The Tourney is on, enough said. If you’re from Minnesota, that’s really all someone should have to say to understand what occupies your mind for 4 days each March. I know ever since I can remember I would race home from school as fast as I could to watch the tournament, hearing the play-by-play voices of guys like Frank Mazzocco and Wally Shaver as well as the analysis of Minnesota hockey legend ‘Sweet Lou from the Soo’ Lou Nanne. Now its more like sneaking a moment or two at work to watch the stream the afternoon games online. Either way, I’m sure Channel 45 will do a terrific job, especially with ‘the voice of St. Cloud State hockey’ Jim Erickson on play-by-play and the analysis by Mark Parrish and Nanne. No Hockey Hair videos from John King anymore, but we’ll get by.
Speaking of great state tournament memories, Minneapolis Star Tribune sportswriters Loren Nelson and David La Vaque capture the true spirit of the State Tournament in their new book ‘Tourney Time.’ It is a fantastic trip down memory lane, which goes deeper into some of the stories behind some of the great games and teams that have made their mark at the tournament over the last 75 years. If you have enjoyed watching the State Tournament at all or know someone who can’t get enough of it, it is a must have. Did you know legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell once did play-by-play for the tournament? Do you know the real story behind the infamous 5 overtime semi-final game between Apple Valley and Duluth East? All of those stories and more is in the book, it is a real treat.
What stories will be created as part of the 2020 tournament? As section play took place last week across the state, upsets were a major theme as #1 seeds fell in the semi-finals to a series of upstart clubs in both Class A and Class AA making for what could be one of the most wide open tournament field’s in recent memory. The State tournament has featured plenty of NHL talent over the years and no doubt there will be plenty of NHL scouts in attendance. In almost every tournament you see players who will be drafted like Blake Wheeler, Brock Nelson, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Ryan McDonagh, Nick Leddy, Casey Mittlestadt, Nick Bjugstad, and Alex Stalock just to name a few.
Before I move on to preview the tournament I’d like to give a stick tap to Doug @FollowthePuck for all the hard work he does to keep the state well-informed of scores for both boys and girls hockey. Please give him a follow on Twitter if you haven’t already or donate to his site. KFAN‘s Beyond the Pond did an interview with a number of the coaches of the teams that are going to state this year in this last Saturday’s show.
I will take a look at all of the opening round match ups for each class and preview each game, giving you some players to watch as well as provide my predictions for those games and which teams I see winning it all. Let’s begin!
Class A Bracket – Starts 3/4/20
#2 (6A) St. Cloud Cathedral (20-3-1) vs. (1A) Mankato East / Loyola (11-13-1) @ 11AM ~ The defending state champions from St. Cloud Cathedral are looking to repeat after another strong season. Cathedral has readied itself for the Tournament by playing one of the toughest schedules in the state that featured a number of top-rated Class AA schools and often the Crusaders came away with a victory. Led by battle-tested players like Blake Perbix (27 goals, 74 points), Minnesota-commit Nate Warner (26 goals, 59 points) and Mack Motzko (25 goals, 55 points) the Crusaders have plenty of firepower up front. Center Jack Smith was rated 163rd by the NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings. Between the pipes, junior goaltender Grant Martin carries the mail and he has a 2.65 goals against average and an .888% save percentage. Here is an KFAN interview with the Crusaders’ head coach Derrick Brown. The Cougars of Mankato East / Loyola is used to the role of being the underdog after they won the crosstown battle against Mankato West to punch their ticket to state for the 2nd time in 3 years. Up front, the Cougars’ offense goes through the 1-2 punch of junior Layten Liffrig (29 goals, 63 points) and senior Matthew Salzle (26 goals, 52 points). Junior defenseman Brett Borchardt is Mankato East’s power play quarterback. Between the pipes Mankato East looks to sophomore goalie Caelin Brueske (3.65 goals against average) to stand tall.
Prediction: The Crusaders have one of the most experienced and deepest lineups in the entire Tourney and its hard to believe the Cougars’ will be able to match up effectively. While I think Mankato East will do their best to keep this a low scoring game, it will only be a matter of time before St. Cloud Cathedral wears them down and wins this one by 4 or more goals.
