Tag Archives: rankings

A Midsummer Night’s Hockey Notes

29 Jul

We’re over halfway through the long, dark tunnel of summer without high school hockey, and there have even been some summer tournaments in recent weeks to give a faint glimmer of what’s to come. Still, there’s been no shortage of news of late, so it’s worth rounding some of it up here.

Coaches Come and Go

It hasn’t been a quiet summer on the coaching carousel. Two longtime coaches with 13 State Tournaments between them, Russ Welch at Hastings and Erik Setterholm at New Ulm, made their way to the exits. Welch’s nephew Adam takes over along the Mississippi, while the kings of 3A have gone with Ryan Neuman. Aaron Weber, long a polarizing figure at Lakeville South, gives way to newcomer A.J. Bucchino. Some familiar names came in to help teams return to glory or seek it for the first time: Grant Clafton at Greenway, Billy Hengen at Providence Academy, and Mark Parrish at Orono. (Maybe a big name here will placate the Orono parents in a way their last thirty-seven coaches failed to do.)

Scott Brokaw, an active figure in the offseason training world, moves from Providence Academy to Mounds View. In the theater of the bizarre, Matt Funk takes over at the head of rising St. Paul Academy after Bill Owens got the can in the middle of the playoffs, while Scott Steffen takes the place of Tom Benson, who was rewarded for taking Spring Lake Park to its first Tourney with a pink slip. St. Cloud Cathedral, a regular Class A contender, has a vacancy after Erik Johnson’s retirement. As I covered in an earlier post, John Rothstein left Grand Rapids, and well-regarded bantam coach Trent Klatt has taken the reins.

Exit Tyler Palmiscno

The biggest, and perhaps most unexpected, retirement came from Tyler Palmiscno, the coach of two-time defending Class A champion East Grand Forks. It was a prolific 7-year career for Palmiscno; he came along at the right time, as the Green Wave surged in talent and peaked in his three final years. But his growth over that time was very visible to anyone watching. They went in to the 2013 Tourney raw and survived a Rochester Lourdes comeback in the first round, and after skating fairly evenly with dynastic St. Thomas Academy early in their semifinal, a train wreck ensued. It was 11-0 by the time the carnage was over, and the Green Wave lost the third place game to Breck. Their coach struggled to find words to describe what had happened.

The Green Wave rolled back in with added power in 2014, and this time around, there were no Cadets in the way. A visibly more composed Palmiscno projected a low-key determination as his team marched to a clearly deserved title. And then, in 2015, they came into the Tourney with a team that clearly wasn’t the most talented, but was the most complete team. This is my style of hockey: they weren’t the perfect team, but they knew their strengths and weren’t afraid to flaunt them. Their performance against Mahtomedi was a message to Hermantown, and the rest of the state: the Hawks weren’t in some league of their own. “We wanted to turn it into a man’s game,” Palmiscno told the press after the win. The Green Wave had the swagger of champions, took the game to Hermantown, and had the composure to respond like coolly when things did fall apart in the final minute of the third period.

For now, it sounds like Palmiscno is content with his work and on to other things in life; one hopes there is no more to this story, and that his departure isn’t a rude shock to his program. And if I’m sad to see Palmiscno go, I can’t help but relish the possibility that Scott Oliver will climb back into the saddle. Oliver has a state championship ring from his days at the helm at Roseau, and these Green Wave teams bore his unmistakable mark. The talent pool is thinner than the past few years, but they still have a couple of top-end players, and should be right there with Thief River Falls in the hunt for an 8A title. If they can make it back to St. Paul, they know what to do once they’re there.

Elite League Rosters

The fall Elite League rosters came out last week. As usual, there’s room for some wrangling, especially when it comes to the younger players selected. Unlike some, I’m not one to deny underclassmen roster spots if they’re legitimately good enough to hang with the seniors, but one does hope that no seniors are being left without places to pay because they’ve been cut. Of more concern is the tendency of a handful of teams to dominate the list, and the fact that large portions of the state seem to get shut out; like it or not, this will lead to cries of nepotism.

The biggest surprise is Stillwater’s six players in the league, a figure that ties them for the most in the state. None of these Ponies are can’t-miss studs (pun intended), but it’s worth remembering that their bantam team was one of the two or three best in the state two years ago. There’s no reason that city can’t develop a front-line program, and it may finally be happening.

