I tried this format last week, where I cram all my Minnesota high school hockey thoughts for the week into one post, and it seemed to work out pretty well.
Here's what you need to know about high school hockey in Minnesota this week:
-I made it up to Andover last week and got an opportunity to see Maddie Rooney--the female goalie committed to Minnesota Duluth playing with the boy's team this season--start in goal against Maple Grove; a game Andover lost 4-1.
Technically speaking, she's very impressive, and really competes hard. But--and maybe this is just me being naive or not putting enough thought into it--the thing I didn't even think about and the first thing I noticed is just how small she looks out there. She's about average height for a high school girl, maybe 5'5", but that's tiny compared to your average boy's high school goalie. As a result, she just doesn't take up a lot of the net, and has to make a lot more reaction saves rather than letting her positioning take care of most of the work. The fact she's doing as well as she is, despite having to do a lot more work than the average goalie, is quite impressive.
-Big news in the high school hockey world came out on Wednesday when it was announced that Duluth Marshall, a small private school in Duluth that has had a fair amount of success in Class A, would be opting up to Class AA. There's lots of interesting angles to this one.
There's a bit of a cold war between Marshall and Duluth East, traditionally the strongest program in the city. The two never play each other despite both being excellent hockey programs with schools five miles apart.
Officially, the line was that Duluth East had no interest in playing a Class A school. Unofficially, Duluth's top two programs clashed numerous times for top young players. Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, for example, grew up playing in Duluth East's Peewee and Bantam programs before opting to attend the private high school. Or take current Duluth East junior Lukas Dow, who played Bantams in the Duluth East program, then went to Duluth Marshall for a year, then transferred back to Duluth East this season after getting a special appeal from the State High School League, where he is now a key contributor for the Greyhounds.
With Marshall moving up, they'll most likely be placed in Section 7AA with Duluth East, and they'll likely have to play each other.
-The MSHSL is due to redraw section boundaries this summer, and with Duluth Marshall almost guaranteed to be in Section 7AA, there will likely be some major changes in that section. Marshall brings them to 10 teams, with some major geographic outliers. Somebody is getting bumped out, but whom?
Among the options: St. Michael-Albertville goes to Section 6AA, which is down to just 7 teams with Armstrong and Cooper HSs combining into one team. Either Andover or Elk River would be strong fits in Section 5AA where most of their Northwest Suburban Conference mates already play. Forest Lake could play in Section 4AA, where most of their conference mates already play. Or there is the possibility of shuffling a team--either Grand Rapids or STMA--to Section 8AA. Grand Rapids fits that section's northern profile well. STMA is as much a geographical fit with Buffalo and Monticello(who they co-opt with in girl's hockey) as anybody. In any case, some section will be getting a new team that is good enough to compete for a state tournament berth this year.
-Speaking of Duluth East, I saw the Greyhounds when they came down to the Cities to play Centennial on Tuesday night. Centennial won 5-3 and my comment after the game was, 'I was there and I'm still not sure how that happened'. Duluth East completely dominated the first 30+ minutes of the game, building a 2-0 lead and never looking like they were facing any sort of threat.
Then Duluth East took a five-minute major penalty(a good call, in my opinion) late in the second period and the game completely shifted. Centennial scored a power play immediately, then tied the game early in the third period towards the end of that power play. Even still, Duluth East went up 3-2 and looked like they'd cruise from there after hitting that little hiccup. But Centennial answered back seemingly out of nowhere with three quick goals in succession to win the game 5-3.
Duluth East hasn't been all that impressive in the early going this season, but I do think the talent is there. They should come together at the end of the season, and their home ice advantage in the sectional tournament is always a factor.
Centennial doesn't have a lot of what I would call high-end talent--though I think defenseman Colton Berg is an underrated player. But they are a very disciplined, well-coached bunch and always seem to get better results than their roster suggests. They didn't play the most exciting brand of hockey, but stuck to what worked and really slowed Duluth East down.
Finally, there were a decent number of USHL scouts in the building, presumably also taking the opportunity to see Duluth East play that far south. '99-born defensemen Luke LaMaster and Reid Hill are good candidates to be selected in the USHL Futures Draft, with forward Garrett Worth also on the radar.
-Centennial's section rival Blaine is a very tough team to figure out. I wasn't blown away by the Bengals when I saw them defeat Totino-Grace earlier this year. Since then, the Bengals went down 4-0 in a game against Centennial, only to come back and win 5-4. In their next game, they went down 4-0 again, this time to Elk River, before coming all the way back only to lose in overtime. Then on Tuesday, they had a 4-3 win over Hill-Murray, which is a very good result. They're really relying on their top four forwards right now, but with a close loss to Elk River and a win over Hill-Murray, it looks like they should be considered a legitimate top team.
-A few years ago, in the wake of Jack Jablonski's injury, Minnesota instituted tougher 'no tolerance' rules on dangerous checks, including any boarding penalty automatically being a five-minute major penalty. It's a well-intentioned rule, but I've begun keeping track of how many obvious boarding penalties I see get called as anything else so that the referee can just hand out a two-minute penalty rather than the major. I think I'm up to four so far this year.
-The Edina Holiday Classic kicks off tonight. It's the annual three-day round-robin event featuring Edina, Eden Prairie, Elk River, and Grand Rapids. It's always a great event, and all four teams look pretty good this year. I'll be down there for tonight's games.