<![CDATA[The 2017 Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament is nearly upon us. At some schools its almost a rite of passage, while for others it seems like nearly an impossible dream. For the 67 teams that make up Class AA and 84 teams that make up Class A its what they identified as one of their team goals whether they are a perennial qualifier or a 'haven't been there yet.' Its all about getting to 'the Tourney‘ and for most of the state they’ll be content to make their way to St. Paul to watch it all whether their team is there or not, or enjoy watching at home on TV or their computer. Much like the Olympics, a good tournament can turn a relative unknown Minnesota high school athlete into an instant sports celebrity.
Speaking of celebrity, the Boys State Hockey Tournament has also spawned its own spin off competition in regards who is going to be selected to the All Hockey Hair team by John King who has been delighting hockey hair fans since 2011 with his annual YouTube clip. Not only has the viewership grown, but its also raised some significant money for charity too turning the whole venture into a win-win. The rising popularity of this competition even drew the attention of ESPN last year who profiled it on their E:60 program which you can watch below.
While Barry Melrose may have been the most appropriate host, he should let Mr. King make the selections as he certainly knows what he’s talking about. Either way, I think we’re guaranteed to see plenty of players hamming it up to be on this year’s video. Yet on a more serious note the State Tournament is an opportunity to see future NHL players. The Tourney has had its share of NHL talent over the years from Matt Cullen, Paul Martin, T.J. Oshie, Ryan McDonagh, Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Blake Wheeler just to name a few. So tons of compelling story lines if you don’t really care which team ends up winning it all.
So let’s breakdown the Quarterfinal match ups for each class and I will provide a prediction for each of the 8 games as well as predicting who I believe will be the winner for each class when its all said and done. Let’s begin.
Wednesday 11AM: Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake (21-6-1) vs. #2 Delano (24-3-1) ~ This match up is unique in that it features two western suburb teams making their first trip to the state tournament. The Moose are led by Junior Ben Ward (23 goals) and seniors Nick Zwack (20 goals) and Casey Chiodo (18 goals) offensively. The Moose do play a fair amount of Class AA teams, but the section is arguably one of the weaker ones in the state. MAML’s Tyler Klatt (2.45 goals against average) will be tested big time. Meanwhile Delano brings a ton of offense. Led by seniors Ben Meyers (46 goals), Brian Halonen (37 goals) and John Keranen (27 goals) the Tigers have top-level firepower that can compete with any team in the Class A tournament. The Moose will be hard-pressed to shut them down. Jackson Hjelle (2.52 goals against average) probably needs to be good rather than great in this quarterfinal game. Prediction: Tigers win this one going away, 6-1 or 7-1. Delano’s have been lighting up opponents all season and they will be too much for Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake.
Wednesday 1PM: Northfield (20-5-3) vs. #3 Mahtomedi (16-11-1) ~ Northfield is making its first trip to the Tourney and no doubt will be feeling some butterflies as it takes on an experienced Zephyrs’ squad. The Raiders have a scoring by committee approach with seniors Grant Sawyer (12 goals) , Jackson Cloud (14 goals) and Nicholas Kvernmo (12 goals) and junior Jake Halvorson (23 goals) who will not ‘wow’ you with big numbers but they try to make up for it with a blue-collar approach. Raiders’ goaltender Ryan Bielenberg (2.29 goals against average) will likely be busy right from the drop of the puck. Northfield will have try to shut down senior Luke Posner (27 goals) who really carries the majority of the Zephyrs’ attack. The Zephyrs play a tough schedule made up primarily of metro area class AA schools and they certainly hold their own. Bailey Huber (2.38 goals against average) must be at his best. Prediction: I think Mahtomedi wins this one 5-2. I see this game staying close, but Posner and the Zephyrs will pull away in the 3rd period.