The others with six are Benilde, always near the top of this list no matter how the team does, and Hermantown, peaking in upper-class talent and a northern team. Team North draws from the smallest pool of players—it’s basically 7A and the four northern 7AA teams, plus the East Grand Forks kids who can’t play for Scott Oliver—so team numbers at the top schools will look inflated. It is here that the choosing of younger players can be most extreme: three of Grand Rapids’ five invitees were bantams last year. (Duluth East is an exception to that trend; all five Hounds are seniors, and I can’t remember a sophomore Hound participant despite some worthy contenders over the years.) When the number of schools is smaller (and alternatives more limited, thanks to geography), there are going to be some more odd figures—even though North has no trouble fielding a competitive team.

The Metro and southern part of the state, meanwhile, has six and a half AA sections and (ostensibly) four Class A sections feeding in to four teams. Given that tight competition, there’s going to be some extra scrutiny on the handful of younger kids who make it, and the lack of variety among the teams represented. I don’t watch the tryouts so I won’t judge if anyone else should be there, but the Elite League could do itself some favors by pulling out some of the people with the most blatant ties to high school programs.

As always, some of the omissions are the most striking, as they clue us into who is playing in the USHL during the fall. Whether they’ll stay there over the course of the season may be another story. No matter what, though, it looks like there will be significantly fewer early departures this season than in recent years. I’ll wait to judge that until we know if it’s a trend or a one-year blip, but it’s worth noting.

Pre-Pre-Preseason Ranking Talk

It’s never too early to get this going, is it?

A vague consensus seems to be forming around Eden Prairie as the top team in AA. Michael Graham (assuming he returns) and Casey Mittelstadt alone are enough to make them a factor, and with the program’s considerable depth, they’ll be well-supported. Add in the past success of Lee Smith’s Eagles when blessed with teams that clearly lead the way in raw talent, they’re the cautious favorites.

Still, this promises to be one of the more open years. Defending state champ Lakeville North returns a fair amount of firepower, but has to replace its heart and soul, that dominant blue line. They’ll be the favorite in 1AA, but it’s hardly the cakewalk it was the past two years. Speaking of cake, Edina is still Edina, but has to replace far more than usual; St. Thomas Academy is also in reload mode. Wayzata or Benilde-St. Margaret’s, if either one can fix long-running and obvious shortcomings at one end of the rink, could dethrone Edina in a retooled 6AA. In 2AA, Minnetonka pushed Eden Prairie to the brink last season, and Prior Lake’s steady rise could continue, too. I have some issues with the new sections, including the indefensible imbalances the MSHSL has left in the number of teams across sections and a couple of weird placements, but I do think the new 2AA and 6AA are more equitable than they were in the past.

Realignment has also given the Cadets the only serious threat to their primacy in a weak 3AA in the form of Bloomington Jefferson; the baby blue, freed of a road to State through Edina, may be relevant again now. Aforementioned Stillwater, and perhaps White Bear Lake, will give Hill-Murray a run in 4AA. 5AA, while lacking an elite team, should be competitive among the familiar faces, and Centennial’s future looks very bright. Up north, Grand Rapids, Duluth East, and Bemidji all return substantial chunks of teams that showed that they—at their best, at least—could hang with the state’s top squads. The well-balanced Hounds need to prove last year’s run wasn’t just a fluke, while the future is now for the Thunderhawks and the Lumberjacks. Both will have their deepest and most experienced teams in quite some time.

In Class A Hermantown remains the perpetual favorite; with a weaker bantam class feeding in they may not be as deep as this past year, but the front-end talent is all right there, and Wyatt Aamodt may be the best player in the class. Hibbing may be good enough to give them a decent run in 7A, but anything less than another title game appearance would be a disappointment in Hermantown. In the Metro, defending section champs Mahtomedi and Breck return good cores, though should have good competition. With their defending champions realigned, 1A and 5A are wide open, while Luverne will try to atone for last year’s slip-up in sections in 3A. The usual suspects will duke it out in 8A.

For my money, though, the best story in Class A this coming year will be St. Cloud Apollo. The Eagles, semifinalists a year ago, return a lot of talent, including three elite-leaguers. They should be the favorites in a competitive 6A. Their program is also fighting for its life. The youth players in St. Cloud aren’t being distributed equally, and Apollo could face a legitimate, unexpected numbers crisis as early as the 2016-2017 season. One hopes they get some exposure and the resources necessary to keep a good thing going on the west side of St. Cloud.

Hockey Day in Duluth

In an announcement sure to delight any Duluthian, Hockey Day in Minnesota will take place in Duluth this year, with a pair of high school games in Bayfront Park on February 6. Denfeld will play Eveleth-Gilbert in the early game before East takes on Lakeville North in a rematch of the AA state championship. The first game, if not as crisp as the one likely to follow, should be a competitive one for a pair of 7A teams with some good history to their names. The East-North game, meanwhile, could well be a top ten clash. No matter what happens, it probably can’t be worse than East’s last Hockey Day appearance, and it will be hard to beat the site. Let’s start the countdown.

