Landon Strong (11), and a productive freshman in Braxten Hoffmann (10). Shane Esser (14) and Ethan O’Connor (12) lead the way defensively, and Jack Raymond (1) has been their man in goal. Withstanding the depth of a Mahtomedi will be a serious test for this team.
Mahtomedi (21-6-1, #2, 2-seed in 4A)
State appearances: 11 (3 in a row)
Key section win: 5-0 over #3 Totino-Grace
-The Zephyrs roll into State after a convincing 5-0 win over Totino-Grace, and took the top seed on the strength of a 6-2 win over Cathedral in January. While no stranger to the Tourney, they are in a new position as the favorite, and have yet to advance past the semifinals. Nikolai Dulak (9) leads the way offensively, with support from Joe Paradise (17), Colin Hagstrom (4), and Kory Pilarski (10). The defense also has a couple of active offensive contributors in Dylan L’Allier (15) and Noah Skillings (8). They have a freshman, Ben Dardis (32), in goal, who has been excellent down the stretch. They don’t quite have Cathedral’s firepower, but they are the deepest team in the field, and will look to ride that edge into uncharted territory.
#5 DELANO VS. #4 GREENWAY/NASHWAUK-KEEWATIN
-The team that beat the defending state champs plays the team that beat this season’s #1 in the Class A nightcap. Delano won a regular season meeting 4-3, and both come into this game with some momentum.
Delano (17-9-2, #15, 2-seed in 2A)
State appearances: 2 (first in 2017)
Key section win: 2-0 over #10 Orono
-The Tigers enter the Tourney on a hot streak, as they are undefeated in their last ten, and pulled a mild upset of defending state champion Orono in the 2A final. Goaltender Aaron Kruse (30) was the star of their run through sections, as he posted three straight shutouts. The offense isn’t as flashy as Greenway’s, but they get steady production out of two lines, with the forward corps led by Hogan Williams (12), Adam Brown (13), Quinn Daly (28), and Joseph Blanchard (21). Jack Keranen (3), a sophomore, leads their charge from the blue line. With continued steady production and great play from Kruse, they have the pieces to be tough out, even if they don’t have the flair of Greenway or Mahtomedi.
Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (15-13, #9, 3-seed in 7A)
State appearances: 10 (7 one-class, 1 Tier II, 1 in AA; last in AA in 2001)
State championships: 3 (one-class Tournament, 1967 and 1968; Tier II, 1992)
-The Raiders are the state’s goliath-slayers after toppling top-ranked Hermantown in the 7A final, and give the Iron Range its first Tourney entrant since 2011. They roll just two lines and four D, but there’s a lot of talent in that group, led by the dynamic offensive duo of St. Cloud State recruit Ben Troumbly (8) and Casadonte Lawson (13). Nikolai Rajala (19) anchors a tough second line, and a solid defensive corps includes a second future Husky in Christian Miller (12) and Cameron Lantz (10). Logan Wright (24) was a hero in goal in sections. If their depth can hold up over the course of the Tourney, this team has enough quality parts to make a run.
WHITE BEAR LAKE VS. #2 BLAINE
-The long-suffering Bears meet a Blaine team looking to make its stamp on the Tourney. Their regular season date was lost to weather. Blaine leads the series 2-1 in the past five years, with the Bears winning the 2018 meeting 6-4. The Bears also won their lone State Tournament meeting, a 2011 consolation semifinal.
White Bear Lake (21-4-1, #7, 1-seed in 4AA)
State appearances: 19 (last in 2011)
Key section win: 3-2 over #15 Hill-Murray
-A year after a star-studded Bears team fell short, a more balanced, steady version broke through for the program’s first Tourney berth in eight years. Senior veteran Blake Meister (29) is their leading scorer, while up-and-coming sophomore Lleyton Roed (9) led the team in goals. Chase Bill (26), Billy Rose (10), Grant Hofeld (5), and Sam Newpower (8) round out their strong top two lines. Goalie Evan Foss (33) has been solid, and while the defense produces very few points, it takes care of business in its own end. To break the program’s 0-18 first round curse, they’ll need to rely on their edge in scoring depth and keep that defense at home to try to contain Bryce Brodzinski and company.
Blaine (22-2-2, #2, 1-seed in 5AA)
State appearances: 12 (last in 2015)
Championships: 1 (2000)
Key section win: 2-1 over #6 Maple Grove
-When the Bengals go to State, if often seems to involve a dynamic forward duo, and this group is no different. Senior Bryce Brodzinski (22) may be the favorite to win Mr. Hockey, and his junior sidekick Carson Richels (17) scored the game-winner over Maple Grove and has piled up a heap of points as well. Nick Hauck (21) is an assist machine for a defense that performed well this season, and Joe Daninger (1) may be the best goaltender left in the AA field. They don’t have the scoring depth of some of the other top teams, though Will Hillman (9) adds some goal-scoring punch, and their lower lines do a good job of logging quality ice time. They haven’t lost in 18 games, though that last defeat came to potential semifinal opponent Eden Prairie.
LAKEVILLE SOUTH VS. #3 EDEN PRAIRIE
-The surprise 3-seed meets the lowest-ranked team in the field in the day’s second game. Eden Prairie won a regular season meeting 7-4, and also won the 2017 3rd place game in overtime over the Cougars. Those are their only two recent meetings.
