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Class 1A Boys Section Previews

Tim Kolehmainen breaks down the Class 1A boys’ section matchups

Hermantown’s Wyatt Aamodt skating up ice in last year’s Class 1A state quarterfinals against Luverne. (MHM Photo / Tim Kolehmainen)

Tim Kolehmainen breaks down the Class 1A boys’ section matchups

 

Section 1A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

    1. New Prague (17-8-0) — 1
    2. Mankato West (17-6-2) — 1
    3. Northfield (14-9-2)
    4. Faribault (17-7-1) — 1
    5. LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter (18-7-0)
    6. Red Wing (7-17-1) — 6 (1997)
    7. Albert Lea (11-14-0) — 3
    8. Rochester Lourdes (5-18-2) — 9
    9. Mankato East (12-13-0) — 1
    10. La Crescent (19-6-0)
    11. Waseca (13-11-1)
    12. Winona (4-21-0) — 1
    13. Austin (3-21-1) — 2

Through the first month of the season, it appeared as if defending Section 1A champion New Prague was a shoe-in to make the state tourney again. But since their opening seven-game winning streak, the Trojans are barely over .500 (9-8-0), appearing to toss the section into a complete dogfight. Ah, but looking a little closer, the Trojans are 6-0-0 in section games, including a 6-0 victory over No. 2 seed Mankato West. New Prague is a veteran team anchored by goaltender Conner Wagner (16-8-0, 2.14, .913) and leading scorer Alex Gregor (28-20-48), two players with state tournament experience.

Even with New Prague the favorite, this is one section that could be rife with upsets, as it appears as many as seven or eight teams could realistically contend. Even No. 8 seed Rochester Lourdes, which is winless in five section games (0-5-1), is in the mix. The Eagles have lost those games by a combined five goals including a pair of one-goal losses to New Prague.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: New Prague

 

Section 2A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Breck (17-7-1) — 10 (2000, 2004, 2009, 2010)
  2. Delano (21-4-0)
  3. Orono (15-9-1) — 8
  4. Bloomington Kennedy (17-8-0) — 7 (1987)
  5. Blake (8-16-1) — 5
  6. Minneapolis (13-11-1) — 41 (1970)
  7. St. Louis Park (8-14-3) — 6
  8. Chaska (12-13-0)
  9. Waconia (6-16-3)
  10. Mound-Westonka (8-16-1) — 2
  11. Richfield (2-21-0) — 6

Breck has won the last five of the last six Section 2A tournaments, twice claiming the state title, and is the clear bully on the block. But the Mustangs were upset by Orono in last year’s section final and will have their hands full with the Spartans and rising Delano, who earned the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. This isn’t the same high-flying Mustangs team of past years, but they do allow just 1.40 goals per game on average, with Stephen Headrick (18-7-0, 1.32, .931) playing every minute of every game this winter. They’ll be tough to dent offensively.

Delano claimed the Wright County Conference title over Class 2A Holy Family Catholic, Orono, and Section 1A top seed New Prague, so the Tigers are tested. Delano is balanced, as sophomore Ben Meyers (18-31-49) leads seven players with at least 12 goals. A Jan. 29 loss to Holy Family is the only blemish in a 13-1-0 stretch since the holidays. Orono started slowly, losing its first four games, but has gotten hot down the home stretch, led by veteran goaltender Jon Flakne (15-9-1, 2.27, .919). He came up huge in last year’s upset of Breck and is again capable of leading the Spartans to state.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Delano

 

Section 3A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Luverne (21-4-0) — 1
  2. Hutchinson (14-9-1) — 4
  3. New Ulm (15-8-2) — 4
  4. Marshall (15-9-1) — 1
  5. Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (9-14-2) — 2
  6. Willmar (5-20-0) — 1
  7. Morris/Benson Area (9-16-0)
  8. Redwood Valley (9-14-0)
  9. Windom Area (7-18-0)
  10. Fairmont (5-16-1)
  11. Worthington (2-19-1)

Last year, Luverne blitzed through the regular season and section tournament unbeaten, getting plenty of press in the process. The Cardinals were again expected to be rolling this winter, but a handful of losses along the way have quieted the hubbub surrounding the high-scoring program. Still, the Cardinals earned the No. 1 seed and the respect of section coaches, but the gap may be narrower with No. 2 Hutchinson, No. 3 New Ulm and No. 4 Marshall all in the mix. The third-seeded Eagles just upset Luverne two weeks ago, 5-2, but finished two games behind the Cardinals in the Big South Conference race. Hutchinson earned the No. 2 seed, but has lost six of its last eight games, including big losses to Holy Family Catholic and New Prague in the last week. The Tigers are tough, but momentum is not on their side.