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In Defense of Subjectivity

7 Jan

“The idea of rating ballplayers is an arrogant bit of nonsense, incurring inherent intellectual costs which can lead, if unchecked, to intellectual bankruptcy.”

—Bill James, 1984 Baseball Abstract, in an essay prior to his player rankings

If this is true about baseball players, it is no less true about high school hockey teams. As someone who does this on a weekly basis, it’s something I remind myself of, every single week.

High school hockey rankings are a dime a dozen; everyone has their opinions, and it’s not too hard to broadcast them these days. The most notable is the coaches’ poll organized by Let’s Play Hockey, which, at some point in the mists of history remembered only by Lou Nanne and that State Tourney studio guy who looks like a character from Guess Who?, got “official” recognition in the media. To its credit, the LPH poll’s conservatism keeps it from having the wild swings one sees in other places, and I’d say it’s improved drastically even in the past five years.

Even so, LPH’s method is unexplained and seemingly arbitrary at times, leaving readers trying to figure out the logic behind their methods. In response, a whole bunch of people have created math-based computerized rating systems that perform much the same function. I grew up checking those of my fellow forum admins, Lee and Mitch; MyHockeyRankings uses similar principles for hockey nationwide. Some sports use QRF’s system for section seeding (though I find that one flawed beyond use in hockey), and this year, Doug over at FollowThePuck, who had previously done his own subjective rankings, has introduced an algorithm to do his work. I have a lot of respect for these dispassionate rankings, and check my preferred ones regularly. They’re a welcome antidote to the self-proclaimed hockey “experts” who spew out opinions left and right and invent rankings through narrow logic or facile knowledge of the teams.

At the same time, though, I’ve carved out a little niche for myself over on the forum over the past seven years, where I subject myself to weekly flagellation from the masses while trying to carefully explain my subjective rankings. In doing so, I have at times found myself in the unexpected position of being the great defender of subjectivity over the computer rankings. I’m not saying I’m better than the computers, but I do think I can offer things that they cannot.

For starters, let’s stop trying to pretend the computers are “objective.” They’re not. Sure, they don’t play favorites, care nothing for tradition or coaching, or for some of the excuses one often hears out of a losing team. They can see everything, which no human can do. But somewhere behind it all, a human has to decide how much weight to give to each of the results, and at what point we stop caring whether a team wins by 6 or 8 or 10 goals, and how much to value recent games versus old games, and so on. This replaces one form of subjectivity for another, and while people can study and adjust the formulas to give them even more predictive power, it is all backward-looking, and achieves success by narrowing the scope of study, and ignoring large parts of what goes on in a hockey game to fixate on goal difference and strength of schedule.

To illustrate this point, Doug and I had an amiable Twitter tit-for-tat earlier this week on the merits of weighting A vs. AA teams differently in his mathematical rankings. Over the course of the discussion, we found that Hermantown, who most people would consider the top Class A team, was 20 places apart between Mitch’s system and his when ranked against the AA field. Two “objective” systems spat out ridiculously different numbers. I say this not to slight either one, but to point out the poverty of the belief that these methods, which simplify our understanding by reducing everything that goes into a hockey game into a rating, can definitively answer these questions.

James again:

“My work has been described in a lot of ways, and I don’t like most of them, but one that I particularly don’t like is being called a baseball expert. I am not an expert; I am a student…I am not trying to lecture you—I am not trying to lecture anyone—about who is good and who is bad. I have my ideas on the subject, that’s all. I offer those ideas because people expect me to do that, and want me to do it…The ratings provide for an organization and framework for comments, and I do have things I want to say about the players.”

He goes on to explain how good scientific analysis tries to contribute to debates, not settle them (an insight that people would be wise to remember in discussions of topics far more weighty than hockey). This is what I try to do, and why I actually enjoy the give-and-take on the forum. Just this past week, I heard from someone who was upset his team didn’t get a mention—and he had a very good point, at least until his team suffered an unexpected loss on Tuesday night. The rankings are part of an ongoing dialogue as we try to make sense of the statewide hockey scene. The process does need one person to take control and shepherd it along, but because I’m just one person, I can’t possibly see everything. But with some help from a few friends, I can see enough of the complexity that goes into winning hockey games (ignored by the algorithms) to say something valuable that they cannot, even though I’m just some lowly, flawed, biased, Hound-loving human being.

