The Minnesota high school playoff sectional tournaments have already gotten underway, mostly in nominal fashion, though not without a little excitement. Depending on your outlook, this was either The Year Everybody Was Good, or The Year Nobody Was Great. The good news is that this parity should make the section tournaments as exciting as they've ever been.
All the brackets are here.
Some headlines that I'll be keeping an eye on:
The Big Sections
Most of the attention will be placed on Sections 2AA and Section 6AA. 6AA is particularly deep. Minnetonka is ranked 8th in Class AA, but that was only good enough to earn them the fourth seed in their section.
Edina is the top seed in 2AA. The Hornets initially though they had lost senior defenseman and Harvard recruit Max Everson to a broken wrist, but it appears the wrist is just dislocated, and Everson will be able to play. Burnsville, Bloomington Jefferson, and Holy Angels are all also legitimate threats.
The semifinals for both sections will take place on Saturday, with the finals for both sections being played back-to-back at Mariucci Arena on March 2nd. That should be about as good as high school hockey gets.
No Free Passes for Top Seeds
Generally, the section tournaments are a cakewalk, at least for the first two rounds, for the top seeds. This year, that doesn't seem to be the case as much.
In Section 1A, which despite not having a lot of success at the state tournament, has produced some really interesting section tournaments, Rochester Lourdes is the top seed and heavy favorite, but in the semifinals, could draw Mankato West. The two teams met once this season, in Rochester, and Lourdes escaped with a tight 3-2 win.
Section 5AA is very interesting. Osseo took the third seed over Centennial, which makes sense given Osseo's two wins over Centennial, but Centennial is maybe the worse semifinal match-up for both of the top two seeds in the section. Centennial lost in overtime once to top seed Maple Grove, and tied them in the second meeting. Centennial beat second seed Blaine 5-0 in their first meeting, and lost 3-1 last Saturday, in a game in which Centennial missed seven breakaway chances. Blaine has never had any trouble beating Centennial in the playoffs before, but you have to think they caught a break drawing an Osseo team they beat 4-0 and 4-1 this year, rather than the Cougars.
It's perhaps no surprise that Sections 2AA and 6AA are pretty close. Edina met fourth seed Holy Angels once this year, a 5-4 Edina win at Holy Angels' rink. Eden Prairie met the fourth seed in their section, Minnetonka twice this year. They won 4-2(with an empty-netter) at home, and then tied the Skippers on Minnetonka's home ice in mid-February.
Duluth East is a big favorite in Section 7AA, but in their only meeting with fourth-seed Elk River, they only won 2-1 at home.
Bemidji High School has been one of the biggest surprises so far this season. A few years after choosing to move down to Class A, the Lumberjacks earned the top seed in Section 8AA, marking the first time they've been a top seed since George Pelawa led the team in 1986.
Standing in their way is number 2 seed Moorhead. The two teams tied in both meetings this season--Bemidji earned the top seed by virtue of better record with common opponents. Moorhead seems to be the more popular pick so far,perhaps just by virtue of being more well-known, and having more experience, having made the state tournament last year. But Bemidji has their own experience winning tight playoff games, with an epic six-overtime win over St. Cloud Tech in last year's sectional tournament. A final between the two would be a match-up of two of the more underrated goalies in the state with Moorhead's Michael Bitzer and Bemidji's Jeremiah Graves.
A few USHL teams have gambled by adding Minnesota high school players to their rosters. The gamble is that if those players don't make it to the state tournament, they could finish the year in the USHL, and play in 10 games, meaning those teams could protect those players for next season. If those players make it to the state tournament, it's unlikely they'd be able to play in 10 games, and thus, would go back into the USHL Draft for next season. Some players to watch would include Warroad's Nick Stoskopf, Blaine's, Jonny Brodzinski, and Lakeville South's Justin Kloos.