Lakeville South (14-12-1, Unranked, 4-seed in 1AA)
State appearances: 4 (last in 2017)
Key section wins: 8-1 over #23 Hastings, 4-0 over 2-seed Lakeville North
-The Cougars make the Tourney as a 4-seed, but were probably the most complete team in the section over the course of the regular season. Adam Harvey (9) and Nico Aguilera (10) are the senior leaders at forward and defense, respectively. Beyond that this is a fairly young group, as sophomores Cade Arenholz (19) and Jack Novak (14) contribute to a fairly spread-out offense, while Jacob Malinski (21) and D-I recruit Griffin Ludtke (3) round out a productive defense. Henry Welsch (1) has been strong in net. They have pulled significant quarterfinal upsets in their last two Tourney appearances.
Eden Prairie (17-9-2, #11, 3-seed in 2AA)
State appearances: 11 (last in 2017)
Championships: 2 (2009, 2011)
Key section wins: 7-3 over #10 Chaska, 3-1 over #24 Holy Family
-The Eagles were the beneficiaries of Holy Family’s upset of defending champion Minnetonka and a generous seed, but have been a dangerous team in their own right this season, with excellent depth at forward and no shortage of stars. Jack Jensen (18) is one of the state’s top senior talents, and he’s supported by an excellent cast of up-and-coming sophomores, including Drew Holt (8), Carter Batchelder (22), and defenseman Luke Mittelstadt (27). Brother John Mittelstadt (9) adds some punch up front, while Spencer Rudrud (7) is an unsung hero whose physical line will likely play a key role, especially if they advance to face the Brodzinski-Richels combo from Blaine. If they can hold up in back, they have a solid shot at the state final.
MOORHEAD VS. #1 EDINA
-An evening of North vs. Metro begins with two storied programs. Edina won a regular season meeting 6-5, which is their only recent game. Their only State Tournament meeting came in 2009, when the Spuds upset top-seeded Edina 5-2 in the quarterfinals.
Moorhead (21-6-1, #9, 1-seed in 8AA)
State appearances: 16 (last in 2017)
Key section wins: 3-0 over #17 Buffalo, 3-2 over #18 Brainerd
-The Spuds marched through 8AA, and as a team that has given some top teams (including Edina) tight games this season, they are no easy draw. While not the deepest team in the field, the top line of Kyler Kleven (10), Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe (4), and Nolan Westra (7) can be overpowering, and junior defenseman Luke Gramer (3) is an elite talent, and their only real offensive threat from the blue line. Thomas Horan (2) and Carter Johnson (18) head up their second unit, and Hudson Hodges (31) has performed well since winning the goalie job. Knocking off Edina is a tall order, but it the Spuds’ big guns produce and the lower lines can hold serve, they have a shot.
Edina (24-2-1, #1, 1-seed in 6AA)
State appearances: 39 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s; 2 in a row)
Championships: 12 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, 2013, and 2014 as Edina; 1974, 1978, and 1979 as Edina East)
Key section wins: 4-2 over #20 Blake, 5-1 over #13 Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Hornets enter this year’s Tourney as prohibitive favorites. As usual, they have some front-line talent at forward, this year in the form of Mr. Hockey finalists Jett Jungels (22) and Mason Nevers (18), plus second line anchor Liam Malmquist (7). Their real strength, however, is a rock-solid defense led by star Mike Vorlicky (17), defensive rock Mason Reiners (21), Jake Boltmann (2), and up-and-coming Nick Williams (4). They aren’t as deep as in some past seasons, though Kevin Delaney (23) had as strong senior year, and Brett Chorske (17) adds a large physical presence. If they can protect sophomore goalie Louden Hogg (1) adequately, they can atone for last season’s miss. The road will not be easy, but the talent is there.
#5 DULUTH EAST VS. #4 ST. THOMAS ACADEMY
-Two Tourney regulars collide in another excellent North vs. Metro battle. East leads the all-time series 3-1, including a 6-5, 2OT win in the 2015 quarterfinals.
Duluth East (18-6-2, #12, 2-seed in 7AA)
State appearances: 24 (2 in a row)
Championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)
Key section wins: 4-1 over #21 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 4-3 (OT) over #4 Andover
-The Greyhounds return to State after yet another stunner in the 7AA final. While this team is not as deep with star power as last season’s runners-up, they do have a few big guns, including slick-skating Mr. Hockey finalist Ryder Donovan (22), gritty defenseman F.H. Paine (20), and Ricky Lyle (15), who went on a tear through sections. Beyond that, they’re deep with respectable players at every position, and are probably the most physical team in the field. Logan Anderson (28) and Brendan Baker (37) play productive supporting roles, and Jacob Jeannette (19) is next in the line of East stars. With good play in back and continued steadiness out of Brody Rabold (39), they have a chance to go on a run.
St. Thomas Academy (24-3-1, #5, 1-seed in 3AA)
State appearances: 4 in AA (3 in a row); 8 in Class A
Championships: 5, all in Class A (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013)
Key section win: 4-1 over #19 Eagan
-The Cadets enter the Tourney on an 18-game win streak and have allowed just 14 goals over that stretch, though the competition wasn’t always front-line. Offensively, Ryan O’Neill (12) had a breakout season, while Rob Christy (11) is the established star, and Brendan McFadden (21) is a wrecking ball. They have strong depth up front, with Luke Herzog (22) also in a tight group among their top point-getters, and Nico Vega (9), who led the way in the section final. The defense, led by Carter Henry (3), has held its own this season after being an issue in past Tourneys, and will be the most important piece of a potential run. There has been some uncertainly in goal, where Muzzy Donohue (1) replaced Wes Gervais (30) after one period on the section final.
That’s enough of my longform written blather until it’s all over. For those of you who will be in attendance, don’t be strangers: come visit in section 107, or we might run into each other somewhere along 7th Street sometime over the course of the week. See you in St. Paul.