Tag Archives: 2018-2019

Puck Drop 2018-2019

18 Nov

The Minnesota high school hockey season is upon us this week, and I took care of my big preseason obligations a few days ago, as preseason AA rankings and a preseason Youth Hockey Hub podcast made their way into the world. But, as always, I like to spill out a few more written thoughts that can’t fit within the confines of a ranking system or that I struggled to slip in edgewise amid Danny and Tony’s prattling. Here are a few storylines that I think are worth watching:

The Big Four…Or Is It? Last season we basically knew who the top four AA teams were from start to finish: Minnetonka, Edina, Duluth East, and St. Thomas Academy. This time around, everyone in the preseason rankings business pretty much agrees on the top four, which takes last year’s list and swaps out St. Thomas for Andover. However, I’m not convinced that top four is as rigid as it was a year ago. Tonka is missing Bobby Brink, Edina doesn’t have the scoring depth it did a year ago, East has a few questions in back, and Andover’s star power isn’t quite on the level of those three and is very new to all of this. All four are in tough sections, and of course East and Andover have to go through each other to get to State. Will any of them crack?

Purple Power? Three teams in purple sweaters, while not their section frontrunners, are set to grab some attention this season. Cretin-Derham Hall was the most successful of this group a season ago, as they flirted with the top five and showed a lot of offensive punch behind Matt Gleason, who is one of the state’s finest talents. On the west side of the metro, Chaska has a deep group of D-I players, and while they’ll need to develop a supporting cast to get on the level of the aforementioned Big Four, it’s not hard to imagine it happening. Cloquet, meanwhile, is one of the bigger wild cards in the state. The Langenbrunner brothers are stars and they have a deep group of forwards, but can first year head coach Shea Walters put it all together?

Blast from the Past? The Class A contender list this season features a bunch of teams whose names evoke past glory days. Greenway will have its best chance to break Hermantown’s monopoly and earn a trip to State. Warroad has one of its best teams in years, and is looking to end an eight-year Tournament drought. And while they’ll face a tall order to get anywhere near Hermantown and Greenway, Virginia and Eveleth both bring back a bunch of players from teams that experienced some youth success. On the whole it looks like a good year for northern and central Minnesota in Class A, and even the champions of 1A and 3A return a lot and could be more competitive than those sections often are. The metro only has one real surefire top ten team (Mahtomedi), plus another on the bubble in defending champion Orono.

An Open Mr. Hockey Race? Ryder Donovan of Duluth East is probably the favorite right now based on his draft status and ability to put up big points. At this time last year, the name thrown around most often was probably Jack Jensen of Eden Prairie, and while injuries and his team’s struggles a season ago may have changed that, he’s still an excellent player capable of putting his team on his back. The last nine winners have been forwards, but two defensemen have a chance to break through this season in Minnetonka’s Josh Luedtke and Chaska’s Mike Koester. (These things seem to ebb and flow: before the streak of forwards started, we had a run of five straight defensemen.) I think it’s Donovan’s to lose, but it could be a good fight throughout.

Early Clues? It seems like there’s an inordinate number of good games early in the season this year. The first couple weeks bring us some heavy hitters in the Youth Hockey Hub Opener and the Wayzata Turkey Trot, plus the Duluth East-Andover marquee matchup on December 8. Teams ranging from St. Thomas Academy to Chaska have frontloaded schedules when it comes to quality opponents, and some realignment in holiday jamborees has given some life to some affairs that had become rather flat and predictable meetings of the same teams over and over again. (None of the big ones are really tournaments anymore, which I think is boring from a fan perspective but understand given the convenience for roster management.) With many teams settling into conference schedules from January on, the big matchups that may define the

As usual, Thanksgiving travel will limit my hockey intake on the opening weekend. I plan to start my season with a trip to the cradle of Minnesota high school hockey with a trip to the Eveleth Hippodrome on November 29 to see the Golden Bears collide with the Chaska Hawks. (Some of the game, anyway; I have a work commitment elsewhere on the Range that evening, too.) Duluth East, which will naturally be the subject of a few posts on this blog over the course of the season, opens the next night at home against White Bear Lake, which has been a pest in the two teams’ most recent meetings. After that, we’re off to the races, with Cloquet the next day and that looming East-Andover dogfight the following weekend. See ya at the rink.

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Summer Hockey Notes 2018

28 Jul

Last weekend’s Summer Hockey Festival at Braemar Arena in Edina offered a brief dose of hockey for those of us in need of some midsummer action. Twenty teams battled it out over the course of three days, giving the world its first real looks at Janne Kivihalme-coached Lakeville South, a somewhat improved-looking Grand Rapids, and a bunch of kids in bantam or other teams’ breezers who have made their way to a new hockey home for 2018-2019. Watching these sorts of tournaments always comes with a grain of salt, as rosters are incomplete and coaches are sorting through what they have, but they’ve also proven to have some decent predictive power in the past.