Wednesday 6PM: Luverne (22-5-1) vs. #1 Hermantown (26-1-1) ~ The southwestern Minnesota darling is back and their efforts to play more metro area schools have paid off. The Cardinals, a youthful squad and they certainly can bring the offense as they are led by senior Jesse Reed (13 goals), juniors Kasyn Kruse (31 goals), Nick Harder (21 goals) and Declan Beers as well as sophomore stud Ben Serie (14 goals). The question is whether the Cardinals can defend against the defending state champion Hawks and a lot of that will fall on goaltender Caden Ericson (.932% save percentage). Hermantown is a machine led by senior Ryan Sandelin (27 goals), Jesse Jacques (23 goals), Matt Valure (20 goals) that are both battle tested and no team in the Tourney has as much experience in high stakes games as they do. Cade McEwan has been rock solid this season with a 1.29 goals against average and a .939% save percentage. Prediction: Luverne will play fearlessly, but they have never played a team with the scoring balance, strength and skating like the Hawks have. Hermantown wins 7-3.
Wednesday 8PM: #5 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-6-2) vs. #4 East Grand Forks (17-8-2) ~ The #4/#5 game always has the potential to be the best of the quarterfinals, and this one should be a barn burner. The Crusaders are back with a strong, well-rounded team led by seniors Jake Van Hallbeck (28 goals) and Michael Spethmann (22 goals) as well as freshman phenoms Nate Warner (15 goals) and Mack Motzko (26 points) . Between the pipes Jake Levinski (2.77 goals against average) carries the mail for the Crusaders. Cathedral can defend reasonably well but they cannot underestimate East Grand Forks who may lack the ‘wow’ factor they’ve had in previous tournaments. The Green Wave are led by senior Nick Lund (23 goals) and junior Coby Stauss (15 goals). East Grand Forks is more of a defensive squad and look for chances to counter attack. That also means Tucker Brown (2.49 goals against average) must be great. Prediction: I think St. Cloud Cathedral advances in a tight-checking game, 4-2 where I think the Crusaders’ secondary scoring makes the difference. Easily the most competitive game of the opening day of the tournament.
Class A Tournament Prediction: Hermantown will win it all in a very close game against Delano 5-4. The Hawks defeated Delano in a holiday tournament earlier this season, but they’re one of the few teams that I think can handle Delano’s offense. While it may seem like a lame prediction, the truth is top two seeds are simply that far ahead of their peers. Winning it twice in a row will hopefully mean the Hermantown program finally admits what everyone knows, they should make the jump to Class AA.
Thursday 11AM: Lakeville South (18-9-4) vs. #2 St. Thomas Academy (23-4-1) ~ the Cougars surprised some by beating cross-town rival Lakeville North to punch their ticket to St. Paul. Lakeville South had a roller coaster season and at times can surprise teams with their counter attacking style offense as seniors Brody Golant (13 goals), Josh Ess (8 goals) and junior Zachary Bauer (13 goals). The Cougars’ limited attack will mean Isaiah DiLaura (.914% save percentage) will have to have to be Lakeville South’s best player. They will have their hands full against a strong Cadets-squad which brings plenty of firepower led by seniors Willie Reim (20 goals), defenseman Robbie Stucker (8 goals), and sophomore Rob Christie (14 goals). Junior Atticus Kelly, the Cadets goaltender with perhaps the best name in the tournament brings a .927 save percentage and a 1.29 goals against average. Prediction: I think the Cadets will prevail 5-1 in a fairly uneventful game. The Cadets did very well in their games against the south metro clubs and while I think Lakeville South will do what they can to try to keep it a low-scoring game, St. Thomas Academy will eventually wear the Cougars down.
Thursday 1PM: Hill-Murray (19-5-4) vs. #3 Moorhead (22-3-3) ~ The Pioneers already provided a bit of a surprise as Bill Lechner‘s club beat a very formidable Stillwater squad in the sectional final. Hill-Murray is led by seniors Brock Bremer (20 goals) who is tiny but relentless, Kyler Yeo (13 goals) and Emmet Nath (15 goals). Goaltender Jack Begley (1.62 goals against average) will be tested as he faces a very dangerous and young Moorhead Spuds team. The Spuds are led by juniors Carter Randklev (26 goals), Cole O’Connell (20 goals), Jack Stetz (10 goals), and sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (6 goals) who may be one of the best defenseman in the state. Lance Leonard (1.67 goals against average) is poised and efficient goaltender for the Spuds. Moorhead plays tremendous team defense and they are very efficient in their breakouts. Prediction: I think Moorhead wins this one in methodical fashion, 6-2. The Spuds are a very dangerous team and the scary part is they are almost devoid of seniors.
