The Minnesota State High School Sectional tournament are getting underway this week. This is one of the most exciting times of the year because there are a number of great games going on across the state with a lot on the line.
I'll start things off by making my predictions for the eight sections in Class A, which are the smaller Minnesota schools.
Section 1- The Bracket
Section 1 A is probably one of the deepest sections in all of Class A, with four, maybe five teams capable of winning the whole thing and making it to the state tournament.
As a result, this section gives us one of the two best quarterfinal match-ups in all of the state this year, when fourth-seeded Albert Lea takes on fifth-seeded and defending section champ Mankato West. Because this is a quarterfinal match-up, it is played on the higher seed's rink, meaning the game will be played in Albert Lea. These two teams have been very close and had some great games over the past couple of years, but West hasn't been able to beat Albert Lea in Albert Lea, so I think the Tigers will prevail.
That sets up an interesting match-up between top seed Red Wing and Albert Lea in one semifinal. Albert Lea has been a tough team to gauge this year. They've got a lot of very good seniors that played a key role in their trip to the state tournament in 2007, but haven't had as much success as you'd might expect. They lost to Red Wing at home earlier in the year in a game where Red Wing built an early 3-0 lead, and cruised to victory. I don't expect that to happen again. I may be underestimating Red Wing, but I think Albert Lea can pull off the upset.
In the other semifinal, it's the top-heavy New Prague, led by Tyler Lapic, Schyler Adams, and Darren Lapic against a solid Rochester Lourdes team. There were high expectations for Lourdes coming into the year, but I think they've run into some of the same problems Edina has had this year. They've got some talented goal scorers in Tyler Voight, Cole Peterson, and Taylor Funk, but none of the three are really great puck movers, which can make offense hard to come by when they can't dominate over the competition. Meanwhile, Tyler Lapic and Schyler Adams are probably the two most talented players in the section. I'll pick New Prague to hold their seed and make the final.
In the final, I just don't think Albert Lea has shown enough consistency this year to put together three really good games and make it to the state tournament. I'll pick New Prague to come out on top.
Section 2- The Bracket
Blake has been a fixture at the state tournament the past couple of years, always finding a way to play their best hockey at the end of the year and finding a way to make it through the sectional tournament, but this doesn't look like their year. They're seeded seventh in the section.
There's some decent teams in this section that could maybe be pesky, but I don't see anyone coming close to touching top seed Breck. They've got too much talent and too much depth for any team in this section to match. It would take a pretty poor game on their part, and some lucky bounces for them not to make it to the state tournament.
Section 3- The Bracket
Once again, this is by far the state's weakest section. It made zero sense for the state to put these teams in their own section. The location for the section final doesn't even make sense. It is played at Gustavus Adolphus College. New Ulm is closest to GAC at 30 miles away, with others being really far away.
New Ulm is the heavy favorite, but last season, they were upset by a plucky Litchfield team. This year, I've got a feeling that Hutchinson could be a thorn in their side, but New Ulm does have one of the state's better scorers in Kyle Reinarts, and I can't see New Ulm getting upset again.
Section 4- The Bracket
This is a pretty strong section this season, with four decent teams all vying for the title.
Things start at the top with St. Thomas Academy, who is perennially one of the favorites to win the Class A tournament, mainly because all the other schools like them--Hill-Murray, Benilde, Holy Angels--opt to play Class AA hockey. In the semifinal, they'll run up against either Totino-Grace or Spring Lake Park. Both are respectable teams, but neither has the firepower to compete with STA.
The other semifinal should one of the more interesting sectional semifinals between South St. Paul and Mahtomedi. South St. Paul won both regular season meetings and is probably just a little bit stronger team.
There was some hope that South St. Paul might be good enough this year to end St. Thomas' run, especially after the Packers tied them 1-1 in January, but St. Thomas shut them out 5-0 last week. The Packers have some good players, but they don't have the depth to compete with St. Thomas. It would take a miracle for anyone besides the Cadets to advance.
Section 5- The Bracket
This section will likely come down to a battle between St. Cloud Cathedral and Hermantown, just as it did last year. And like last season, I think the Crusaders from St. Cloud will take home the title. Hermantown's Adam Krause is a talented player, but Cathedral has a very good defensive corps and they're capable of putting the puck in the net.
Cathedral gave undefeated Little Falls their stiffest test of the season, and could be an interesting darkhorse pick in St. Paul if they make it that far.
Section 6- The Bracket
This is the section Little Falls is in. I probably don't need to expand beyong that, but I'll try anyway.
Little Falls has dominated this part of the state for the past four years now and that's not likely to change seeing as they are undefeated and the top-ranked team in the state. Their stiffest test will come in the section final when they'll likely run up against Alexandria. Goalie Matt Hemingway is exceptional, but at best, I see Alex having a close one-goal loss like their earlier 1-0 loss to Little Falls.
Section 7-The Bracket
Duluth Marshall had dominated over this section the past couple of years, and I thought they might again, but they just never got things going this year, and are seeded fourth in the section.
That leaves the door wide open for a couple of historical powers from up in the Iron Range. Virginia is the top seed, followed by Hibbing, and International Falls. Any of the three have a nice chance to win it, and it would be great to see a public school from a town with such hockey heritage make it back to the state tournament.
I'll pick Hibbing, led by senior Aaron Jamnick, to make it out of this section and head back to the state tournament.
Section 8-The Bracket
Warroad, the self-titled Section 8A Dynasty--again, like St. Thomas, a title only bestowed upon them because of their unwillingness to move to Class AA like Roseau--is the heavy favorite here once again.
The semifinal on the bottom half of the draw is an interesting game to me between Bemidji and Thief River Falls. It should be a great game. I think TRF has the best chance of testing Warroad in the section final thanks to a talented goalie in Zane Gothberg. But at a certain point, you also have to put the puck in the other team's net, and even if Gothberg stands on his head, I think the Warriors will have too much for the Prowlers to handle.
Rounding it all up, here are my picks for each section:
1. New Prague
3. New Ulm
4. St. Thomas
5. St. Cloud Cathedral
6. Little Falls