What: Section 2AA Championship/Section 6AA Championship
Who: Burnsville vs. Edina, Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Wayzata
Where: Mariucci Arena
When: Section 2AA faces off at 6pm, Section 6AA to follow(roughly 8pm)
Web Streaming: At Prep45.com
Two of the largest, deepest sections in Minnesota high school hockey will decide their champion tonight on the same ice. Three teams that spent some time ranked #1 in the state at one point this season, including the team currently ranked #1 will be playing, in front of a huge crowd. Tonight should provide another chapter in an event that has produced some legendary games in the past.
The first question I'm always asked is about ticket availability. There is some pre-sale at the local high schools involved, but I would guess 80-90% of the tickets are sold at the door, and within 15-20 minutes of the first puck drop. The building is usually close to full, but I've never heard of anyone turned away at the door. If you have the ability, I highly suggest going. Just try to show up a little early, if possible, if you really want to see the first puck drop.
Burnsville vs. Edina
Burnsville meets Edina in the section final for the fourth time in the last six years. The last three games have all been very close, decided late in the third period or overtime, but Edina has won them all. The common theme in all three is that Edina's depth eventually proved to be too much for the Blaze to handle, and that looks like it could be the case again this year. Burnsville is led by an young, but excellent top line of Tyler Sheehy(OSU commit), Brock Boeser, and Cole Borchardt, but Burnsville doesn't have a third line as strong as Edina's.
The key for Burnsville will be to keep it a low-scoring game. Burnsville will lean heavily on defenseman Teemu Kivihalme(CC commit), a brilliant skater, who should excel on the larger ice surface of Mariucci. Burnsville also has a game-changer in goal with senior Chris Mallon. Mallon may not have put up the masterful four-save shutouts that drew the attention of the Brimsek Award committee, but an argument could be made that he's one of the best goalies in the state. He'll need to play the game of his life tonight to give his team a shot to win.
Meanwhile, for Edina, there is talent up and down their lineup, led by Notre Dame recruit and NHL Draft prospect Connor Hurley, and followed by at least half a dozen more forwards that have drawn serious NCAA interest. If the Hornets have a weakness, it's on the blueline. Their top pairing of Matt Nelson(Princeton commit) and Parker Reno(RPI commit) is as good as you'll see in high school hockey, but the depth beyond is concerning, especially on the bigger ice surface. It will be interesting to see if Edina considers splitting that top pairing when pressed.
Edina has gone through about all of their nine lives in keeping their ridiculous string of section championships alive, most recently last Saturday when a controversial goal call went their way to help them tie their semifinal game with Bloomington Jefferson. That luck has got to run out at some point, but I have a tough believing that this year, with this team, will be the one to do it.
Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Wayzata
Wayzata has been one of the biggest surprises in high school hockey this season. Playing in a deep conference, and a very deep section, they were expected to be competitive, but not really a serious challenge to some of the rosters with more big name talent. But by playing stifling defense, and getting timely scoring, the Trojans have been one of the best teams in high school hockey this year.
All eyes tonight will likely be on Trojans senior goalie Aaron Dingmann. Two years ago, as a sophomore, Dingmann got the start in goal in the section final against eventual state champion Eden Prairie. Wayzata would eventually lose that game in overtime, thanks in part to a strange goal that deflected in from a weird angle off of a teammate, ending what many considered to be Wayzata's best chance at a state tournament appearance in many years. Now, after a fantastic season, Dingmann has earned a chance at redemption.
Meanwhile, after being last year's sympathetic choice to cheer for, Benilde-St. Margaret's has done an almost complete heel turn. The Red Knights brought in two of the top players in the state from a different private school over the summer, which was deemed legal by the MSHSL, but certainly nowhere near the spirit of the state's transfer rules. The behavior of some of their players this year has been less than endearing. And late this season, head coach Ken Pauly kicked promising freshman Alec Baer off the team because he dared visit with a WHL club. If the Red Knights tourney run ends here, there won't be a lot of broken hearts about it.
Still, it's impossible to deny the talent that BSM has, especially offensively. They're led by a dynamic top line of Mr. Hockey favorite Grant Besse(Wisconsin commit), Dan Labosky(Colorado College commit), and TJ Moore. Spencer Naas anchors a dangerous second line, and if need be, the Red Knights may put all four forwards on the ice together at the same time. Expect junior defenseman Johnny Austin to be on the ice for half the game, if not more.
Wayzata plays their home games on olympic-sized ice, so the wider sheet shouldn't affect them as much, though more ice would seem to generally the faster, more-skilled Benilde team. Benilde started the year as my top-ranked team, and though they had some hiccups throughout the year--including sleepwalking through a 7-1 loss to this Wazata team--when they're focused and playing their best, I don't think anybody in the state can beat them. It would be nice to see Wayzata earn a trip to the state tourney, but I don't think they'll be able to keep BSM off the board enough to do so.