That frees me to say something like this: “Hermantown lost to Hopkins and barely beat Roseville, and plays an offensive style that frees them to run up big scores on middling opponents, so they’re probably not quite a top-5 team. However, they have dominated everyone else in Class A, played powerful Wayzata tight, and the top Class A teams would usually crack a two-class top-ten, so they’re probably noticeably better than #25, too. After their annihilation of Grand Rapids on Tuesday, I’d have them around #7 or so—behind Wayzata, since they lost to them and haven’t beaten anybody better, but they have a few quality wins, and that one mediocre loss isn’t too big of a drag when we have teams like White Bear Lake (who lost to East Ridge) in the top ten.”

That may be right, and it may be wrong; I’d listen to arguments in either direction—preferably on the forum, since it’s hard to make coherent arguments in 140 Twitter characters. I’ve made mistakes, and doubtless I’ll make more, but I find the result far more enlightening than an unexplained list of twenty teams that appears in the paper every week. If you want a ranking to give you a definitive answer, you’ve missed the point.

Early Hockey Thoughts 2014-2015

8 Dec

The Christmas lights are up, Lake of the Isles has iced over, and a new high school hockey season is starting to take shape. In the AA field, eight teams have emerged ahead of the pack, locking down their places at the top of the rankings. The most anticipated regular season game has already come and gone, as Lakeville North took down the team that beat them in last year’s state title game. The Panthers’ top line of Poehling, Poehling, and Poehling gets the headlines with their unmatched chemistry, and goalie Ryan Edquist, a Shattuck import, stood tall against the Edina onslaught. But the real key to victory last week was the defense, whose three veteran seniors let them take control early and did enough to hang on as the game wore on.

Another team making an early move up in the rankings, Hill-Murray, follows a similar script, with four top-flight defensemen. These teams that control the blue line are often the ones left standing in the end, and while the two-time defending champs have no shortage of quality defenders, they don’t have anyone who can control games quite in the way of Jack Sadek and Matt McNeely of North, or Jacob Olson and Davis Zarembinski of Hill. Edina still has the depth to win it all, but Curt Giles must find the right ways to utilize it, or the run will come to an end. North is now the team to beat, and one senses that Hill, after two title game disappointments and a flop in sections last season, may be due to get their swagger back.

The remainder of the top eight includes yet-untested St. Thomas Academy and high-scoring Elk River, plus the usual slate of 6AA talent. Wayzata looks a bit more potent than years past, and if they can couple that added offensive push with their usual lockdown defense, they may be back at State for a second time in three years. Eden Prairie, despite the loss of two Mr. Hockey finalists, has reloaded overnight, with young gun Casey Mittelstadt leading the charge. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, meanwhile, has plenty of depth, but no superstar scorer as in recent years, and the defense once again is a bit too loose, with a host of flashy puck-moving prospects but no one to lock down in front of their own net.

The Duluth East Greyhounds are not among the teams off to a speedy start, and enjoyed the delights of a 6 AM bag skate this morning. The slow start isn’t entirely unpredictable, even on a team that returns four of its top five forwards from last season. They aren’t healthy on defense, and the defense was inexperienced to begin with. It will take time for a few freshmen to adjust to the speed of varsity hockey, though they didn’t look overmatched in the season-opening 3-0 loss to Wayzata, which is cause for encouragement. Similarly, new toy Luke Dow, the Duluth Marshall transfer who was declared eligible just this past week, may take a little while to adjust to a new system and level of competition. And, of course, slow starts tend to be the norm on East teams not blessed with overwhelming top-end talent. This is life under Mike Randolph, as December results are sacrificed for system integrity come February.

Even so, the bag skate suggests Randolph is hardly pleased with the results so far. Most concerning, perhaps, are the blown 2-goal leads in each of the past two games. When the Hounds stick to their formula, they should be wearing teams down late and grinding them into submission, not giving them lifelines. This is still an interesting team, one that should be fairly deep defensively once everyone is back, and has potential for two potent offensive lines. Goaltender Gunnar Howg is an asset no one else in the section has, and can steal a game when at his best. This team has potential for a seventh Tourney berth in a row if they can adapt to the old East formulas and add their own little wrinkles on top.