#3 (7A) Hermantown (19-3-4) vs. (5A) Monticello (17-7-1) @ 1:00PM ~ Hermantown has been a perennial powerhouse out of section 7A and like St. Cloud Cathedral their schedule featured quite a few games against some of the best teams in the metro area. Led by Mr. Hockey Finalist Blake Biondi (37 goals, 76 points) and fellow senior Zach Kilen (18 goals, 55 points), along with junior offensive defenseman Joey Pierce (15 goals, 32 assists) the Hawks again feature some of the best scorers in the state. The right-shot centerman, Biondi, a University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit was ranked 91st by NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings. Senior goaltender Jacob Backstrom was the Hawks’ workhorse between the pipes with a 2.06 goals against average and a .894 save percentage. The Monticello (then MAML) Moose were the darlings of the state tournament a few years ago. Monticello has a well-rounded attack led by senior captain Jeffery Henrikson (17 goals, 39 points), Brian Cornelius (17 goals, 33 points) and sophomore Wilson Dahlheimer (15 goals, 33 points). Junior goalie Nash Wilson doesn’t take a up a lot of net, but he carried most of the goaltending load for the Moose this season with a 2.25 goals against average and a stellar .917% save percentage.
Prediction: While I think the Moose will likely try to keep it a low scoring game, but the Hawks simply have too much skill and firepower for Monticello to completely shutdown. Hermantown will win this one by at least 3 goals.
#1 (8A) Warroad (23-2) vs. (3A) Hutchinson (16-8-1) @ 6:00PM ~ It has been a while since the Warriors last made their way to St. Paul as East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls have stood in the way but they bring battle tested team that had plenty of games against Class AA competition. The Warriors earned the top seed with a potent offense led by Northern Michigan-commit senior Grant Slukynsky (30 goals, 75 points), junior Anthony Foster (24 goals, 46 points) and freshman phenom Jayson Shaugabay (19 goals, 51 points). Junior defenseman Blake Norris (2 goals, 25 points) settles things down on the back end and helps senior goaltender Zach Foster who has a 1.42 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. You can hear an interview with Warroad’s head coach Jay Hardwick that he did with KFAN‘s Brandon Mileski on Monday. Hutchinson arrives after a dominating win over arch-rival Litchfield / Dassel-Cokato in the section final. The Tigers offense is led by the 1-2 punch of senior Austin Jozwick (25 goals, 49 points) and junior Hayden Jensen (16 goals, 30 points). Junior blueliner Tristan Hoppe has a cannon of a shot and had 3 game winning goals this season. Junior goalie Austin Hagen carries the mail for the Tigers between the pipes with a 2.35 goals against average and a .911% save percentage
Prediction: I think Hutchinson is going to struggle mightily against Warroad’s offense and their superior depth will be difficult when trying to figure out match ups. I think the Warriors will win this one by at least four.
#4 (4A) Mahtomedi (17-8) vs. #5 (2A) Delano (20-6) @ 8:00PM ~ the Zephyrs have been state tournament regulars for quite a while now. Mahtomedi isn’t the most star-studded team in Class A but they’re well-coached and do not have any obvious weaknesses and have played a schedule that had a lot of Class AA competition. The Zephyrs are lead up front by senior Nikolai Dulak (23 goals, 41 points), juniors Adam Johnson (13 goals, 42 points) and Ethan Peterson (7 goals, 33 points). Junior defenseman J.D. Metz patrols the blueline and helps support the attack. In the crease, the Zephyrs have leaned on sophomore goalie Ben Dardis who has rewarded the team with a 2.24 goals against average and a stingy .928 save percentage. The Delano Tigers won an overtime thriller over Robbinsdale Armstrong / Cooper to punch their ticket to the state tournament. The Tigers have strong attack and roll 3 lines routinely. Led by junior Adam Brown (20 goals, 35 points), sophomores Gunnar Paulson (9 goals, 29 points) and Jesse Peterson (11 goals, 27 points). 6’3″ Cade Lommel backstops the Tigers and the talented baseball player (has a scholarship to play baseball at Creighton University) has provided solid minutes with a 2.14 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
Prediction: I think Delano will edge the Zephyrs in a tight game. Their team speed is impressive and their 3-line attack will be the difference in this mild upset.
