The Minnesota high school hockey season kicks off on Thursday. Here's a quick rundown on what you need to know to be prepared for the season.
Think I missed something or have a question to ask? Feel free to ask in the comments and I'll answer.
The Top Ten
The late departures of Ryan Zuhlsdorf and Kieffer Bellows were a huge blow to the Hornets--Zuhlsdorf especially as depth on defense always seems to be a concern for Edina. But it's just hard to pick against the depth Edina has year after year. There's not another school in the state that can roll three lines like Edina can.
College commits: Garrett Wait(Minnesota), Dylan Malmquist(Notre Dame), Henry Bowlby(St. Lawrence)
Newcomers to Watch: Sammy Walker, the brother of former Hornets Ben and Jack is a small, speedy forward that should make an immediate impact. Fellow freshman Clayton Phillips can be one of the most dynamic skaters in his age group when he's playing well.
2. Lakeville North
The Panthers return nearly the entire core of last year's state runner-up team and they should only be better this year. The three Poehling brothers give them one of the top lines in the state, and on the blue line, Jack McNeely and Jack Sadek are excellent defenders, and two of only a handful of players still playing high school hockey that will be considered as potential NHL Draft picks this summer.
College commitments: Jack Poehling(St. Cloud), Nick Poehling(St. Cloud), Ryan Poehling(St. Cloud), Jack McNeely(Omaha), Jack Sadek(Minnesota), Ryan Edquist(Minnesota)
Newcomer to Watch: The Panthers lost star freshman goalie Jake Oettinger to the NTDP, but found a pretty solid replacement. Minnesota commit Ryan Edquist returned home from Shattuck-St. Mary's to give Lakeville North one of the top goalies in the state.
3. St. Thomas Academy
The Cadets lost their top forward in Tommy Novak, but return one of the most dynamic duos in the state in Odeen Tufto and Christiano Versich, and Alec Broetzman adds some muscle and scoring punch. Their defense, which was a weak point last year should be much stronger with senior Seamus Donohue and sophomore Brian Hurley, both top-end talents, with an extra year of maturity.
College commitments: Seamus Donohue(Air Force), Christiano Versich(Colorado College), Brian Hurley(Ohio State)
Newcomer to Watch: Sophomore defenseman Robbie Stucker played sparingly with the varsity squad last year, but spent the majority of the season on the JV squad. Stucker is a big kid that was a bit overlooked because of a late birthdate, but impressed Waterloo of the USHL enough over the summer to earn a spot on their affiliate list despite being undrafted.
The Pioneers lost a lot of talent off of last year's squad, including NTDP forward Joey Anderson, but that's not unusual for Hill-Murray, and they always seem to find a way to reload with talent. Their defense has a great mix of physicality with Jacob Olson and Mikey Anderson and finesse with Casey Staum and Davis Zarembinski. The offense isn't as explosive as last year, but there are some very good young players that should become more effective as they gain experience throughout the year.
College commitments: Jacob Olson(Harvard), Mikey Anderson(Minnesota Duluth)
Newcomers to Watch: '99-born forwards Dylan Mills, Kyler Yeo, and Marko Reifenberger all have the potential to be solid contributors this year and will be closely watched by scouts this year. Though he'll likely at least start the season as the back-up, sophomore goalie Jake Begley has lots of potential.
5. Benilde-St. Margaret's
As usual, there are a lot of offensive weapons for Benilde-St. Margaret's. Seniors like Mark Kaske and Chase Jungels are backed up by talented youngsters like Zach Risteau and Auggie Moore. Keeping pucks out of their net will be the big challenge. They have a very mobile blue line, but a lack of shutdown defenders may hurt them against better teams.
College commitments: Ben Newhouse(Union)
Newcomers to watch: Power forward Cade Gleekel followed in the footsteps of former Knights Spencer Naas and Johnny Austin in transferring in from Blake. He should be an immediate contributor. Sophomore defenseman Connor Mayer is a very skilled offensive defenseman that will make a big impact.
Every year, Wayzata is one of the toughest defensive teams in the state. They lost star goalie Vaughan Ahrens juniors over the summer, but his replacement, Alex Schilling, should fill that role very effectively. The defense in front of him is very deep too, led by Alex Stevens and Hank Sorenson. Junior Max Zimmer can be one of the most electric forwards in the state and the duo of Mark Senden and Luke Paterson should have breakout seasons after being solid contributors last year as rookies.
College commitments: Mark Senden(North Dakota), Max Zimmer(Wisconsin)
Newcomers to Watch: Freshman Griffin Ness made big strides over the fall Elite League season and should make an immediate impact for the Trojans.
