I've been making the rounds around the state to see some Minnesota high school games in recent weeks, and rather than putting every game round-up into its own post, I decided to lump them all together. Consider this a version of CBC analyst Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts if he was too lazy to come up with all thirty things.
-After needing overtime to win their season-opening game against Farmington, Lakeville North made a serious statement by beating #1 Edina in Lakeville and taking over the top ranking in the state. If there's one place Lakeville North has a big edge over Edina, it's in goal, and North's Ryan Edquist played an excellent game, making 28 stops in the win.
Meanwhile, Nick Poehling had all three goals for North in the win. The Poehling twins are an interesting pair. Every time I see them play, I'm never overly impressed, but by the end of the game, they usually end up scoring a goal. And if they keep scoring like they have early this season, it will be difficult to ignore them as Mr. Hockey candidates.
-If there's one player I'm already regretting not putting on my Mr. Hockey candidate list, it's Burnsville's Jack Ahcan. Ahcan was far and away the best player on the ice last Thursday when Burnsville upset Benilde-St. Margaret's. I debated putting him on my list initially, but ended up leaving him off because I thought he might get overlooked because he has little support at Burnville. That might still be the case; the Blaze are solid, but have little star power behind Ahcan. Ahcan was smooth and controlled all game against the Red Knights like a man playing against boys. It's no guarantee that translates to the next level, but he's playing very well right now.
-Benilde-St. Margaret's dropped two games last week to Burnsville and Hill-Murray and I was in attendance for both. The loss to Burnsville was just an all-around bad game for them. Nobody seemed that interested in working unless they had the puck on their stick. Saturday was different though. The Red Knights were understandably fired up after an emotional pre-game ceremony, and came out flying in the first period against Hill-Murray, jumping out to an impressive 3-1 lead. They weren't able to sustain that effort for the next two periods and eventually lost 5-3, with Hill-Murray scoring a late empty-netter. But that first period on Saturday showed that at their best, they're a team with the talent to do something special. It's just a matter of bringing that effort more consistently, or at least at the right time.
-Hill-Murray was about what I expected when I saw the defeat Benilde-St. Margaret's on Saturday: a team that is talented, but very, very young. They've got five players born in 1999 that will be heavily scouted by the USHL and NTDP playing regular minutes for them. The biggest surprise was forward Marko Reifenberger, who played on the first line and scored twice in the game. It will be interesting to see just how much this team can grow between now and March. I've yet to see Stillwater play, but they should provide a very tough test in Section 4.
-The biggest surprise of the season might be Elk River destroying Maple Grove 11-4 in Maple Grove, a game which included Elk River leading 6-0 after the first period. Elk River is very good and averaging over eight goals a game, but it's still shocking to see a team as good as Maple Grove get tossed around that badly.
It's tough to tell what's wrong with Maple Grove. They've got a lot of returning talent from last year's team, including two very capable goalies. They seem to have righted the ship a bit with a win over Blaine--though the Bengals are a clear step down from Top 10 teams like Wayzata and Elk River that have beaten Maple Grove. Section 5AA as a whole seems to be very down this year.
-Speaking of Elk River, Section 7AA is looking like it could be the toughest section in the state this year. Elk River and Grand Rapids have been fantastic. Duluth East is always good and has the benefit of home ice advantage. Andover has shown they can be pesky--female goalie Maddie Rooney made 41 saves in a 2-2 against Duluth Eastlast weekend--and St. Michael-Albertville is still undefeated and looks like they'll be a tough out in the section tournament.
Obviously I'm kidding, but I can't help but imagine a World Cup qualifying-type scenario where the winner of Section 5AA has to win a play-in game against the runner-up of 7AA, and maybe the winner of 8AA playing the third place team in 7AA for the right to a state tournament bid. It's strange to see how lopsided things have shaken out this year.
-I missed the opportunity to see Class A #1 East Grand Forks when they traveled south over Thanksgiving weekend, so I have no point of reference, but I was very impressed when I saw Hermantown play, despite blowing a late lead and losing to Wayzata. The Hawks are a very phsycial team, and I think they'll be a force to contend with at the end of the season.