Section 7AA’s pecking order is slowly coming into shape, with the pressure on the Hounds’ dynasty greater than ever before. Elk River’s offense, as expected, is lighting the lamp at an incredible pace—one that may only be matched by the speed with which the Elks give up goals. They will presumably settle on a goalie in time, but winning 7-5 is not a championship formula, and Elk River will have to tighten up to survive a long playoff run. Grand Rapids was chugging along at a similar offensive pace before a loss to Warroad on Saturday; a battle with Lakeville North this week will give us a better idea if that Swiss cheese defense of a year ago really has improved. Andover, fresh off a tie with Duluth East, isn’t deep but has a few stars, the newest of which is goaltender Maddie Rooney, a UMD women’s recruit who stopped 40 shots against the Hounds. Rising St. Michael-Albertville makes the trek to Duluth this coming weekend, but not before the Hounds face off with archrival Cloquet, ever a threat even with the Jacks limping in on a four-game losing streak.

Things are usually a bit more rigid atop the rankings in Class A, but even the small schools aren’t quite as clear as usual at the start of this season. The usual suspects are all still there, but Hermantown has dropped a couple of games despite its unmatched depth, while Breck isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders yet, either. Defending titlists East Grand Forks are loaded up front but thin on defense, and even Luverne, undefeated in the regular season a year ago, took a tumble against St. Paul Academy. The teams making some noise early include Duluth Marshall, which has been stout in back despite a spate of departures over the summer, and Mahtomedi, whose ceiling may be the highest it’s ever been.

At this point, of course, nothing is set. Some will improve, some will stagnate, and there will be some late-season surprises that throw everything off. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Looking Back on Six Years of Hockey Rankings

13 Nov

The Minnesota high school hockey season is upon us, with tryouts under way in earnest. My AA preseason rankings came out yesterday, and can be found here.

Someone asked if I could post previous preseason rankings for the world to see, so I’ve gone and dug them all up. Here are preseason rankings followed by end of regular season rankings (plus state finish) of teams in my rankings dating back to their inception in 2009. I’ve added some comments after each year as well, and later I look back on some of the biggest upsets over this six-year period.

2014

  1. Wayzata             1. Edina (1st)
  2. Hill-Murray          2. Hill-Murray
  3. Benilde                3. Lakeville N. (2nd)
  4. Edina                  4. Wayzata
  5. Blaine                 5. Blaine
  6. Eden Prairie       6. Burnsville
  7. St. Thomas        7. St. Thomas
  8. Elk River            8. Elk River
  9. Burnsville           9. Duluth East (6th)
  10. White Bear         10. Eden Prairie (4th)
  11. Prior Lake          11. Eastview
  12. Maple Grove      12. Andover
  13. Centennial         13. Eagan (3rd)
  14. Eagan                14. Maple Grove
  15. Minnetonka        15. Holy Family

Unranked State teams: Roseau (just missed; finished 5th), Stillwater (upset special), Centennial (20s; upset MG and Blaine)

-Lakeville North is the obvious miss here. Benilde, White Bear, and Prior Lake were overrated; Duluth East and perhaps Eagan underrated.

2013

  1. Benilde               1. Hill-Murray (2nd)
  2. Edina                  2. Benilde
  3. Eden Prairie        3. Duluth East (3rd)
  4. Minnetonka         4. Eagan
  5. Hill-Murray          5. Minnetonka
  6. Andover              6. Edina (1st)
  7. Duluth East         7. Blaine
  8. Grand Rapids      8. Wayzata (4th)
  9. Burnsville            9. Grand Rapids
  10. Cloquet              10. Eden Prairie
  11. Prior Lake          11. Centennial (State)
  12. Elk River            12. Burnsville
  13. Blaine                13. Bloom Jeff.
  14. Eagan                14. Prior Lake
  15. Moorhead           15. Elk River

Unranked State teams: Moorhead (in the 20s; weak section, but finished 5th), Lakeville North (weak section), Eastview (20s; upset Eagan)

-I got waaay too 7AA-happy in the preseason rankings that year, with Andover and Cloquet too high. I also underrated Eagan and Wayzata, and maybe the 5AA teams, though Blaine flopped in sections and Centennial was 2-and-out at State. It’s interesting that Edina was highly rated at the start, dropped some during the regular season, but then put it together to win the title.

2012

  1. Duluth East         1. Duluth East (5th)
  2. Minnetonka         2. Minnetonka
  3. Benilde                3. Maple Grove (State)
  4. Eagan                 4. Edina (State)
  5. Maple Grove       5. Eagan (6th)
  6. Grand Rapids      6. Eden Prairie
  7. Burnsville             7. Benilde (1st)
  8. Edina                   8. Wayzata
  9. Hill-Murray           9. Hill-Murray (2nd)
  10. Blaine                  10. Lakeville S (3rd)
  11. Moorhead            11. Moorhead (4th)
  12. Eden Prairie         12. Burnsville
  13. Bemidji                 13. Elk River
  14. Wayzata               14. Grand Rapids
  15. Lakeville S            15. Blaine

All State teams ranked

-This was looking like an awesome year for me until everything blew up at State. Like Edina in 2013, Benilde struggled a bit in the regular season but put it together in March. The cream rises to the top, apparently.

