Maple Grove has the No. 1 seed in Section 5AA for the second straight year and will try to avoid an upset this time around led by players such as junior defenseman Jordan Gross. Photo by Helen Nelson
Blaine and Joey Lau hope to be celebrating another Section 5AA title. Photo by Helen Nelson
The label "Best Program Never To Reach The State Tournament" can safely be slapped on Maple Grove, which has suffered heartbreaking losses to Blaine in each of the past two Section 5AA title games and has been a section semifinal or final fixture for the past decade.
This, however, is the Crimson’s year to reach the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Has to be.
Top-seeded Maple Grove (21-2-2) has been ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 2A behind Duluth East and Minnetonka for most of the season, and one of the Crimson’s losses came at the hands of the top-ranked Greyhounds.
Maple Grove is unbeaten against section opponents.
Featuring a gamebreaker in defenseman Jordan Gross (15-24—39), a deep stable of elite forwards led by Dylan Steman (21-34—55) and Tony Paulson (21-25—46) and a granite wall of a goaltender in Kyle Koop (21-2-2, 1.96 goals-against average, .919 save percentage), Maple Grove has all the components of a championship team.
The elephant on the ice when discussing Maple Grove's state tournament aspirations is Blaine (16-9-0). The road to the section title always seems to go through Blaine.
Centennial's Adam Anderson and the Cougars are the No. 3 seed in the Section 5AA playoffs. Photo by Helen Nelson
Blaine, Blaine, Blaine.
The Bengals have made six straight state tournament appearances. No team is the state is riding a longer streak.
Although No. 2 seed Blaine lost twice to Maple Grove in the regular season, the Bengals feature one of the state’s most dynamic defensemen in Michael Brodzinski (13-20—33) and a top-flight goaltender capable of stealing a pressure-filled game in Nick Malvin (16-9-0, 3.08, .892).
Sophomore Tyler Cline (13-17—30) is the only Bengal other than Brodzinski to reach double digits in goals.
No. 3 Centennial (13-9-3) doesn’t have a gaudy record, but the Cougars are battle tested and will undoubtedly be an exceedingly tough team to knock out of the postseason. Most of Centennial’s nine losses have come against the state’s elite, including two to Maple Grove and solo setbacks to Duluth East, Minnetonka, No. 6 Benidle-St. Margaret’s, No. 7 Eden Prairie and No. 10 Moorhead.
No. 4 seed Osseo (10-15-0) and No. 5 Champlin Park (12-13-0) meet in what figures to be the most hotly contested of the section’s quarterfinals, with the winner earning the right to face, most likely, Maple Grove in the semis.
No. 7 Coon Rapids (7-17-1) draws Blaine in the quarterfinals in a rematch of the teams’ regular season meeting, won by Blaine in overtime.
Picking against the Crimson here would be brave -- and foohardy. Maple Grove twice defeated its two top challengers in Centennial and Blaine during the regular season and figures to be highly motived to avoide a repeat of the crushing losses it has suffered to Blaine in the past two section title games.
The hard-luck Tornadoes suffered one-goal losses to most all of the top teams in the Northwest Suburban Conference, including Section 5AA quarterfinal opponent Centennial. Anoka gave the Cougars all they could handle in a 4-3 Centennial victory on Thursday, Feb. 16, and with a bounce or two or three the Tornadoes could very well find themselves in the section title game.
2011 - Blaine
2010 – Blaine
2009 – Blaine
2008 – Blaine
2007 – Burnsville
2006 – Eagan
2005 – Holy Angels
2004 – Holy Angels
2003 – Holy Angels
2002 – Holy Angels
2001 – Eastview
2000 – Bloomington Jefferson
1999 – Holy Angels
1998 – Bloomington Jefferson
1997 – Bloomington Jefferson
1996 – Apple Valley
1995 – Bloomington Jefferson
1994 – Bloomington Jefferson