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2016 Minnesota State High School Tournament: Class A Preview

Matt Christians

The Class A Minnesota State Boy's High School Hockey Tournament kicks off Wednesday at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Here is this year's bracket. Hermantown and Breck have been the top two teams in Class A all season, and with teams ranked 3-5 getting knocked off in their respective section tournaments, the gap between the big two and the other six teams in the field only got wider. But anything can happen at the State Tournament, and it should be some entertaining hockey.

Here's what you need to know about the eight teams in this year's Class A field.

Breck Mustangs

Section: 2A (western Twin Cities suburbs)

The Story: Breck is a private school powerhouse in Class A, and the only team that likely has a chance at slowing down Hermantown this year. With St. Thomas Academy finally making the move to Class AA three years ago, Breck has become the avatar for evil Twin Cities private schools that should be playing in the top division.

Cheer for them if: You're one of the Koch brothers

Players to Watch: Mr. Hockey finalist Chase Ellingson is the top forward for Breck. Defenseman Dalton Weigel is one of the top offensive defensemen in the state. Forwards Mitch Matchlitt and Tyler Scott are also potential junior hockey players.

Hermantown Hawks

Section: 7A (northeastern Minnesota)

The Story: Hermantown has finished as the runner-up in each of the last six Class A tournaments. This year is one of their better chances to finally break through and win their second state title. They've got the strongest, deepest team in this year's field.

Cheer for them if: You don't want to see a private school win the tournament

Players to watch: Ryan Sandelin, son of UMD head coach Scott Sandelin, is the top prospect for the Hawks. Senior defenseman Wyatt Aamodt is one of the top defensemen in the state. Forward Cole Koepke and Tyler Watkins are USHL Futures picks.

Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons

Section: 3A (southwestern Minnesota)

The Story: LDC upset section favorite Luverne, denying fans around the state to opportunity to see Minnesota commit Jaxon Nelson, the state's top scorer(albeit against very weak competition), and probably saving up us from dozens of strained, unfunny Peggy Blomquist references.

Cheer for them if: You already have other plans for Friday and Saturday

Players to watch: This is a pretty unknown group. Senior David Raisanen was their leading scorer. Junior Luke Benson had a decent showing at the Minnesota Select 15 camp two years ago.

Mankato West Scarlets

Section: 1A (southeastern Minnesota)

The Story: Mankato West was barely better than .500 in the regular season, and almost dropped their section quarterfinal game when they were taken to two overtimes by Albert Lea. But the in the section final against Northfield, a team that had beaten them 8-3 and 5-2 in the regular season, West put together an incredible defensive effort and got a late goal to steal a 1-0 victory to earn their second ever trip to the State Tournament.

Cheer for them if: They play Breck first, so just cheer for them.

Players to watch: Senior forward Tyler Loe is the team's top scorer. Sophomore F/D Nick Wieben scored the winning goal in the section final.

Princeton Tigers

Section: 5A (North of the Twin Cities)

The Story: Princeton put together a very good 18-7-0 record during the regular season, but against an extremely weak schedule. They were the beneficiaries of playing in one of the weakest sections in the state. But out of a group of meh teams, they found a way to separate themselves, so they know how to win.

Cheer for them if: You're an Ivy Leaguer.

Players to watch: I'll be honest, I haven't heard of any of these kids. Junior forward Jake Carlson is the team's leading scorer.

St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders

Section: 6A (central Minnesota)

The Story: Section 6A was expected to be one of the most heated sections in the state, but Cathedral walked through it with blowout wins in the section semifinal and final. They've been inconsistent this year, but are playing good hockey at the right time.

Cheer for them if: You really like the cool Pope.

Players to watch: 6'5" sophomore goalie Keegan Karki is likely to be a highly-recruited NCAA prospect. Senior forward Logan Neu and defenseman Trevor Cornelius have the potential to play junior hockey next year.

St. Paul Academy Spartans

Section: 4A (eastern Twin Cities suburbs)

The Story: St. Paul Academy had never been much of a hockey power--it's a private school with a $27.5K/year tuition--until two years ago, they got a big influx of talented young players. As that group has matured, they've become a player on the Class A scene, and this year, thanks in part to their section's top seed Mahtomedi being upset in the semifinals, they were able to earn their first trip to the State Tournament.

Cheer for them if: You're the new guy here.

Players to watch: The top prospect to watch is sophomore Devlin McCabe. USHL draft picks on their team include senior Justin Jallen and junior Matt Dahlseide. Junior defenseman Noel Parker is a talented offensive defenseman.

Thief River Falls Prowlers

Section: 8A (northwestern Minnesota)

The Story: The Prowlers put together a solid season. They weren't able to pull off any big wins over the top Class A teams, though all of their games against top teams came on the road, and it can be a bit of a hike from TRF to anywhere.

Cheer for them if: You're Canadian. It's close enough.

Players to watch: Thief River Falls played the only high school game on cable TV this year against a week opponent, so casual fans got irrationally excited about TRF's Ethan Johnson. He's a good player that should get a junior hockey opportunity somewhere next year though. The team's best prospect is big defenseman Brendan Bushy.