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Class A Tournament Preview

The MNHockeyMag breaks down the Class A Hockey tournament.

The MNHockeyMag breaks down the Class A Hockey tournament.
New Prague Trojans  (21-4-3, 11-1-2)
Head Coach:  Chris Lonke (6th season, 99-54-11)
Section:  1A
Conference:  Missota Conference, 2nd place
State Tournament appearances:  (1) 2014
State Titles: None

Road to State:
Red Wing 2-0
Northfield 3-0
Mankato West 3-2

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                         GP    G    A    Pts

Augie Isaacson        28    23    29    52
Seth Kriha                28    11    35    46
Alex Gregor             28    19    22    41
Austin Kilian           28    21    13    33
Casey Busch            28    11    16    27

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                         W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Conner Wagner              18    4    3    2.47        .895            3

What to expect:  
The Trojans make their state tournament debut this year and are the first team other than Rochester Lourdes to represent Section 1A in five seasons.  But it wasn’t easy, as they had to earn their berth by topping a solid Mankato West team in the section final, 3-2.  A three-pronged offensive attack in Augie Isaacson, Seth Kriha, and Alex Gregor leads the way for New Prague. The Trojans enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak and have outscored their opponents 38-13 in those games.  As the No. 3 seed, the Trojans have a tough first round opponent in Chisago Lakes.

Orono Spartans  (19-8-1, 8-4-0)
Head Coach:  Kasey Yoder (1st season, 19-8-1)
Section:  2A
Conference:  Wright County Conference, 2nd place
State Tournament appearances:  (7) 1992, 93, 2002, 03, 04, 06, 07
State Titles: None

Road to State:
Chaska 6-2
Bloomington Kennedy 2-1 (ot)
Breck 2-1

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                        GP    G    A    Pts

Joey Luedtke            28    12    22    34
Jake Flemmer           28    14    17    31
Sam Challgren           28    6    18    24
David McCuskey       28    11    9    20
Tripp Renard             28    9    10    19

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                           W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Jonathon Flakne             15    7    1       2.03        .911          6
Grant Mathiason              1    1    0       2.50        .898        0

What to expect:  
The Orono Spartans snapped Breck’s stronghold of five straight seasons as Section 2A champions by knocking the Mustangs out in the final game — much to the delight of a rabid student section.  This is the Spartans’ first trip back to the state tournament since 2009, and in Kasey Yoder’s first year as coach, they are playing the necessary game to succeed in the post season by winning a pair of 2-1 tight checking games for the section title.  The Spartans are 3-4-0 against Class AA teams and have a schedule that benefits them for the stretch run.  Their first round opponent could challenge for the Class AA title in East Grand Forks, who is tough to score on. The Spartans will have to be in full shutdown mode to advance.

Luverne Cardinals  (27-0-1, 10-0-0)
Head Coach:  Derrick Brown (5th season, 98-29-5)
Section:  3A
Conference:  Southwest Conference, 1st place
State Tournament appearances:  (1) 2014
State Titles: None

Road to State:
Morris Benson 13-2
Hutchinson 4-0
New Ulm 6-1

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                           GP    G    A    Pts

Chaz Smedsrud              28    38    49    87
Logan Norman               28    22    48    70
Jaxon Nelson                 28    30    40    70
Gunnar Olson                26    38    28    66
Toby Sengvongxay       28    20    32    50

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                       W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Kendall Meyer            18    0    1    1.16           .949            6
Connor Crabtree        6    0    0    1.26           .896             2

What to expect:  
The Cardinals are the only unbeaten team in high school hockey.  Naysayers suggest that the Cardinals’ schedule is not tough enough.  Those that look closer will first note that this team is 49-4-2 over the last two seasons — beating the teams they are “supposed to” beat.  This year, they won the Schwan Cup Open division and are 4-0-1 against teams from the Metro area.  They outscored their opponents 206-32 on the season and as evidenced, weren’t squeaking by the competition.  Their offensive balance includes senior players such as Gunnar Olson and Logan Norman all the way to eighth-grade sensation Jaxon Nelson.  Coach Derrick Brown has depth to rely on yet their biggest challenge and toughest opponent of the season is on deck with the Hermantown Hawks who are state tournament tested.

Totino-Grace Eagles (17-10-1, 8-0-0)
Head Coach:  Mark Loahr (33rd season, 508-286-26)
Section:  4A
Conference:  North Suburban Conference, 1st place
State Tournament appearances:  (5) 1993, 95, 2002, 05, 14
State Titles: (1) 2002

Road to State:
St. Paul Como Park 7-1
South St. Paul 1-0
Mahtomedi 5-4 (ot)

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                GP    G    A    Pts

Kai Barber            28    19    12    31
Nick Tandeski            28    15    14    29
Ben Henderson         28    10    13    23
Bandon Hilliard        28    7    15    22
Blake Vagle            28    5    16    21

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                         W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Dominic Wippler        12    8    1    2.70        .903                 2
Jack Lux                         2    2    0    3.38        .862                0

What to expect:
The Eagles return to the state tournament after a nine-year absence by squeaking out a pair of one-goal sectional games, including a classic 5-4 overtime win against Mahtomedi.  Coach Mark Loahr won his 500th game earlier this year and recently won the Bruce Johnson award for outstanding contributions in promoting the Minnesota Coaches Association and the sport of hockey. He knows his way around state tournament hockey and the Eagles will be prepared.  After starting the season 4-6-1, the Eagles finished the season 13-4-0.  Totino-Grace challenges itself with a difficult schedule and was 3-4-1 in seven games against Class AA teams.  As the No. 5 seed, the Eagles will have a rematch with St. Cloud Cathedral. Back on Jan. 25, Cathedral won 5-4.  Another close game can be expected by these two teams when they open the tournament on Wednesday.