It’s tough to match the firepower of the Cardinals. Junior Chaz Smedsrud (33-59-92) and freshman Jaxon Nelson (41-42-83) are two of the top scorers in the state. Luverne is a young team, though, and that inexperience could come into play in the tournament.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Luverne

 

Section 4A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Mahtomedi (21-2-2) — 7
  2. St. Paul Academy (21-4-0)
  3. St. Paul Johnson (14-8-2) — 22 (1947, 1953, 1955, 1963)
  4. South St. Paul (14-11-0) — 28
  5. Totino-Grace (8-16-1) — 5 (2002)
  6. Minnehaha Academy (16-8-1)
  7. Simley (10-12-3) — 2
  8. Henry Sibley (8-17-0) — 8
  9. St. Paul Como Park (16-8-0) — 10
  10. St. Paul Highland Park (5-18-0)

No longer the playground of St. Thomas Academy, it now appears as if Section 4A is in the capable hands of the program that gave the Cadets the most trouble the last decade — Mahtomedi. The Zephyrs split with top-10 Class 2A powers St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray this winter, their only two losses in 25 games. Since losing to the Cadets on Jan. 8, 8-1, coach Jeff Poeschl’s team has gone 10-0-1, avenging both of its losses. The Zephyrs are deep and balanced, with junior Jack Becker (22-26-48) leading seven players with double-digit goals and 11 with at least 11 points.

St. Paul Academy looked like the team best positioned to knock off Mahtomedi, but coach Bill Owens stepped down on the eve of the section tournament. How the young Spartans respond to that adversity will be key to their playoff hopes. Defending section champion Totino-Grace was hit hard by graduation, earning the No. 5 seed behind No. 3 St. Paul Johnson and No. 4 South St. Paul, two storied programs that haven’t had many state berths in recent decades.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Mahtomedi

 

Section 5A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Spring Lake Park (13-11-1)
  2. Chisago Lakes (8-15-2) — 2
  3. Princeton (11-12-2) — 2
  4. Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson (13-11-1) — 2
  5. Providence Academy (6-18-1)
  6. Legacy Christian (12-13-0)
  7. Proctor (9-16-0) — 1
  8. Pine City/Rush City (10-15-0)
  9. Moose Lake Area (8-17-0)
  10. North Branch (5-20-0)

Despite ending the season on a six-game winless skid (0-5-1), Spring Lake Park earned the top seed in the Section 5A playoffs. It’s a sign of the tough schedule the Panthers faced, as they moved into the Class 2A-heavy Northwest Suburban Conference for the first time this winter. Even in defeat, coach Tom Benson’s team played their bigger neighbors toe-to-toe — and a 4-0-0 section record sealed the deal. The Panthers have a veteran goaltender in Aaron Furlano (13-10-1, 3.26, .898) and high-scoring Jacob Nystrom (25-23-48) and Deven Sunell (19-25-44) to lead the way. Spring Lake Park has played the toughest schedule and it should pay off in the playoffs.

Only one other team in the section had an above .500 record (No. 4 seed Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson), and the defending champion and No. 2 seed (Chisago Lakes) was just 8-15-2.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Spring Lake Park

 

Section 6A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Alexandria (21-3-1) — 4
  2. St. Cloud Cathedral (13-11-1) — 6
  3. Fergus Falls (17-5-3) — 7
  4. St. Cloud Apollo (19-4-2) — 2
  5. Sartell-St. Stephen (17-6-2)
  6. Sauk Rapids-Rice (10-14-2) — 1
  7. Little Falls (13-12-1) — 6
  8. Northern Lakes (11-15-0)
  9. Wadena-Deer Creek (7-19-0) — 2
  10. Prairie Centre (5-21-0)
  11. Breckenridge/Wahpeton (2-16-0)

Section 6A could be a wild one this year, as eight programs won at least 10 games this year, four have been ranked in the top-10 at one point or another and perhaps most importantly, even a dominant Alexandria team has suffered a few defeats to its section rivals. The Cardinals started the year with a 15-0-1 run, vaulting into the Class 1A top-10 rankings. But then came a few stumbles in the final month, losing to No. 3 seed Fergus Falls and a shocking 2-1 loss to No. 6 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice in its final regular season game last Thursday.