2011

  1. Edina                     1. Hill-Murray
  2. Hill-Murray             2. Eden Prairie (1st)
  3. Eden Prairie           3. Wayzata
  4. Wayzata                 4. Maple Grove
  5. Duluth East            5. Edina (4th)
  6. Benilde                   6. Benilde
  7. Minnetonka            7. Duluth East (2nd)
  8. Apple Valley           8. Grand Rapids
  9. Maple Grove          9. Minnetonka
  10. Burnsville               10. Apple Valley
  11. Eagan                    11. Eagan (3rd)
  12. Roseau                  12. Burnsville
  13. Bloom Jeff.             13. Bloom Jeff.
  14. White Bear             14. Bemidji
  15. Lakeville S              15. Moorhead (State)

Unranked State teams: White Bear Lake (just missed rankings, upset Hill), Blaine (just missed rankings, upset MG), Lakeville North (weak section, upset LVS)

-Maybe my best year. Roseau at #12 is the only thing that is at all off, really.

2010

  1. Eden Prairie             1. Minnetonka (2nd)
  2. Minnetonka              2. Wayzata
  3. Bloom Jeff.               3. Edina (1st)
  4. Benilde                     4. Burnsville
  5. Blaine                       5. Eden Prairie
  6. Hill-Murray               6. Blaine (State)
  7. Woodbury                 7. Hill-Murray (3rd)
  8. Holy Angels              8. Centennial
  9. Cretin                       9. Bloom Jeff.
  10. Elk River                  10. Eagan
  11. Edina                       11. Duluth East (5th)
  12. Centennial                12. Holy Angels
  13. Moorhead                 13. Elk River
  14. Duluth East              14. Moorhead
  15. Wayzata                   15. Andover

Unranked State teams: Lakeville North (weak section), Apple Valley (not far off; picked up steam through sections and upset Blaine at State), Roseau (somewhere in the 20s; upset Moorhead)

-Ranking Edina out of the top 10 looks quaint now. Misfired on them, Burnsville, and Wayzata; Benilde way overrated. 3AA really didn’t cooperate. One of the earliest lessons I learned was to respect the depth of the deepest programs in the state.

2009

  1. Edina                         1. Edina (5th)
  2. Hill-Murray                 2. Eden Prairie (1st)
  3. Bloom Jeff.                3. Bloom Jeff.
  4. Eden Prairie              4. Blaine (3rd)
  5. Centennial                 5. Duluth East (State)
  6. Duluth East                6. Minnetonka
  7. Blaine                        7. Holy Angels
  8. Holy Angels               8. Benilde
  9. Woodbury                 9. Wayzata
  10. Minnetonka               10. Maple Grove
  11. Moorhead                 11. Centennial
  12. Benilde                     12. Hopkins
  13. White Bear                13. Moorhead (2nd)
  14. Cretin                        14. Woodbury
  15. Elk River                    15. Cretin (4th)

Unranked State teams: Hill-Murray (lost a lot of players due to suspensions and struggled down the stretch, though they were dangerous by Tourney time), Rochester Century (not close—one of the weakest 1AA entrants ever)

-Hill fell off because of player suspensions, so all in all a pretty strong effort. 5 6AA teams in the top 12. Missed Male Grove, Wayzata somewhat.

Top State Tournament Upsets, 2009-2014

There have been 12 upsets in 42 Tourney championship bracket games since 2009, though not all are created equal. Here they are, ranked by me. The numbers are teams’ seeds at State.

  1. Moorhead over (1) Edina, 2009 Quarters

-Edina, the defending runner-up, was loaded with 9 future D-I players, including the senior class dream team of Lee, Everson, and Gaarder. Moorhead had one D-I player, a backup freshman goalie. And yet this game wasn’t close, with the Spuds flattening the star-dependent Hornets 5-2.

  1. Lakeville South over (1) Duluth East, 2012 Quarters

-In the Year of the Upset, Justin Kloos and company fought past another heavily favored defending runner-up. An early goal waved off seemed to tip the momentum, and Mike Randolph was powerless to flip it back, no matter how many strings he pulled.

  1. Apple Valley over (3) Blaine, 2010 Quarters

-The Eagles had young AJ Michaelson and Hudson Fasching, but not much else of note. Somehow, they found a way to slip by the deeper Bjugstad/Brodzinski Bengals that year. 5AA hasn’t won a Tourney game since.