Class A Prediction: I think the Crusaders will repeat in a barn burner against Warroad. I think Derrick Brown‘s squad has the depth, star power and their previous experience will be the x-factor in this tournament in those big games. The Crusaders were one of the few teams to beat Andover this season and they are the top seed in the Class AA tournament so its hard to believe they don’t have a real good chance at winning it all. Hermantown also could be a great darkhorse choice as well, but I think Cathedral will come out on top.
Andover swarming to shut down Maple Grove (Jan. 22nd, 2020)
Class AA Bracket – Starts 3/5/20
#2 (6AA) Blake (19-6) vs. Maple Grove (17-8) 11AM ~ No team in the tournament had a more viral moment in making their way to state as Blake did on the result of an overtime penalty shot by Gavin Best. The Bears make their first state tournament appearance since making the jump to Class AA and Head Coach Rob McClanahan hopes to take Blake far. Blake has a formidable offense led by junior Joe Miller (25 goals, 59 points) and seniors Jack Sabre (17 goals, 44 points) and Gavin Best (16 goals, 42 points). Senior Will Svenddal polices the blueline as Blake employs a strong defensive game. Between the pipes, the Bears look to junior Aksel Reid who has a 2..40 goals against average and a .904% save percentage. Here is a KFAN interview with Blake’s bench boss Rob McClanahan. Facing the Bears is a defense-first Maple Grove squad that shut down Blaine to make their way to the Tourney. The Crimson’s attack is led by juniors Sam Jacobs (13 goals, 26 points), Chris Kernan (11 goals, 26 points) and senior Tyler Oakland (11 goals, 22 points) Junior defenseman Henry Nelson (9 goals, 29 points) is a Notre Dame-commit and will be tasked with trying to shut down the Bears’ offense. The Crimson deployed two goaltenders almost 50/50 but in the playoffs they leaned on senior Parker Slotsve who had a 1.77 goals against average and a .904% save percentage. Here is a KFAN interview with Maple Grove’s Head Coach Todd Berglund.
Prediction: Maple Grove is not an easy out, and even though they may not have the kind of firepower to put a lot of fear into Blake the Crimson are used to playing low-scoring games. I still think Blake’s superior offense will prevail, but this one could be a bit of nail biter as the Bears win by two goals.
#3 (2AA) Eden Prairie (19-5-1) vs. (1AA) Lakeville South (18-7) 1PM ~ The Eagles bring a lot of star power as they were a pre-season favorite by many to win it all. It didn’t go as easily as they expected but the Eagles are back in the tournament. The Eagles are led by Minnesota-Duluth commit Ben Steeves (30 goals, 50 points), Minnesota-commit John Mittlestadt (17 goals, 49 points) and Colorado College-commit, junior Carter Batchelder (16 goals, 24 points). On the blueline the Eagles have Minnesota-commit, junior Luke Mittlestadt (4 goals, 28 points) and Harvard-commit, junior Mason Langenbrunner who is rated 161st by NHL Central Scouting. In the crease, the Eagles’ senior Axel Rosenlund will likely get the first start of the tournament as he was their go-to option in the section playoffs sporting a 2.34 goals against average and a .911% save percentage. Lakeville South is another dangerous, resilient squad that has the potential to provide an upset for any club that decides to overlook them. Led up front by juniors Cade Ahrenholz (16 goals, 27 points), Cam Bosche (9 goals, 30 points) and senior Zach Olerich (13 goals, 37 points). Nebraska-Omaha commit, junior Griffin Ludtke (7 goals, 22 points) is the Cougars’ force on the Lakeville South blueline. In the crease Lakeville South will likely put its faith in junior Cody Ticen who had a stellar 1.82 goals against average and a .926% save percentage.
Prediction: Eden Prairie has had a bad tendency to make games you would think would be ‘easy’ on paper turn into nail biters. The Cougars are a very resilient team and I am going to predict they will upset Eden Prairie by two goals.
