What's the best way to beat your opponent? Why, to score more goals, of course. And there's no better way to do so than to have a high-powered, high-scoring line that can notch a goal on any given shift every night. Many of the top teams in the state have such a line (or even two) and most are represented on our list of the top lines in the state.
1. Hill-Murray’s Isaac Kohls, Nick Widing and Tyler Zepeda
It only seems fitting that the state’s No. 1-ranked Class AA team should be powered by the state’s best forward line. The senior trio of Kohls (3-2-5), Widing (5-2-7) and Zepeda (2-7-9) is a great combination of size, speed and skill for Pioneers’ coach Bill Lechner.
Kohls is a very well-rounded player who has the size to bang with bigger opponents and the skills to skate around them. Lechner said he can play all styles of hockey and has a great work ethic.
Widing is more stocky and looks to create his own space, but he also has very good hands and can finish in tight quarters. He’s a load along the boards and takes his role as the power forward very well.
Zepeda is smaller, but just might be the quickest and shiftiest player in the state. He’s in his fourth year on the varsity and is a very good playmaker.
2. Centennial’s Willie Hess, Tyler Pitlick and Jordan Lovick
The Cougars top trio stands a very good chance of working their way up to the No. 1 spot on this list before all is said and done. There are no weaknesses in this group, which features the senior Pitlick (4-5-9) and the juniors Hess (6-2-8) and Lovick (4-8-12). In just three games, the trio has combined for 14 goals and a +26 rating.
Pitlick has the best size of the group, standing 6-1/185 and already earning a spot with Minnesota State-Mankato. He has great hands and the creativity of a top playmaker. Hess and Lovick are both a shade under 6-feet and slim at around 165 pounds each, but are not limited by size. Hess is arguably the fastest player in the state and led the team with 29 goals last season, while Lovick also has great hands and is a true finisher, according to Cougars’ coach Erik Aus.
3. Holy Angels’ Danny Mattson, Ryan Reilly and Connor Reilly
The Stars top line isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this winter. Mattson (4-9-13) has committed to North Dakota and might be the most potent offensive player in the state. He’s not big, but he’s fast as lightning and impossible to defend one-on-one. Many observers feel he’s the favorite to be named Mr. Hockey this year.
The junior Reilly twins, Ryan (2-1-3) and Connor (3-8-11) also provide plenty of punch for coach Greg Trebil’s Holy Angels club. Connor racked up big point totals for the Stars as a sophomore regular last year. Ryan did not, but earned a spot on the Minnesota Advanced 17 team. Both are speedy and skilled players that complement Mattson very well.
The Stars just got back from Indiana, where they split a two-game series against Culver Academy, one of the top prep programs in the nation. Mattson netted the game-winner on the power play midway through the third period of the second game.
4. (tie) Edina’s Marshall Everson, John Eppel and Connor Gaarder OR Anders Lee, Charlie Taft and Michael Sit
It’s pretty tough to distinguish between the Hornets’ top two lines, which are as deep as any top-two in the state, even without All-Stater Zach Budish.
Lee (4-8-12), Taft (4-2-6) and Sit (3-6-9) are an interesting combo of a senior, junior and sophomore – kind of the present and future of Hornets’ hockey. Lee is one of the most talented athletes in the state, a top quarterback in the fall and an extraordinary hockey player in the winter. The Harvard recruit is physically solid and impossible to move off the puck. Taft is a less-heralded player who should get more recognition than he has thus far, while Sit has seamlessly made the conversion to varsity hockey from bantams.
Gaarder (4-7-11), Everson (6-3-9) and Eppel (2-4-6) also make a great line, with the big sniper in Everson, the shifty Gaarder and Eppel. All three are seniors and play well off each other’s strengths.
5. Rochester Lourdes’ Cole Peterson, Tyler Voigt and Taylor Funk
Lourdes’ senior trio of Peterson (3-6-9), Voigt (6-6-12) and Funk (4-2-6) have the Eagles currently soaring and ranked among our top teams in Class A. All three played in the Upper Midwest Elite League this fall and project as top players in the state. Lourdes has already beaten top-tier Class A teams St. Cloud Cathedral (5-2 in their most recent game) and Red Wing, but did lose to New Prague in the season’s second week.
