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MHM Boys Class AA Top 10

Week one of the 2014-2015 Minnesota High School hockey season is in the books and there were just a handful of games.  This week, the high school hockey season begins in earnest with most top ten teams in action prior to Thanksgiving.  As usual, the MNHockeyMag will take a look at the top ten teams in Class AA and we will explain why they are ranked in their respective slots each week.

1. Lakeville North (0-0) The Panthers have yet to play a game although they unseat the Edina Hornets for the number one slot out of the shoot.  They have their sights set on a return trip to the Minnesota State High School hockey tournament in March and know there is plenty of work to do between now and then.  The Panthers are known as one of the most exciting teams in High School hockey and posted a 25-5-1 record last season.  At one point North ripped off a 19 game (18-0-1) unbeaten streak last year.  There is plenty to look forward to with the Panthers who return their top two lines and both can score.  Leading the way is the Poehling trio, made up of seniors Jack and Nick along with sophomore Ryan.  Henry Enebak and Max Johnson anchor the second line and combined for (25g-33a-58pts) last year.   Add in one of the best one-two punches on the blue line with a pair of D1 defensemen in Jack Sadek and Jack McNeely and the Panthers have every reason to believe they can not only return to St. Paul and the State Tournament but win their first ever Class AA title.  Goaltending will be key and former Shattuck St. Mary’s product Ryan Edquist returns to his roots in Lakeville to hold down the fort in the blue paint for the Panthers.  The University of Minnesota goaltending recruit could be key to the Panthers potential success this year.

2.  Edina (1-0-1)  The two-time defending champion Edina Hornets opened the season with an 11-0 thumping of the Holy Family Catholic Fire last week at the Cable 12 Turkey Trot.  Garrett Wait erupted with 6 assists and Matt Masterman had 4 goals in the shellacking.  Dylan Malmquist delivered 2 goals and 2 assists with Casey Dornbach adding a hat trick and and assist in the effort.  The offensive output, coupled with the defensive play illustrated that the Hornets have plenty of depth to bid for their third straight state title.  For now, key leadership losses from last year’s team to graduation pushes Edina down to the #2 slot slot in the MNHockeyMag rankings.  Edina has plenty of depth to lean on from a deep and talented youth program to fill any void that may have been left.  The State Title once again runs through Edina and someone will have to prove they can beat the Hornets on the last day of the season.  On paper to open the season, the Lakeville North Panthers are just a little better.  Edina has won a record 12 state titles in 36 appearances which is a staggering conversion rate.  Their attempt at a three-peat would be the first time since Bloomington Jefferson’s glory teams of 1992-1994 that impressive feat.

3.  Wayata (1-0-1)  A 4-1 win over cross-town rival Maple Grove and a 3-3 tie that wound up as a shootout loss to Edina (recorded in the books as an official tie), the Trojans always have a chance to win based on their defensive play and skill.  Whether blocking shots, staying disciplined in the defensive zone, benefitting from stellar goaltending, or staying on the puck in the offensive zone, coach Pat O’Leary’s teams are difficult to play against and this year’s club will be no different.  Junior goaltender Alex Schilling is primed to take over the number one chore in goal for the Trojans and senior defenseman Alex Stevens has help with sophomore Hank Sorenson holding down the fort.  Junior Max Zimmer (10g-23a-33pts) led the team in points last year and the slick skating offensive talent is back to take on that offensive responsibility again.  Playing in the deep Lake Conference and owning a tough schedule this year will take the Trojans a long way in being a high quality playoff team this year.

4.  Hill-Murray (1-0)  An opening night 3-2 win over the Burnsville Blaze last Saturday was a good start for the Hill-Murray Pioneers.  The strength of the Pioneers is defensively and when that proves out, it means a successful season for coach Bill Lechner’s team.  The Pioneers return their top four defensemen to the table and have depth in goaltending which will have a spirited competition. Senior Sean Wendlandt was the back up to Sam Ilgen last year and will have a healthy battle with sophomore Jake Begley for playing time.  Four year varsity letter-winner Zach Mills will lead the team offensively and he is joined by freshman brother Dylan.  Mikey Anderson is just a freshman, yet he has committed to Scott Sandelin’s UMD Bulldogs to play college hockey.  He moves the puck, has physical strength beyond his years and will be relied upon at a young age to be a key to his team’s success.  The Pioneers welcome in Kyler Yeo, son of Wild coach Mike Yeo, to the lineup and the young man has size, speed, and a three-zoned responsible game.   Never underestimate the Pioneers, in the end-they are always in the mix.

5.  Duluth East (0-0) Yes, the Hounds are the six-time defending Section 7AA champion and yes, a trip to St. Paul goes through Duluth East again this year and most likely will be in the form of a date in the section final at Amsoil Arena in the end of February.  Losses to blue line mainstays Phil Beaulieu and Alex Trapp to graduation will need to be filled but Mike Randolph lost just two other players from his roster last year.  As his teams age and grow, so do their results.  This team is prepared to be elite and is not uncomfortable in playing that role.  Nick Altmann is expected to have another solid offensive year coming off a 20-goal campaign (20g-26a-46pts).  The core of this team is represented in a junior class that two-years ago lost to Edina in the Bantam AA state championship.  Goalie Gunnar Howg (20-7-1, 1.86, .913) is fresh of a 20-win seasons and ready to anchor his team again in goal. Give Randolph talent, and he will make something of it.

