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Colorful matchup: Red-hot Crimson vs. green Pioneers

03/06/2012, 10:10pm CST
By Star Tribune

About the Crimson: Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano joked before the section playoffs that if the Crimson failed to make its state tournament debut this season, "We might have to shut down the program." But seriously, folks, Maple Grove is here and has a good chance to win it all. Only Duluth East and Eagan boast a similar mix of size and speed. After his team's 15-1 thrashing of Blaine in the Section 5 final, forward Tony Paulson said only the score was unusual. "This is usually how we play," he said. "Everyone touches the puck and we bury our chances." Pacing the Crimson is forward Dylan Steman, who re-set program records for single-season points (65) and assists (38).

About the Pioneers: Graduation claimed nine seniors, and four other players either transferred or left high school hockey. Green as their school's primary color, the Pioneers grew into a state tournament caliber team one year after missing the dance. "We had to get back there," junior forward Jake Guentzel said. "... When we don't get there people like to say it's a disappointment for us." Guentzel led the team with 53 assists. Forward Charlie Sampair is one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists, and lone returning defenseman Blake Heinrich helped inexperienced blueliners mature. Hill-Murray won its final 10 games of the season and qualified for its 25th state tournament.

Did you know? Maple Grove's 24 victories are the most in a season for the 16-year-old program.

DAVID LA VAQUE

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