That should be a clear signal that any number of teams could emerge from the tourney, including defending champion and No. 2 seed St. Cloud Cathedral, No. 4 seed St. Cloud Apollo (which tied and lost by a goal to Alexandria in their two meetings) and Fergus Falls, which is looking for its first state tournament bid since a run of seven straight in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

There could be upsets galore, but Alexandria should cap its best regular season in years with a state berth. The Cardinals are a veteran team, with 15 seniors who have been pointing towards this season. A strong defensive team, Alexandria allows just 1.68 goals per game.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Alexandria

 

Section 7A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. Hermantown (22-2-1) — 11 (2007)
  2. Duluth Marshall (17-5-3) — 7
  3. Duluth Denfeld (18-7-0) — 5
  4. Hibbing/Chisholm (14-8-3) — 13 (1952, 1973)
  5. Greenway (11-14-0) — 9 (1967, 1968, 1992)
  6. Eveleth-Gilbert (11-12-2) — 15 (1945, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1993, 1998)
  7. North Shore (13-11-0) — 1
  8. Virginia/MIB (8-17-0) — 3
  9. International Falls (4-21-0) — 19 (1957, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1995)
  10. Ely (5-16-0)

It’s beyond discussion. Section 7A is the deepest Class 1A field in the state this year, as three teams are in our top-10 rankings (No. 1 seed Hermantown, No. 2 Duluth Marshall and No. 3 Duluth Denfeld) and Hibbing/Chisholm is on the cusp of that honor. Historically, the section’s power is evident, as well. Nine of the 10 schools have qualified for state in their history and five different programs have combined for 18 state titles.

Hermantown has one of those state titles in its pocket (2007), but is even more famous for its five consecutive — and counting? — runner-up finishes in the Class 1A state tournament. Coach Bruce Plante has kept his powerhouse program rolling through graduation losses and is a favorite to get back into the state final for a sixth straight year. It’s plug-and-play time for the Hawks, who turned to Luke Olson (19-1-1, 1.63, .927) in goal with great results. Ryan Kero (24-34-58) and Nate Pionk (28-26-54) lead the potent Hawks’ offense.

Duluth Marshall has slowed since a season-opening 10-game winning streak, but has a veteran goaltender in Alex Murray (13-5-2, 1.69, .927). Duluth Denfeld is also strong defensively with senior Nick Thompson (13-31-44) leading the Hunters in scoring from the blue line.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: Hermantown

 

Section 8A

Official seeding (record) — state trips (titles)

  1. East Grand Forks (20-4-0) — 9 (2014)
  2. Thief River Falls (12-13-0) — 12 (1954, 1956)
  3. Warroad (12-12-2) — 21 (1994, 1996, 2003, 2005)
  4. Detroit Lakes (18-5-2) — 2
  5. Kittson Central (17-8-0)
  6. Crookston (13-12-1)
  7. Lake of the Woods (9-15-0) — 4
  8. Park Rapids (11-14-0)
  9. Red Lake Falls (13-11-1)
  10. Bagley/Fosston (2-18-0)

The more things change, the more they stay the same up in Section 8A. The top three seeds are all in familiar position, with defending Class 1A state champion East Grand Forks earning the No. 1 seed ahead of No. 2 Thief River Falls and No. 3 Warroad. One of that trio has been the state representative from the northwest for the past 21 years, winning five state titles.

But this isn’t like any other year.

Injuries and graduation have dogged Warroad and Thief River Falls, knocking both programs down to .500 this winter. Without health, both are capable of getting knocked out by teams such as No. 4 seed Detroit Lakes, No. 5 Kittson Central and No. 6 Crookston, each of whom finished over .500. Each has some top-end talent that can take over games, such as the Lakers’ Jon Richards (32-35-67) and Ryan DeConcini (35-29-64), the Bearcats’ Dalton Klegstad (34-40-74) and Billy Thorsteinson (36-25-61), and Crookston’s Doug Larson (30-27-57).

In the end, though, it should come down to the old warhorses.

MN Hockey Mag predicts: East Grand Forks

Tim is the award-winning editor/writer/photographer for The Breakdown, the encyclopedia of Minnesota high school sports, which publishes 200+ page season preview guides on volleyball, boys and girls basketball and most notably, boys hockey. Tim's covered and played hockey much of his life, including five years of coverage on the MN Hockey Hub and other outlets. Prior to joining The Breakdown, Tim was a sports reporter for the Record-Journal, a daily newspaper in Meriden, Conn. at which he followed the New Britain Rock Cats (the Twins' Double-A farm team) and UConn women's basketball and football. He has also worked for a weekly newspaper in Buffalo, Minn., at which he won awards for sports photography and as a three-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Best Sports Reporting award among large weekly newspapers. Email Tim at tim@BreakdownSportsUSA.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @BreakdownUSA.

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