Its that time of year again, where hockey fans across Minnesota put everything aside and enjoy its most storied spectacle, the Boys State Hockey Tournament often simply known as ‘the Tourney.’ The drama of the section finals across Class A and Class AA have played their way out, there were upsets, there were blowouts and in some cases overtime. Whether your local team made it, or was close to making or whose season ended in the opening round of the playoffs you often enjoy the event for what it is. Simply the best High School hockey tournament, in the world.
Some have felt the 4-day event has been romanticized sort of like the 1972 Summit Series in Canada. Yet those criticisms usually stop pretty quick as Xcel Energy Center fills up with fans. The difference between this and the other state tournaments is the fact that there are lots of people that have no stake in the teams that are playing. They’re not from either community / school that is playing one another, they don’t know the coaches or anything else. They simply want to watch the best teams in the state faceoff and enjoy the fantastic ride that leads to two teams earning the coveted title of State Champions.
In case you needed another reason to differentiate why this State Hockey Tournament is special in comparison to others like it across the United States is the amount of current NHL alumni who have played in it. Blake Wheeler, T.J. Oshie, Casey Mittlestadt, Alex Stalock, Nick Leddy, Nick Seeler, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Derek Forbort, Nick Bjugstad, Matt Cullen just to name a few have graced the tournament which makes it a place where plenty NHL scouts will no doubt be in attendance again this year. So its very likely a few of these players in this tournament may be in the NHL someday or be plying their trade in college hockey soon.
Before I say anything else I’d like to thank all my followers on Twitter for putting up with all my RT’s of High School Hockey scores, I know it can make a person’s Twitter account erupt but I feel its best to pass along those scores. A huge nexus for passing on those scores so those of us who no longer live in the State of Hockey like myself can stay on top of things is FollowthePuck.com, the site is a must for any Minnesota High School hockey fan. Thanks for all your hard work and I know they’d certainly appreciate your support if you are able and willing.
So as I have written up a preview of the State Tournament I will list all of the Quarterfinal match ups for Class A and Class AA along with the players to watch for on each team as well as give my predictions of how those games will finish as well as the respective tournament itself. So let’s begin.
Class A – Games start Wednesday
11AM #2 St. Cloud Cathedral (24-4-0) vs. North Branch (19-7-2) ~ The Crusaders probably are feeling pretty confident with nemesis Hermantown out of the tournament and are probably one of the favorites going into the quarterfinals. After defeating a tough Alexandria squad in the section final Cathedral makes another trip to state. Cathedral has lots of firepower up front in juniors Jack Smith (24 goals, 53 points), Blake Perbix (18 goals, 59 points) St. Cloud State commit Nate Warner (12 goals in 13 games) and sophomore Cullen Hiltner (18 goals). Between the pipes, senior netminder Noah Amundson has been stellar (17-4-0, 1.98GAA) with one of the toughest schedules in Class A.
Having an ice arena is a necessity for most programs to have success, but don’t tell that to the North Branch Vikings who do not have an arena of their own but it didn’t matter as they beat arch rival Chisago Lakes to punch their ticket to the Tourney. North Branch is a young team that makes them a bit of a wildcard. Led up front by a trio of sophomore forwards in Cody Croal (23 goals), Joey Kircher (16 goals) and Tucker Sachs (15 goals). Junior goaltender Jake Turek (15-7-2, 2.23GAA) has been solid but he’ll be tested in a way he probably hasn’t been all that often this season.
Prediction: North Branch out of section 5A is young, which I think it makes them unpredictable because we’ve seen some surprising things from teams led by underclassman in the past (remember fellow 5A club Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake’s run a few seasons ago). Yet, its hard to believe St. Cloud Cathedral won’t take care of business here and I expect them to win by 2-3 goals and possibly more.
2PM #3 East Grand Forks (20-8-0) vs. Minnesota River (20-4-0) ~ East Grand Forks makes its way back to the tournament after a 3-1 section win over Warroad. Offensively the Green Wave are led by senior forwards Tanner Mack (18 goals, 37 points), Jake Hjelle (13 goals) and set up man Carter Beck (29 assists). East Grand Forks plays some of the best big schools in North Dakota in addition to a conference that features a bunch of Class AA teams. Between the pipes senior goaltender Tucker Brown (15-8-0, 2.34 GAA).
Collectively, the schools that make up Minnesota River have the largest enrollment in the Class A tournament but they make their first trip to the Tourney after a win over Rochester Lourdes. The Bulldogs’ offense is paced by senior forwards Hunter Wilmes (22 goals), Tyson Sowder and junior playmaker Charlie Weick (30 points). In the crease, senior goaltender Andrew Regner (14-4-0, 2.13GAA) is the workhorse for Minnesota River and they will only go as far as he can take them.
Prediction: Minnesota River has little experience against the best teams in Class A whereas East Grand Forks plays a strong schedule which features a number of good Class AA teams. I think the Green Wave will prevail but it might be closer than you think. Remember fellow 1A section club Northfield a few years ago, if East Grand Forks gets caught looking at the semi’s too early they might find themselves in a nail biter if they’re not careful.