Against Cathedral, Voigt racked up two goals and two assists and Peterson had a goal and two assists.
6. Little Falls’ Ben Hanowski, Ben Nelson and Wesley Waytashek
Hanowski (11-5-16) is well on his way to becoming the most prolific scorer in state history, as he stands just 92 points shy of tying the career mark of 378 by Red Wing’s Johnny Pohl. He’s a power forward with very good size and great hands. Hanowski got the winter off to a bang with a seven-goal outburst against Greenway. But he isn’t just racking up goals against non-contenders. Hanowski, a St. Cloud State recruit, also had a hand in all five Flyers’ goals in a 5-4 overtime win over then-No. 1 St. Cloud Cathedral.
Nelson (3-4-7) is a quick player who can also bury the puck, as he exhibited with two goals in a 4-3 squeaker past Alexandria last week, while Waytashek (2-3-5) is a very good playmaker. All three are seniors, giving the Flyers plenty of great experience.
7. New Prague’s Tyler Lapic, Schyler Adams and Darren Lapic
The Trojans have plenty of bang on the top line of senior captains Tyler Lapic (5-3-8) and Adams (7-2-9) and up-and-coming sophomore Darren Lapic (1-7-8). Both Tyler and Adams recorded more than 60 points last year and are well on their way to beating those totals. Tyler is a growing body (6-2/195) who is strong on the puck and has already committed to the University of Wisconsin. Adams also has received plenty of D1 interest. Both have played on National Select teams in their careers.
Darren is the younger brother of Tyler and has taken on a distributor’s role on this top line, with a team-high seven assists already. He did score 14 goals last year and was the fourth-highest scorer.
The Trojans’ top line could have been even better with phenom Seth Ambroz still around, but he chose to play in the USHL after tallying 34 goals as a freshman with New Prague.
8. Hopkins’ Travis Boyd, Archie Skalbeck and Nate Seashore
While the Royals had a rough trip to the Northeast last week, losing to Hermantown and Virginia/MIB, the top line of senior Seashore (3-5-8), junior Skalbeck (10-4-14) and freshman Boyd (4-8-12) excelled in keeping Hopkins in both games. Skalbeck ripped in a hat trick against Hermantown and the trio combined for five goals and six assists in the two games.
Coach Chad Nyberg called Seashore “quietly one of the better players on the west side,” saying he had a knack for finding the net. Skalbeck has been on a goal-scoring tear thus far. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and slipperiness. Boyd is already well-known as just a freshman, as he starred for the Royals’ surprise team last winter as just an eighth-grader. He has a “hockey sense second to none,” according to Nyberg.
9. Woodbury’s Max Gaede, Tony Pittman and Connor Delaney/Tyler Nowicki
The Royals are young, as Pittman (4-10-14) was the only returning senior letter winner this winter, but they’ve been plenty successful thanks to juniors like Gaede (5-9-14), Delaney (4-6-10) and Nowicki (2-3-5). After winning its first four games easily, Woodbury took a loss to Edina and started out slowly last Friday against White Bear Lake, trailing 2-0. But they stormed back thanks to this trio and claimed a 3-2 victory on Nowicki’s last-minute goal.
Gaede missed part of last season with a broken ankle, but has come on strong this winter. He’s a big forward who uses his body well to protect the puck – and he has a nose for the net.
10. Virginia/MIB’s Chris Westin, Garrett Hendrickson and Andrew Judnick
This group showed their mettle in the last game, beating Class AA power Hopkins, 5-4, as Westin (8-10-18) tallied four goals and Hendrickson (3-11-14) and Judnick (2-8-10) each had four assists. They were also the Blue Devils’ top three frontline scorers last season – bonus points for consistency.
Westin’s the senior in the group and a player coach Keith Hendrickson expects to have a big final season. He called Westin a “playmaker type who loves the game.” Judnick is the junior representative, while Hendrickson is just a sophomore. He’s a true “rink rat” and has already been tabbed by many as one of the best players in his class in the state.
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