The Minnesota Class AA boys high school hockey tournament begins on Thursday. The tournament, featuring Minnesota’s largest schools, is the crown jewel of high school hockey. Over 18,000 fans will pack the XCel Energy Center to watch as the final eight teams compete for a state title.
It should be a great tournament this year, and it’s tough to pick a winner. Here’s a breakdown of all four quarterfinal match-ups, as well as who and what to watch for.
11AM #2 St. Thomas Academy vs. Lakeville South
STA Players to Watch: Robbie Stucker(D, 12), Rob Christy(F, 10), Willie Reim(F, 12), Brendan McFadden(F, 10), Payton Matsui(F, 11)
LVS Players to Watch: Josh Ess(D, 12, Wisconsin), Jack Olsen(D, 11), Cory Checco(F, 12), Dawson Klein(D, 11), Isaiah DiLaura(G, 11)
The key match-up here is St. Thomas Academy’s skill and speed at forward against a very good, mobile defense for Lakeville South. St. Thomas has the advantage of throwing two legit scoring lines out on the ice, but Lakeville South is able to counter with two pairings of defensemen that can control. The game likely comes down to the play of goalie Isaiah DiLaura. He’s a talented goalie, and if he’s playing well, he’s capable of making up for the likely shot advantage in St. Thomas Academy’s favor.
1PM #3 Moorhead vs. Hill-Murray
MHD Players to Watch: Ethan Frisch(D, 10, North Dakota), Carson Kosobud(D, 12), Carter Randklev(F, 11)
HM Players to Watch: Jake Begley(G, 12), Ben Helgeson(F, 10, Wisconsin), Brock Bremer(F, 12)
These two teams met two weeks ago to close out their regular seasons, as they traditionally do. Moorhead scored a game-tying goal late in the third period, and ultimately beat Hill-Murray in overtime. So even though Moorhead gets the seed with the win and better overall body of work, these two teams are incredibly close, and this should be a great game.
Both teams are going to play a hard, physical brand of hockey, and while there were seven goals scored in the first meeting, I think the second match-up with a lot more at stake will produce a much lower scoring game.
I like the mobility and puck-moving ability of both blue lines. Moorhead may have a slight edge in scoring ability, but that is mostly negated by Hill-Murray having the state’s best goalie in Jake Begley in net. This should be a really close game.
6PM #1 Eden Prairie vs. Wayzata
EP Players to Watch: Casey Mittelstadt(F, 12, Minnesota), Nicky Leivermann(D, 12, Notre Dame), Jack Jensen(F, 10, Minnesota), Hunter Johannes(F, 12)
WAY Players to Watch: Grant Anderson(D, 11, Omaha), Griffin Ness(F, 11), Colin Schmidt(F, 11, Minnesota)
However unlikely it might have seemed 10 days ago, it seems only fitting that Casey Mittelstadt’s quest for a state title runs through the team that defeated Eden Prairie in last year’s state championship game.
This isn’t the same Wayzata team that won a title last year, of course. But they’re also much better than their sub-.500 record would suggest. For Wayzata to pull off the upset, they’ll likely need to follow the same formula as their upset win over Edina in the section final. The Trojans threw everything they had into the first 3-5 minutes of each period, garnering a goal at the beginning of the first and third period, and then held on for dear life thanks to their always-stellar defensive play.
That’s a tough strategy to pull off against maybe the most electric offensive player in Minnesota high school history, and one that has failed Wayzata twice already this year. But they should provide a formidable challenge regardless for the Eagles.
8PM #4 Maple Grove vs. #5 Grand Rapids
MG Players to Watch: Sam Huff(F, 12), Tyler Borsch(D, 11), Tyler Kostolecky(F, 10), Ethan Haider(G, 9)
GR Players to Watch: Blake McLaughlin(F, 11, Minnesota), Gavin Hain(F, 11, North Dakota), Micah Miller(F, 12, St. Cloud State), John Stampohar(D, 12), Zach Stejskal(G, 11)
Ironically, the match-up here for Maple Grove is almost the exact opposite of their section championship win over Centennial. Against Centennial, the game came down to whether Maple Grove’s first line could outscore Centennial by more than Centennial’s second line outscored Maple Grove. On Thursday, it will be battle to see if Maple Grove’s first line can hold Rapids’ top line--easily the best in the state—close enough for Maple Grove’s second line to make up the difference. With that in mind, keep an eye on senior Jack Kelly and junior Tyler Borsch on the blue line and their ability to slow down Rapids’ top line, and sophomore forward Tyler Kostolecky, who provides scoring punch on the second line.
Grand Rapids may have been seeded fourth in their own section(Still a ridiculous decision. “They tied Andover” is the “But her emails” of our time), but when they’re at their best—and I’m willing to bet they bring their best to St. Paul—they’re easily one of the best teams in the state. It’s hard to see anybody keeping a lid on the trio of Blake McLaughlin, Gavin Hain, and Micah Miller for too long. The big key might be in goal. If Zach Stejskal is playing well and using his size to cut down angles, he’s good enough to carry the Thunderhawks over any rough patches they might go through over the weekend.