Duluth East eased any worries of a drop-off following the graduation of the likes of Garrett Worth, Luke LaMaster, and Ian Mageau with a strong second-place showing. Ryder Donovan looked every bit a Mr. Hockey frontrunner, and the top line of Donovan, Ricky Lyle, and Brendan Baker was tenacious and displayed strong chemistry. Upcoming bantams like Jacob Jeanette and Zarley Ziemski were noticeable in their Greyhound debuts, and the bevy of players looking to claim their spots in the pecking order beyond the top pair on defense largely held their own. The 2018-2019 Greyhounds will be big, tough, and in-your-face. While they still have some sorting to do on the back end an in goal, their forward depth and front-line talent will keep them near the top of the heap this coming season.

Still, the Hounds were not even the best team in their own section at Braemar over the course of the weekend. That title belongs to Andover, which rolled through to a championship. Last season, the Huskies’ top line pairing of Charlie Schoen and Nick Dainty grabbed headlines, and will likely lead the way in their senior seasons. But this time around, it was the rising juniors such as defenseman Wyatt Kaiser and the line of Hunter Zinda, Luke Kron, and Harrison VanderMey that turned my head. The Huskies’ depth will have them sitting pretty in preseason rankings, and with an early December meeting between the Huskies and Hounds, the 7AA dogfight will name its frontrunner early on.

The third power in 7AA, Cloquet, also had a solid showing in Edina. The Jacks, in my mind, are a step behind East and Andover in both star power and depth, but not so far in either that they don’t have a fighting chance at winning the section. There is also the small matter of their head coach following Kevin Smalley’s third arrest for driving while intoxicated and subsequent ouster. Just one year after an abrupt end to a long coaching career, Cloquet will endure another change at the top. There is a fair amount of politicking going on behind the scenes in all of this, and the outcome will have a lot to say about the future of Lumberjack hockey.

Elsewhere, there are rumblings of a power shift in the West Metro. Minnetonka, the defending state champs, will begin the season as #1, and have only reloaded. But beyond that, there are questions. Edina, down a couple of players to early defections, will try to put together a redeem team; while there’s still plenty in the tank for 2018-2019, the future beyond this season is as uncertain as it’s been in 15 years for the Hornets. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, after a two-year down cycle, is on the up and up, and Blake is looking to make waves and fill the void left by Breck’s decline in a certain private school niche. Eden Prairie has more Mittelstadts, Wayzata has the predictability of Pat O’Leary hockey, and Holy Family has had another successful offseason shopping spree. Cretin-Derham Hall, which is not in the West Metro but is stuck in a section with teams that are, will have its best team since Ryan McDonagh roamed the Raider blue line over a decade ago. After a period of relative public school power, the pendulum may be swinging back toward some of the privates in the Metro. The mix of rising contenders and the staying power of the old guard could give 2AA and 6AA as many as 10 teams in the top 25.

Usually, early defections to junior hockey to come from schools that don’t have great odds at a Tournament berth, or from teams that are so deep that they can stand to lose a player or two and still be front-line contenders. This season, however, the relatively low number of departures to date are instead sapping some teams that otherwise might have been home runs. Maple Grove, for example, could have been the next super team if not for three defections this offseason. While the Crimson may still be the frontrunner in 5AA, that squad is not what it could have been. Moorhead could have been a shoo-in in 8AA with Ethan Frisch; without him, 8AA starts to get murky. If Ben Helgeson bolts from Hill-Murray, the Pioneers will still be favored in a thin 4AA, but are more likely than not to continue a State Tournament losing streak that now sits at eight straight. The deep AA sections seem to get stronger while the thinner sections grow weaker.

While the wars brew in the West Metro, much of the rest of the Metro is more predictable. Andover has assumed frontrunner status on the north side, the east in need of someone to emerge to challenge Hill’s supremacy, and the Lakevilles are once again the default top two in 1AA. If I had to find a source of unexpected intrigue, I’d point to 3AA, where rising Rosemount may have enough pieces to win the thing, and Eagan should see its stock climb as well. St. Thomas Academy remains the frontrunner there, but is in need of a jolt to break out of its lengthening string of playoff upset losses.

Elite League rosters also came out this past week, and unsurprisingly, Minnetonka and Duluth East dominate the list for most players. The usual debates over the number of younger players taken have ensued, and there was also some justified angst over seeming competitive imbalance when the Team Southwest roster was revealed. What good does it do anyone to load up a Metro Elite League team like that? At any rate, we’re just over a month from the beginning of that action, which provides another teaser of what’s to come. Until then, we have a summer to enjoy.

On a closing note, this Tweet may be the most Northern Minnesota Hockey thing I have ever seen, and it is marvelous.