6.  Elk River/Zimmerman (0-0)  All the elements are in place for the Elk River/Zimmerman Elks to unseat the Duluth East Greyhounds for the Section 7AA tittle for the first time in 7 season.  The last team to represent the section were the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks back in the day of Patrick White.  That feels like a millennium ago, and the Elks bring on one of the state’s best forwards in Jake Jaremko.  He has been tossed around as a Mr. Hockey Finalist in the preseason and for good reason.  His speed, offensive skills and leadership will be key in the Eks surge this year.  Reggie Lutz (12g-18a-30pts) and Ben Johnson (10g-5a-15pts) return to compliment Jaremko with plenty of depth and help throughout the lineup.  Defenseman Matt Kierstad will provide valuable leadership and experience to the back end with a pair of JV goalies -Joey Grillo and Chase Gauthier – competing for playing time.  The Elks were one goal away in their 3-2 section final loss to the Hounds in making their first trip to the dance since 2005.  This year, they may have enough to find that one goal, maybe two, to be the difference.

7.  St. Thomas Academy (0-0)  There is plenty to look forward to at St. Thomas Academy this year and in their second season at the Class AA, the Cadets are positioned to make another run to the State Tournament.  Nine of their top eleven leading scorers return with speedster Christiano Versich (29g-37a-66pts) leading the way.  The hard driving Peter Tufto (17g-28a-45pts) will be expected to pick up more offensive responsibility and he will be up for the challenge.  Senior Alex Broetzman (25g-24a-49pts) will be receiving plenty of minutes and looked upon to provide leadership, of which the Cadets are never in short supply.  Goalie Matt Snow won 10 games last year and earned an Elite League spot for his efforts while working split duty with Charlie Hallett.  The Cadets will have little trouble on the offensive end this year and have four returning defensemen on their roster including Seamus Donohue who will be heading off to the Air Force Academy to play is college hockey after this year.  The Cadets, as usual, will be a difficult team to play each night and every team in the league is on notice that they will have to skate and be ready for a high tempo hockey game with St. Thomas Academy.

8. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (0-0)  The Red Knights may very well be worthy of a top three ranking by the time the year comes to a close.  As the season opens, Ken Pauly’s Red Knights land in the eighth slot with plenty of offensive depth.  Mark Kaske is expected to have have a memorable season.  Chase Jungels, Carter Roo, and Blake transfer Cade Gleekel add to the offensive fire power with veterans such as Will Duda and Zach Risteau providing the Red Knights offensive depth that will be a challenge for many teams on a nightly basis.  Defenseman Ben Newhouse returns for what should be a highly productive season as the Union College commit will be expected to lead the defensive corps that is made up of juniors Nick Austin, Peter Heimbold, and senior Jack Lawton.  Goalies Jalen Long and Ryan Bischel are both back and combined for 15 wins last year in backstopping their team to the Section 6AA Final where they lost to Eden Prairie 3-2.  The Red Knights enter the Metro West and full-time conference play after playing two seasons of independent hockey with their run and gun style looking to advance past the section final is a legitimate reality for this hockey club, although it will be difficult.

9.  Eden Prairie (0-0) The defending Section 6AA champions saw a pair of Mr. Hockey Finalists (Luc Snuggerud and Steven Spinner) graduate and they will indeed leave a gaping hole in this team from a leadership, offensive and defensive perspective.  However, three state tournament tested defensemen return in Brady Schoo, Marc Sullivan, and Andy Aguilar to lead Lee Smith’s back end.  Michael Graham maintains a dynamic skill set that includes a power and finesse game.  He is just a junior yet his veteran presence will be leaned on this year.  Other key contributors are Riley Argetsinger who is the prototypical power forward for high school hockey, Cole Lawrence, another big body that will be tough to contain on the offensive end of things.  Much has been said about the arrival of Casey Mittlestadt who had an impressive High School Elite League.  He will be challenged in the rugged tight checking of the Lake Conference as the season wears on yet has the ability to be a difference maker and Smith raves about the young talent and his offensive skill blended with a power game.  The Eagles will have a question mark in goal and look to answer that quickly this year.  If they can, they will be in business and the mix again this year.

10.  Cretin-Derham Hall (0-0) The Raiders enter the top ten returning 13 players, most of them impact performers last season.  They have athletes and many perform in multiple sports and have a rounded competitiveness to their game.  The Raiders are always a physically strong team and they have plenty of skill this year.  Nick Reis led the team in goals (25g-21a-46pts) and points last year and will be looked to again.  Brett Huebner will be playing D1 baseball next year and dished out 27 assists last year (9g-27-36pts) to finish second on the team in scoring.  Joe Dekker, Max Jackson, Cal Crawford, and Aitor Flood all play other sports with the Raiders boasting a number of Dvision I athletes on the roster in those sports.  Jim O’Neil’s team posted a 17-7-3 record last year and has the ability to top the 20 win mark this year.

Others receiving consideration:  Stillwater, Prior Lake, Hopkins, Centennial, Moorhead, Farmington

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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