  1. Cretin-Derham Hall over (4) Duluth East, 2009 Quarters

-Overshadowed by the Moorhead-Edina game just before, but this one was nearly as big. Sloppy play in back cost East a serious state title shot despite a 3-1 edge in shots and sustained periods of total domination.

  1. Moorhead over (3) Eagan, 2012 Quarters

-The Michael Bitzer show, in which the Spuds’ goalie shut down a deep and experienced Eagan squad.

  1. (2) Edina over (1) Minnetonka, 2010 Final

-Not a huge upset from a ranking standpoint, but the Hornets do get some style points for jumping on the Skippers—the #1 team all season—early, and never giving them a chance.

  1. (3) Duluth East over (2) Edina, 2011 Semis

-2011 Edina was the first team since 1996 to have 10+ D-I players on its roster, though they weren’t really peaking at State that year, and East was plenty good in its own right.

  1. Hill-Murray over (2) Maple Grove, 2012 Quarters

-Maybe a bigger ranking gap than the previous two, but fairly predictable, what with Hill’s experience and the Crimson making their first Tournament appearance.

  1. (3) Edina over (1) Hill-Murray, 2013 Final

-Hill had been #1 for a while, but this one wasn’t hard to predict given the way the teams had been playing.

10. (5) Eagan over (4) Duluth East, 2014 Quarters

-By this point, these are just upsets in name only. These two were pretty much even, perhaps with a slight edge in talent to Eagan, and East was doing a lot of shuffling due to an injury.

11. Benilde-St. Margaret’s over (4) Edina, 2012 Quarters

-Benilde was really the favorite here, despite the seeds; even so, they had to withstand a strong Edina push in the 3rd period before grabbing the winning goal.

12. (3) Edina over (2) Duluth East, 2013 Semis

-East was the higher seed after an overachieving regular season, but everyone knew Edina had far more talent, and they pulled it out in the 3rd period. The only real scare Edina has had at State in their 3 recent championship Tourneys.

Biggest Section Upsets, 2009-2014

There’s not much in 2009 and 2010 here, but I think that’s just how things shook out those years, rather than me failing to remember the magnitude of certain wins. Remembering all of these is a good reminder of how entertaining sections can be; it was hard to  create this list.

  1. Stillwater over (2) Hill-Murray, 2014

-The Ponies came out of nowhere, and also beat a decent White Bear team en route to State.

  1. Eastview over (4) Eagan, 2013

-Zach Driscoll steals the show and puts the Lightning on the map.

  1. White Bear Lake over (1) Hill-Murray, 2011

-The rivalry factor made sure this wasn’t a total shock, but that Hill team is the only #1 heading into sections that didn’t make State.

  1. Robbinsdale Armstrong over (6) Eden Prairie, 2012

-About as stunning as it gets.

  1. Champlin Park over (7) Blaine, 2013

-Another shocker.

  1. St. Paul Johnson over White Bear Lake, 2012

-Not a great White Bear team, but one huge upset for a historic program.

  1. Centennial over (14) Maple Grove and (5) Blaine, 2014

-The Cougars were the defending section champs, but they sure surprised in winning this one, especially by knocking off a powerful Blaine team.

  1. (8) Wayzata over (5) Minnetonka and (2) Benilde, 2013

-Pat O’Leary’s Trojans arrive on the scene by taking down two big-time powers and preseason favorites in convincing fashion.

  1. Lakeville North over Lakeville South, 2010 and 2011

-The Panthers had little business beating the Kloos-led Cougars, yet they did so for two straight years.

10. Benilde over (4) Wayzata, 2014

-Not a huge upset considering Benilde’s talent, but Wayzata had been playing very well down the stretch, while the Red Knights struggled at times.

Honorable mentions: Eagan over St. Thomas, 2014; Rochester Century sneaking to State as a 4-seed in a weak 1AA in 2009; Benilde over Minnetonka in 2012; Jefferson over Burnsville in 2014; Blaine over Maple Grove in 2011; Roseau over Moorhead in 2010.

Preseason Hockey Ranking Nuts and Bolts

13 Nov

My preseason Class AA Minnesota high school hockey rankings are out. For curious readers out there, here’s some background on how I go about this process.