6PM #1 Mahtomedi (21-6-1) vs. New Ulm (17-8-1) ~ New Ulm outlasted Hutchinson in a high scoring affair to punch their ticket to the Tourney. The Eagles offense is led by junior Glavine Schugel (26 goals) and seniors Josh Seidl (14 goals) and Landon Strong (11 goals) who delivered some clutch goals in the section final. New Ulm will need Jack Raymond (13-8-1, 2.14 GAA) to play big if they are to make their way out of the quarterfinals.
Mahtomedi prevailed over Totino-Grace to make their way back to St. Paul. The Zephyrs have plenty of scoring depth as they are led by senior twins Joe Paradise (32 points) and Tom Paradise (15 goals) as well as juniors Colin Hagstrom (15 goals) and Nikolai Dulak (13 goals). Mahtomedi is unique in the fact freshman Ben Dardis (10-4-1, 1.70GAA) is the Zephyr’s top goaltender and can the youngster handle the pressure of the Tourney?
Prediction: Mahtomedi plays in a strong conference and has prevailed against a number of quality teams including wins over Cathedral and Greenway. New Ulm’s schedule just isn’t nearly as tough and I think they’ll have a hard time scoring on a well-disciplined Zephyrs squad. Mahtomedi wins by at least 3 goals.
8PM #4 Greenway (15-13-0) vs. #5 Delano (17-9-2) ~ The Delano Tigers made their Tourney debut a few seasons ago, but now they want to make more of a statement this time around as they made it way through sections without giving up a single goal. Led offensively by seniors Hogan Williams (31 points), Quinn Daley (25 points) and sophomore sniper Adam Brown (15 goals) they may not scare you with a lot of firepower but they play a tough schedule. Between the pipes, senior goaltender Aaron Kruse (10-6-1, 2.90 GAA) will have to stand tall for Delano to make some noise this year.
For Greenway, the question may be what will they do for an encore after knocking off #1 ranked Hermantown 3-2 in overtime in the section 7A final. The Raiders’ top line is among the best in Class A as seniors Donte Lawson (27 goals), Nikolai Rajala (11 goals) and junior stud Ben Troumbly (15 goals) have lots of speed and skill. Senior Tyler Penny‘s (7-10-0) carried most of the mail during the regular season by Logan Wright was big in section play, as he got the Raiders so can he follow it up with another brilliant performance?
Prediction: This should be a very interesting game as Delano has gone from being a team that was all about offense to being a more responsible defensive squad. Greenway has to have a lot of confidence after beating Hermantown and feel like they can beat anyone. Lawson may be one of the best forwards in the Tourney and I think Greenway will win this one by 2 goals.
Class A Tournament Prediction: I think St. Cloud Cathedral will win it all. I like the depth in their scoring to carry them through to the finals. In the final game, I think Noah Amundson will be a rock and they’ll outlast Mahtomedi in a close game.
Class AA – Games start Thursday
11AM #2 Blaine (22-2-2) vs. White Bear Lake (21-4-1) ~ White Bear Lake exercised some demons by defeating arch-rival Hill-Murray 3-2 in the section final. Now can the Bears finally advance beyond the quarterfinals? White Bear Lake does not have an a high-powered offense but employ more of a score by committee attack led by seniors Blake Meister (32 points), Bill Chase (28 points), juniors Grant Hofeld (12 goals) Billy Rose (29 points) and Sam Newpower (10 goals) and sophomore Lleyton Roed (13 goals). White Bear Lake have split starts fairly evenly between Tyler Steffens and Evan Foss so which one will be their go-to option in St. Paul?
The Bengals have been a quietly strong program whose teams usually have size and can wear you down with strong physical play but this version has more speed which makes them difficult to play against. Blaine is led up front by the two headed monster of senior and Minnesota commit Bryce Brodzinski (32 goals) and juniors Carsen Richels (35 goals) and Cole Hansen (42 points). While Blaine may not be as balanced offensively they also are stingy defensively, and have one of the best goaltenders in the state in senior Joe Daniger (19-2-2, 1.58GAA) but will it be enough to win a state title?
Prediction: Blaine has the go-to firepower that is difficult to match. Bryce Brodzinski recently broke the Bengals scoring record (which is no small feat when you consider that group had a few NHL 1st round selections at the top in Riley Tufte and Nick Bjugstad) and is ranked as the #117 ranked North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting. Needless to say he’s going to be difficult to contain. White Bear Lake is good, but I think the Bengals strength at both ends of the ice will be too much for the Bears to handle. Blaine wins this game by two goals.
2PM #3 Eden Prairie (17-9-2) vs. Lakeville South (14-12-1) ~ Lakeville South represents Section 1AA which saw top seeded Hastings bow out in the section semi-finals before the Cougars would defeat cross-town rival Lakeville North to punch their ticket to the tourney. The Cougars are led by veteran coach Janne Kivihalme and he’ll need to put that experience to use against. Lakeville South has a modest attack led by senior forward Adam Harvey (11 goals, 25 points), junior Zack Oelrich (7 goals) and sophomores Jack Novak (8 goals) and Cade Arenholz (8 goals). Senior defenseman Nico Aguilera (9 goals, 22 points) patrols the blueline and he and his fellow Cougars will need to do their best to keep senior goaltender Henry Welsch (10-11-1, 2.27 goals against average) crease clear of company if Lakeville South is to have a chance.
