Here are my predictions for each section tournament in Class AA for the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.
Section 1- The Bracket
This is easily the weakest bracket among Class AA, and also one of the most controversial. The section is made up of almost entirely of teams from south eastern Minnesota, plus the two Lakeville schools, which are probably closer to the Twin Cities. The complaint is that the Lakeville schools get a huge advantage by being in this historically weak section--aside from Rochester Century's great run two years ago, Section 1 hasn't done much at the state tournament--over other schools very near them like Burnsville, that have to play in tough Twin Cities sections.
Anyway, nobody in this section inspires much confidence. Rochester Mayo is the top seed, and probably has the best chance of winning. Talented seniors like Tom Alexander and a good goalie in Jordan Yaggy should be enough to carry Mayo and at least make them competitive at the state tournament.
Section 2- The Bracket
This is an absolutely fantastic section. Whichever teams survives will have two great wins under their belt and should head into the state tournament as the favorite to win the whole thing.
Bloomington Jefferson and Edina are seeded first and second respectively, and spent much of the season as the top two teams in the state. They never played during the regular season, and a section final game between those two would be a dream match-up, and probably just as good, if not better, than the state title game.
Standing in their way is third seeded Holy Angels and fourth seeded Burnsville. Burnsville can put the puck in the net, and have stretched some very good teams to extra time, but I see Jefferson's defense being able to shut down Burnsville, and Burnsville not being able to keep the puck out of their own net. These two met to start the season and Jefferson completely shut Burnsville down for two periods while building a big lead. I could see a similar game.
Holy Angels vs. Edina in the other semifinal should be another outstanding game. Holy Angels is a very talented hockey team, but has kind of flown under the radar this year because they've been overshadowed by Edina and Jefferson. Edina beat Holy Angels 5-2 over the holiday break. Holy Angels wasn't able to contain Edina's top duo of Marshall Everson and Anders Lee. Those two have had trouble finding the back of the net at times this season though, and if they struggle to finish again, Holy Angels could easily win the game. I see this one heading to overtime, and I'll pick Edina, just because I'd really like to see that Jefferson/Edina match-up this year.
The final is another very tough game to pick. Edina has some big name talent, but Jefferson has some very talented players in their own right. I'm interested to see how skaters like Caleb Herbert and Jeffrey Pauluk perform on the big ice at Mariucci. This should be an epic game, and again, I have concerns about Edina's scoring ability disappearing on them, but this game should have a crazy atmosphere, and I'll take the experienced Edina team to return to the state tournament in an overtime thriller.
Section 3- The Bracket
Woodbury has developed into a powerhouse in this section and is looking for their third straight state tournament appearance, this time has the heavy favorite, rather than the plucky underdog.
They'll have to get through Apple Valley in the semifinal, which I think could be closer than some people think, but I think the Royals have too much offensive power for Apple Valley's defense and goaltending to steal the game.
The bottom half of the bracket likely contains an interesting game between Cretin-Derham Hall and Eagan.Eagan doesn't score a ton of goals, but plays pretty stingy defense. The Raiders from Cretin are a bit down this year. But regardless of who wins, I don't see either having what it takes to knock off Woodbury in this section.
Section 4- The Bracket
Talk about a wide open section. Hill-Murray started the season as the clear-cut favorite, but sputtered when four seniors were kicked off the team for rules violations. The other section power, White Bear Lake, suffered a rash of injuries throughout the year. That opened the door for Tartan to earn the number one seed.
The one big advantage for Tartan is that being the number one seed puts Hill-Murray and White Bear Lake on the opposite side of the bracket, and turns their annual classic sectional game into a semifinal rather than a final. I think Hill-Murray prevails over White Bear to meet Tartan in the final.
That sets up a nice final between Tartan and Hill-Murray. Tartan won the most recent meeting between the two, and has the hot hand right now, but I think Hill-Murray steals this one. Maybe I overrate this, but I think especially with high school kids, there's something to be said for having experience playing in big, emotional games. A lot of these Hill-Murray kids played in the state tournament last year, and have played in sectional finals at a sold-out State Fair Coliseum. I see them bringing their A game and finding a way to knock off Tartan.
Section 5- The Bracket
This section has quietly been one of the best three-horse races in the state between Blaine, Centennial and Maple Grove. Blaine earned the top seed, meaning they'll avoid the deadly bottom half semifinal.Getting Osseo in the top half semifinal isn't exactly a bye, but it beats having to play a team ranked in the top ten in the state.
Maple Grove recently beat Centennial on Centennial's home ice. Can they pull off that upset again? I don't see Centennial being as flat as they were in that game, but I think Maple Grove is good enough to skate with Centennial. These are two very fast, senior-laden teams. I've got a feeling that Maple Grove can pull off the upset in this one.
The run probably ends there for the Crimson though. For whatever reason, Blaine has been a poor match-up for them this season, blowing them out twice. I really like the depth and experience of Blaine, and I think they should be able to pull away from Maple Grove in the final to make it back to the state tournament.
Section 6-The Bracket
This is maybe the state's deepest bracket. Any of five teams could come out this section, starting with a fantastic quarterfinal match-up between Benilde and Hopkins. Other than an upset over Edina, Hopkins hasn't really been able to put it together this year, and I think BSM will advance to meet top-seeded Eden Prairie.
Third seed Wayzata is a very solid hockey team, but I don't see them being able to get past Minnetonka in one this section's semifinals. In the other, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Benilde will upset Eden Prairie in overtime.
That would create a rematch of last year's spectacular final between Benilde and Minnetonka, which BSM won in overtime. This year, I think it will be Minnetonka that wins the close one to make the state tournament, ironically, with probably a weaker team than they had last season. This section always produces some great games, and there should be a lot of them this year.
Section 7-The Bracket
This is a section known for upsets and it has already had its first upset, with Grand Rapids falling to Cloquet.
Duluth East returns as the big favorite in this section, though they were upset last season. This year, I don't see as much to threaten them. Admittedly, I may be underrating Elk River a bit because they weren't impressive the night I saw them play. They can be giant killers though.
But this year, I think Elk River just has way too much talent, and everybody else isn't quite as strong as usual, so I don't see any way the Greyhounds don't make it to the state tournament.
Section 8-The Bracket
This section always seems like it comes down to a battle between Moorhead and Roseau, and this year probably isn't an exception. Third seed St. Cloud Tech isn't bad, but not quite on that level.
Will it finally be Moorhead's turn after Roseau has come out on top the past couple of years? Moorhead won the first meeting between the two easily, but needed extra time in the second meeting. Roseau should get a boost now that they have Nick Oliver back from injury.
This one should be a toss-up, but I think Moorhead will finally prevail over the Rams in a section final.
Rounding up my picks from each section...
1. Rochester Mayo
7. Duluth East