I start out by taking most possible contenders and making lists of their players and their regular season point totals from last season, crossing out those who are gone, and adding any other useful information we might have on them (grade, position, special notes like making the Elite League). For example, here’s the list for top-ranked Wayzata:

Freytag 32 Jr F EL
Sorensen 24 Sr F EL
Zimmer 23 So F EL
Olson 19 Sr F
Haller 16
Machut 15 Sr F
Wahl 14
Hemenway 12 Sr D
Heising 10 Sr F
Batra 9
Olson 9
Lindstrand 8 Sr D EL
Stevens 6 Jr D EL
Zitzlsperger 6
Goalie:
Dingmann
Ahrens Jr EL

I cut the list off without including every player because, below a certain point, point totals are easily replaced by a fill-in, especially in deeper programs. That cut-off point varies by team based on the schedule they play, and I’m also more lenient in including low-scoring defensemen, for obvious reasons. Sure, a few of those 3-point players might break out and suddenly have huge years, but guessing which ones can be near-impossible. I also only list goalies who have played a substantial number of games.

With Wayzata, this method gives us six returning forwards, three returning defensemen, and one goalie. That’s among the better totals you’ll see for any team at each position:

Top 20 teams with 6+ returning forwards: Burnsville, Hill-Murray, Blaine, Wayzata, Benilde, Elk River, Roseau

Top 20 teams with 3+ returning defensemen: Eastview, Hill-Murray, Blaine, Wayzata, Benilde, Holy Family

Four teams make both cuts: Hill, Blaine, Wayzata, and Benilde. Of those four, two return goalies: Blaine and Wayzata. That’s a simplistic look, of course; I have to look at the individual players who are coming back and make some judgment on how good they are. But based on that alone, I have a decent idea of who’s going to be near the top of the rankings.

From there, I can weigh the strengths of teams against other teams in the same general tier. Hill has more front-end forward talent than Wayzata, but Wayzata’s defense is better and their goalie situation is more settled, while depth is a wash. The Trojans therefore pull ahead of the Pioneers. Blaine, on the other hand, despite being relatively good in every category, doesn’t jump to the top of the list anywhere. That’s why they settle toward the back of the top group.

I trust people can see the shortcomings here: it can overvalue points somewhat, and it’s not much use in figuring out who can fill all the holes in the lineup. For that, I turn to youth program rankings for help. This gives me an idea of how deep each team is, and how much they can expect JV or bantam players as they try to fill their holes. Again, it has that has its disadvantages: it’s useless for private schools (or publics without their own feeders), not all players go to the same high school program, and players develop at different rates. It’s of some use, though, and here are Bantam rankings (among programs feeding AA public high schools) for the sophomore, junior, and senior classes for the 7AA contenders:

Elk River 5-16-4
Duluth East14-15-12
Grand Rapids 43-26-5
Forest Lake 32-X-33
Andover 12-11-26
Cloquet 26-28-X

Teams with Xs were out of the top 45; I didn’t bother going any further than that.

Knowing that, we can then start to add asterisks. Cloquet lost a bunch of players in last season’s exodus, East had some players go to Marshall, and Elk River and Andover have also had players leave early. On the other side of the coin, two big-time players in this section—Grand Rapids’ Avery Peterson and East’s Phil Beaulieu—played varsity as freshmen, and are therefore not included in those numbers. I’ve also been at this long enough now that I can see certain trends. Forest Lake, for example, tends to exceed the expectations you’d have for them, based on those youth teams; Andover, on the other hand, often does not.

One last step I added last year was making a note of incoming players who are probably capable of jumping right in and contributing. I usually find these names off of the High Performance national camp teams (mostly the 15s), along with a handful of others who stand out (say, in the Elite Development League). Going back to Wayzata, that adds three players to our Trojan roster: Paterson (F), Senden (F), and Sorensen (D). Even if these players don’t play right away, that means there’s someone in the program who’s good enough to be taking their place. With three promising young players, Wayzata once again comes out looking good; only Edina, with five, has more.

Including those three players, the Trojans now have 8 forwards and 4 defensemen accounted for; those totals are both the most, or tied for the most, of any team out there. Add in their incredible depth (youth teams ranked in the top two each of the past three years), and they’re a pretty clear preseason #1. They’re not a runaway #1 like, say, Duluth East two years ago, or Edina in 2009: some of their top players are still on the young side, and haven’t put up big numbers in high school yet. Still, they’re a safe bet for now, and using this method, I get a decent look at the preseason top 25.

As I’ve explained in past arguments on the forum, this isn’t a formula, and I don’t ever want it to be. These are subjective rankings, and while that comes with obvious biases that computers don’t have, it also frees me to make certain judgment calls, and factor in less tangible things like coaching and history. I just aim to be as objective as I can, add those subjective tweaks that can correct for some of the head-scratchers that sometimes come up in computer models, and hopefully add some substantive comments that help tell a story for each team. I hope you’ll follow along as those stories unfold.