7. Elk River
The Elks will rely heavily on the duo of Jake Jaremko and Reggie Lutz, who combined to tear up this fall's Elite League. Veterans like Dylan Bouten and Ben Johnson just missed out on playing in the Elite League this year, but had strong fall seasons elsewhere and should be great contributors. Matt Kiersted gives them one of the most exciting offensive defensemen in the state. The big question will be in goal, where they will likely have to rely on Ben Meyers in a goal, a sophomore that is talented, but untested at the high school level.
College commitments: Matt Kiersted(North Dakota), Jake Jaremko(Minnesota State)
Newcomers to Watch: Jax Murray and Jensen Zerban formed one of the best Bantam duos in the state last year, and should add some offensive punch behind Jaremko and Lutz this year.
8. Eden Prairie
Eden Prairie is one of the biggest schools in the state, and as a result, always has a deep, mature team, even if they don't quite have the same top-end talent as the rest of the state. Michael Graham and Casey Mittelstadt will be relied on for scoring, but there are a lot of above average upperclassmen on their roster that will keep them competitive against anyone in the state.
College commitments; Michael Graham(Minnesota Duluth), Casey Mittelstadt(Minnesota)
Newcomers to Watch: After a great performance in the Elite League that earned him a scholarship to Minnesota, it seems weird to think that Casey Mittelstadt hasn't played a high school game yet. Sophomores Nolan Sullivan and Nick Leivermann will be key contributors too.
9. Duluth East
The Greyhounds almost always find a way to be a strong team, and this year, led by the offense of the Altmann brothers, they should have another strong squad that should be in the hunt for a return to the state tournament.
College commitments: None
Newcomer to Watch: Freshman Luke LaMaster is a strong kid capable of playing either forward or defense and should have no difficulty adjusting to the stronger, faster competition of high school hockey.
10. Holy Family Catholic
Despite not quite having the success they hoped for when they opted to move up to Class AA--thanks largely to playing in the state's toughest section--Holy Family seems to have established itself as a perennial contender among the best in the state. John Peterson and Will Garin will carry the offense, and while Matt Anderson is only a sophomore, he's starting his third year with the varsity team and is one of the top players in the country for his age group.
College commitments: Matt Anderson(Minnesota Duluth), Will Garin(Connecticut)
Newcomer to Watch: Senior goalie Gabe Heifort transferred into Holy Family from Bemidji last year, giving Holy Family a strong, experience replacement after Dayton Rasmussen left the school to play AAA hockey in Colorado over the summer.
Just missed the cut:
Grand Rapids, Maple Grove, Stillwater, Burnsville
Class AA: 1AA: Lakeville North 2AA: Edina 3AA: St. Thomas Academy 4AA: Hill-Murray 5AA: Maple Grove 6AA: Benilde-St. Margaret's 7AA: Duluth East 8AA: Moorhead
Class A: 1A: Rochester Lourdes 2A: Breck 3A: Luverne 4A: Totino-Grace 5A: Spring Lake Park 6A: St. Cloud Cathedral 7A: Hermantown 8A: East Grand Forks
My list of the top ten candidates for the Mr. Hockey Award. Edina's Dylan Malmquist is the favorite heading into the year.
The future of high school hockey It was another tough summer for Minnesota high school hockey. Between a poor showing at the NHL Draft, more players opting to play junior hockey, and AAA hockey gaining more popularity, many have started to question what the future holds for the sport in Minnesota. Let's Play Hockey had an interesting series of articles on that future this fall. I don't necessarily agree with all the opinions given, but there are some interesting takes in there.
Three-peat? Edina has the chance this year to become the first school to win three state championships in a row since the Bloomington Jefferson dynasty in the early 1990s. Last year, they were aided by some upsets in sectional tournaments that gave them a much easier path through the state tournament. This year should prove a tougher test, especially if more of the section favorites make it to the state tournament. The Hornets don't quite have the same firepower they did last year, while some of their competition, notably Lakeville North, has gotten better. Still, it's hard to pick against Edina until someone proves they can beat them when it counts.
Up-and-Comers St. Paul Academy is a relative unknown in the high school hockey world, but they won't stay that way for long. Their team is loaded with good young talent and if they can keep that group that together, they should be a contender in Class A very soon. They only have two seniors on their roster, so they might be a year or two away, but they'll be worth keeping an eye on this season.
Meanwhile, in Class AA, St. Michael-Albertville continues to add young players that played on Peewee and Bantam teams that made it to the state tournament. They're in a very tough section, but it's a matter of time before their big numbers coming through the youth ranks allow them to compete against teams like Elk River and Duluth East in 7AA.
Playing with the Boys Female goalie Maddie Rooney will play with the Andover boys team this year. Rooney is committed to the Minnesota Duluth women's team.