The Eagles have another strong team coming to St. Paul as they battled through one of the deepest sections in the state. Eden Prairie is led by senior forward and Minnesota commit Jack Jensen (31 goals, 52 points), Spencer Rudrud (12 goals, 25 points) and junior John Mittlestadt (11 goals, 35 points). On the blueline, sophomore Luke Mittlestadt (25 points) has been one of the better offensive defenseman in the state. In the crease, the Eagles lead on junior Axel Rosenlund (8-5-1, 3.05) and will need him to find another level if they expect to win another state title.
Prediction: The Cougars have a lot of youth and a savvy coach, but the Eagles are simply more battle tested. The Lake conference is as tough as it gets and Eden Prairie will not overlook Lakeville South. While the Cougars will be able to keep this game close for a while I think Eden Prairie pulls away in the 3rd to win this one by 2-3 goals.
6PM #1 Edina (24-2-1) vs. Moorhead (21-6-1) ~ Destiny is part of growing up in the small town on the west side with a dream at Edina as 11 members of the team grew up and have played their whole lives together. Some played together on many A teams together, a few others usually played B (which in Edina is still a pretty high level). The Hornets have tons of star power and firepower as Northern Michigan commit Jett Jungels (27 goals), Liam Malmquist (23 goals) and Minnesota commit Mason Nevers (17 goals) as well as Brett Chorske (25 points). The star power continues as Wisconsin commit Mike Vorlicky works on the blueline in front of sophomore goaltender Louden Hogg (16-2-1, 2.09 GAA) as the Hornets had the toughest schedule in the state.
The Spuds return to the state tournament after missing the season before being upset by St. Michael-Albertville. Not this time as Moorhead leans on a lot of senior experience up front as forwards Nolan Westra (19 goals), Kyler Kleven (36 points) and set up man Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe (33 points) provide a lot of the firepower. Between the pipes Moorhead looks to junior Hudson Hodges (12-2-1, 1.83GAA) to shut teams down. They play a tough schedule against most of the best teams in the state.
Prediction: Moorhead surprised teams two years ago with a youthful squad that executed the game with outstanding precision and skill. I think Edina is just primed for this moment. They can light you up offensively and they can stifle you defensively. While I realize the Spuds lost 6-5 to Edina earlier in the season I don’t think it will be as close this time around. Edina often performs even better the next time they play an opponent and this time it will be no different as the Hornets will win by 2-3 goals.
8PM #4 St. Thomas Academy (24-3-1) vs. #5 Duluth East (18-6-2) ~ At St. Thomas Academy it is the swan song for the Vanelli brothers as they announced at the start of the season this their last year coaching the Cadets. Up front the Cadets are led by seniors including Colorado College commit Rob Christy (17 goals), Ryan O’Neill (15 goals), Brendan McFadden (14 goals) and set up man Luke Herzog (21 assists). Between the pipes, St. Thomas Academy will look to senior goaltender Muzzy Donhue (12-3-1, 1.82 GAA) to carry the team to its first state title since moving up to Class AA.
The Greyhounds must have a few 4-leaf clovers embedded in the ice at Duluth’s Amsoil Arena as they prevailed in double overtime against top seeded Andover to make another trip to state. Duluth East is a battle tested offense led by senior and Wisconsin commit Ryder Donovan (12 goals), Ricky Lyle (12 goals) Brendan Baker (8 goals), Jack Fitzgerald (9 goals) and gifted playmaker Logan Anderson (28 points). In the crease, Duluth East will likely give senior Brady Rabold (7-4-2, 1.9GAA the chance carry the mail for the Greyhounds. If any program has a knack for peaking at the right time its this one.
Prediction: These two teams battled their way to a 1-1 tie in the regular season, but I think Duluth East will win this time around. In many ways the Greyhounds remind me of North Dakota; where they are kind of up and down in the season but then they find their game when it counts and are a nightmare match up for whoever they face. Ryder Donovan may not have flashy stats but he’s the highest ranked high school player (#46) according to NHL Central Scouting and is tremendously clutch and where I think he’ll be the x-factor as the Greyhounds get by the Cadets.
Class AA Tournament Prediction: I think Edina will win the Class AA tournament. They have beaten Eden Prairie 3 times, top-ranked Minnetonka twice, and no team has the tremendous depth that Curt Giles‘ squad does. I think they’ll win it all in a 4-2 victory over Blaine.
Of course, the State Tournament brings another long awaited feature, the All Hockey Hair Team as produced by Game On! Minnesota‘s very own John King. So as you get set for another great tournament, check out these beauties rockin’ the flow like no other since it all got started back in 2011!
So sit back with what is sure to be another fantastic showcase of high school hockey. Who do you think is going to win it all? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!