#1 (7AA) Andover (21-3-1) vs. (3AA) St. Thomas Academy (15-8-2) 6PM ~ the Andover Huskies Girls hockey team made history by winning the school’s first ever state championship when they knocked off Edina in the Class AA championship a few weeks ago. There is a fair chance the Andover boys could win one of their own as they earn the top seed in the tournament. The Huskies have great offense and a solid defense that can shut just about any opponent down. Up front the Huskies are led by junior Garrett Schifsky (19 goals, 27 points) seniors Luke Kron (12 goals, 37 points), Harrison VanderMay (15 goals, 28 points) and Hunter Jones (11 goals, 45 points) giving Andover plenty of balanced scoring throughout its top 3 lines. On the backend, Mr. Hockey finalist and the highest rated High School player at 56th by NHL Central Scouting, Wyatt Kaiser (9 goals, 25 points) as well as fellow senior Mitchell Wolfe (11 goals, 35 points) can both defend and score. Between the pipes, the Huskies’ junior goaltender Will Larson was only gave up 1 goal in 3 section games and had an impressive 1.15 goals against average during the season. Here is a KFAN interview with Huskies’ head coach Mark Manney. The Cadets, led by coach Trent Eigner play more of a defensive style of hockey and will try to slow the Huskies’ down. St. Thomas will look to juniors Jackson Hallum (18 goals, 35 points) and Jarod Wright (6 goals, 24 points) along with senior Riley O’Brien (10 goals, 20 points) are steady if not prolific scorers. Senior defenseman Andrew Boemer (7 goals, 20 points) provides a bit of offensive punch from the blueline. The Cadets will lean on Tommy Aitken who has been one of the best goalies in the state, as he carries a 2.07 goals against average and a stingy .929% save percentage. Here is a KFAN interview with Cadets’ head coach Trent Eigner.
Prediction: The Cadets will battle hard to keep this one close, but Andover is simply too much. The Huskies’ scoring depth and their strong defense means St. Thomas will fall by 3 or more goals.
#4 (8AA) Moorhead (18-5-1) vs. #5 (4AA) Hill-Murray 8PM ~ this might be the gem of the quarterfinals as the Moorhead Spuds make their way back to St. Paul with a senior-led team that has some offensive punch and one of the better goaltenders in the tournament. Up front the Spuds are led by seniors Caden Triggs (30 goals, 48 points), Cullen Gess (14 goals, 48 points) and Carter Johnson (12 goals, 42 points). Northern Michigan-commit Luke Gramer (7 goals, 25 points) is an excellent defenseman who can help control the pace of a game. In the crease, senior Hudson Hodges backstops the Spuds and has been outstanding with a 1.91 goals against average and a .929% save percentage this season. In what has seemed to have been an endless 4AA section final battle, the Hill-Murray Pioneers outlasted arch-rival White Bear Lake to make their way back to the tourney. The Pioneers’ attack is led by senior Charlie Strobel (19 goals, 40 points), sophomore duo and Wisconsin-commits Nick Pierre (19 goals, 46 points) and Dylan Godbout (10 goals, 21 points) provide the firepower up front. Junior defenseman and Wisconsin-commit Joe Palodichuk (4 goals, 37 points) plays big minutes and is strong at both ends of the ice. Frank Brimsek Award finalist, senior, Remington Keopple (6’2″) had an impressive 1.66 goals against average and a .934% save percentage this season. Here is a KFAN interview with Hill-Murray head coach Bill Lechner.
Prediction: This will be a really fun game to watch as one would expect. Both clubs are very well coached and there is a fair chance this one goes to overtime. While I think Moorhead has a slight edge in offense, the Pioneers are rock solid defensively and may have the best goalie in the tourney. I think Hill-Murray wins a tight one in a 1-goal victory.
Class AA Prediction: Maybe I’m biased because my alma mater (Elk River) lost to them in the 7AA final, but I think Andover is on a mission. In a crazy Class AA season of upsets, the one constant were the Huskies who seemed to step up to the challenge time after time. I think the Huskies will defeat Blake by a few goals in the championship to give Andover the championship in both Boys and Girls hockey this season.
Who do you think will win it all this year in Class A and Class AA? Who are you rooting for / against? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!