Chisago Lakes Area Wildcats (20-8-0)
Head Coach:  Paul Gibson (2nd season, 38-17-1)
Section:  5A
Conference:  Mississippi 8 Conference, 3rd place
State Tournament appearances:  (2) 1995, 2014
State Titles: None

Road to State:
North Branch 13-0
Proctor 5-2
Princeton 5-4

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                             GP    G    A    Pts

Brandon Gillespie            28    25    26    51
Blake Lizotte                     28    14    34    48
Trevor Lushanko             28    23    24    47
Ryan Chambers               28    13    15    28
Landon Lushanko          28    10    18    28

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                       W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Jake Dubose               10    6    0    1.94          .920            5
Bryce Thompson        6    2    0    2.34          .906             2

What to expect:  
With the four-time defending section champions from Hermantown moved to Section 7A this winter, the Wildcats seized the opportunity and captured their first section title since 1995.  They put together an impressive 20-win season and accomplished that in the Mississippi 8 Conference where a number of Class AA teams reside.  Since  the Stadstad Tournament over the holiday season, the Wildcats went on a 12-3-0 run including seven wins in their last eight games.  A one-two punch of Brandon Gillespie and Blake Lizotte will be formidable in the Class A tournament.  The Wildcats open with New Prague in the quarterfinals.

St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (20-7-1, 3-0-0)
Head Coach:  Eric Johnson (10th season, 185-61-9)
Section:  6A
Conference:  Granite Ridge Conference, 1st place
State Tournament appearances:  (6) 1993, 94, 2004, 08, 09, 14
State Titles: None

Road to State:
Little Falls 8-1
Sartell-St. Stephen 3-1
Alexandria 2-1

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                       GP    G    A    Pts

Will Hammer             28    24    27    51
Matt Fritz                    28    15    24    39
Dan Bailey                   28    7    31     38
Logan Neu                   27    18    16    34
Trevor Cornelius        28    7    9    16

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                   W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Zach Fritz                16    7    1    2.32           .911           2
Camren Dehler        1    0    0    0.71           .957           1

What to expect:  
The St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders are back in the state tournament for the first time since 2009.  Formerly in Section 5AA, they are now in with the other St. Cloud area schools and proved to be the bet of the lot this winter.  The Crusaders lost a few top level players early and are relying on several underclassmen to get the job done along with Will Hammer, who is now the all time leading scorer in team history.  The Crusaders open the tournament with a mirror image in themselves in the Totino-Grace Eagles which could prove to be the most entertaining first round match-up in the quarterfinals.

Hermantown Hawks (22-4-2, 5-0-2)
Head Coach:  Bruce Plante (25th season, 462-190-20 )
Section:  7A
Conference:  Lake Superior Conference, 1st place
State Tournament appearances:  (11) 1994, 98, 99, 2001, 06, 07, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
State Titles:  (1)  2007

Road to State:
International Falls 9-0
Duluth Denfeld 6-1
Marshall School, Duluth 6-2

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                 GP    G    A    Pts

Ryan Kero             28    21    27    48
Nate Pionk            28    20    28    48
Scott Wasbotten    28    21    21    42
Kori Ochs                26    15    16    31
Cole Koepke            28    17    13    30

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                    W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Adam Smith            10    3    0    2.66          .895            0
Jace Thomas            9    1    1    1.67             .923            3

What to expect:  
A regular state tournament participant, the Hawks have been to the big dance five straight years. They advanced to the finals each of the last four years only to lose the championship game each time.  This year may be different for the Hawks as they have championship credentials.  However, a deep field presents itself this year and could present a tough run for the Hawks.  Ryan Kero and Nate Pionk were regular contributors from last year’s team and understand the tournament and its environment.  Coach Bruce Plante has two high level goaltenders to turn to in Adam Smith and Jace Thomas.

East Grand Forks Green Wave (25-2-1, 8-0-1)
Head Coach: Tyler Palmiscno (5th season, 77-47-6)
Section:  8A
Conference:  Mariucci Conference, 1st place
State Tournament appearances:  (9) 1971, 80, 82, 98, 99, 2001, 13, 14
State Titles:  None

Road to State:
Lake of the Woods 10-0
Detroit Lakes 8-1
Warroad 3-2 (ot)

Top 5 Scoring Leaders:
Player                      GP    G    A    Pts

Dixon Bowen            18    17    20    37
Reed Corbid             28    14    21    35
Grant Loven             28    14    21    35
Tanner Tweten        28    15    13    28
Brandon Loven        28    14    11    25

Goaltending Leaders:
Player                   W    L    T    GAA        Sv%        Sho

Josh Weber            18    1    1    1.22             .922           4
Garrett Lieberg        5    1    0    1.00           .898           3

What to expect:
Dixon Bowen blew up for 10 points in three playoff games (4g-6a-10p) and took over the team lead in points — despite appearing in only 18 games this year.  But it’s on defense where East Grand Forks is a championship contender. The Green Wave are a defensive juggernaut and play the game in all three zones as well as any team in high school hockey.  They only allow 1.20 goals against per game.  They have a power play over 24 percent and a penalty kill that registers over 90 percent efficiency.  Goals against and special teams equal success and the Green Wave could experience plenty of it this state tournament.

Pete Waggoner has covered hockey since 1989 and his work includes play-by-play and studio hosting. Currently, he hosts This Week in High School Sport on 1500 ESPN and hosts the Overtime Hockey Podcast at that posts every Monday. His past work has appeared on Sports Radio 105 The Ticket, KFAN Radio,, Fox Sports North Prep Zone, MNHockeyCenter, and to that, Waggoner developed along with Fox9 Twin Cities and was one of the original architects of the from concept to delivery.

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