Thursday 6PM: Wayzata (10-17-1) vs. #1 Eden Prairie (21-4-2) ~ Two Lake conference foes will face one another and that familiarity should make for a feisty quarterfinal game. The Trojans’ record will likely make a lot of fans chuckle at how Pat O’Leary‘s squad made it but they shouldn’t forget, this is the defending Class AA state champions. Wayzata is a defensively solid team but they have a pop-gun offense led by juniors Griffin Ness (11 goals) and Colin Schmidt (9 goals) so they must keep the game low-scoring if they want to have any chance at all. Keeping it low scoring will be dependent upon goaltenders Reid Waszczenko (.893%SP) and Sawyer Andersen‘s (.890% SP) job who more or less have split time this season. That of course is easier said than done against the Eagles who are led by likely NHL 1st round pick Casey Mittlestadt (21 goals), Hunter Johannes (16 goals), Nolan Sullivan (17 goals) and sophomore Jack Jensen (16 goals). Mittlestadt has not minced words the reason he came back was to win it all so will he get his storybook ending? Nick Wiencek (.932% save percentage) carries the load between the pipes for Eden Prairie. Prediction: I do not think we’re going to see another Rosemount (1992 back in the Tier I, Tier II days) situation where a Cinderella squad advances to the final. I think Eden Prairie will win this one 7-0. The Eagles have too much firepower, and the Trojans might keep it close through the 1st but after that it will be all Eden Prairie.
Thursday 8PM: #5 Grand Rapids (20-7-1) vs. #4 Maple Grove (22-6-0) ~ This should be another great showdown between two solid clubs. The ‘Halloween Machine’ have been a bit enigmatic but they managed to advance out a brutally tough section 7AA as the #4 seed so you have to respect their ability to raise their game at the right time. Grand Rapids are led by the speedy seniors Micah Miller (21 goals) Michael Stampohar (14 goals) and juniors Gavin Hain (24 goals) and Blake McLaughlin (16 goals) that give the Thunderhawks some explosive potential offensively. Goaltender Zach Stejskal (.920% save percentage) will need to be solid for Grand Rapids. The Crimson of Maple Grove may not be on many teams’ radar but they’re a very well-balanced team that defends well and has some good offensive punch led by seniors Sam Huff (20 goals), Justin Kelley (23 goals), and Jarrett Cammarata (11 goals). This should make for an excellent back-and-forth game that will certainly give the fans their money’s worth. Goaltender Ethan Haider (2.07 goals against average) must be a wall if the Crimson are to have a chance. Prediction: The Thunderhawks have an experience factor that makes me believe they can advance against Maple Grove. I expect to see Grand Rapids win 5-3.
Class AA Tournament Prediction: Moorhead, yes the Moorhead Spuds, you read that right. I think the Spuds are going to surprise everyone this season and win it all for the first time in school history. I know the story a lot of people are going to be rooting for is for Casey Mittlestadt to get one for wanting to stay and play with the friends he grew up ‘loving the game’ with but Moorhead can not only shut you down, but light you up which makes them the perfect darkhorse spoiler.
So what is your prediction? Who are you rooting for? This year’s tournament features 16 Division I college commits, and many more who have been offered scholarships.
Don’t like my take? To use a familiar phrase from Reading Rainbow, ‘don’t take my word for it.’ Here are some great reads for anyone wanting to know more about this year’s group of teams. One of those aforementioned sources is this ‘Tourney Cheat Sheet‘, stick tap to Bicks Blog for posting this. Want more detail, read this tournament preview blog by Karl. I am not sure there is another person who lives for High School hockey as much as he does and it is loaded with insight.