by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor
Editor's note: The MnHockeyHub works in conjunction with MnSportsPreview.com and The Breakdown. Each week, Breakdown editor Tim Kolehmainen offers up their top 15 teams. These are not to be confused with the MnHockeyHub rankings that are observed as the official MyFoxHockey.com rankings. To view the MnHockeyHub/MyFoxHockey.com rankings, click the rankings button on the top navigation bar. Compare/contrast/enjoy.
The Breakdown takes its weekly look at the top 15 teams in Class AA...
1. Edina (12-1-0)
After a long break since winning the Schwan Cup Gold Division in impressive fashion, the Hornets came back with a 9-0 rout over Cloquet/Esko/Carlton. The Lumberjacks are down this winter, but it was still an impressive offensive showing from Edina’s top line of Marshall Everson (17-17-34), Anders Lee (11-21-32) and Connor Gaarder (13-16-29), who combined for seven goals and 10 assists. Since being united before the holidays, the trio is the top line in the state and have carried the Hornets to their current spot atop the poll.
This week: Tuesday at Benilde-St. Margaret’s (7pm – on MyFoxHockey), Friday at Eden Prairie (7:30pm).
2. Bloomington Jefferson (12-0-0)
The Jaguars are a team that certainly could have issue with the rankings that place tehm at No. 2, despite being the lone unbeaten team in the top tier. What else can you do but beat everyone in your path? Last week, the Jags shut out both opponents, romping over Eastview (5-0) and Grand Rapids (7-0). Jefferson has great balance among its top lines and a defense that can chip in on offense at any time, led by Joe Faust (6-10-16) and Jeff Pauluk (4-11-15).
This week: Tuesday at Lakeville North (7:30pm), Saturday at Burnsville (7:30pm).
3. Eden Prairie (9-2-0)
Eden Prairie has lost only two games this season, both by one goal and both to the two teams ahead of it in the rankings – an impressive showing for a team that’s still breaking in many sophomores of its Bantam A. The Eagles are a very stingy defensive team paced by Mr. Hockey candidate Nick Leddy (4-9-13), who is on his way to the University of Minnesota. Leddy’s both a defensive stalwart and can jumpstart the offense with well-timed rushes. Coach Lee Smith has rotated two goaltenders equally: Andrew Ford (5-0-0, 1.40 GAA, .933 save %) and Matt Halloran (4-2-0, 2.17 GAA, .918 save %).
This week: Tuesday at Lakeville South (7:30pm), Friday vs. Edina (7:30pm), Saturday at Apple Valley (2:15pm).
4. Blaine (12-1-0)
In a recurring theme, the Bengals also have only one game this winter, that to No. 1 Edina the day after Christmas. The schedule certainly takes a turn for the difficult this week, however, as Blaine has two games against top-10 teams. Super sophomore Nick Bjugstad (15-11-26), another Gophers’ recruit, paces the offense, while Luke Bayer has chipped in with 12 goals. But as with many of the other top teams, it’s a tight defense that’s led the way, featuring Ryan Brockway, Tony Larson, Matt Blomquist, Taylor Richart and Jay Wagamon in support of junior Danny Harper (10-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .906 save %).
This week: Thursday vs. Maple Grove (7:30pm), Saturday at Centennial (7:30pm)
5. Centennial (9-1-1)
The Cougars kept their top season going, despite some challenges from Elk River (4-1) and Maple Grove (2-1) last week. The Crimson victory not-withstanding, Centennial has been paced by the top line of Tyler Pitlick (14-11-25), Jordan Lovick (6-17-23) and Willie Hess (13-7-20). But in handing Maple Grove its first loss, the Cougars got goals from the Zac/hs (Fairbanks and Brickner). This week, the Northwest Suburban Conference action will be hot, especially in a Saturday grudge match with Blaine.
This week: Thursday vs. Andover (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Blaine (7:30pm).
6. Holy Angels (7-2-1)
The Stars turned to Missota Conference play last week and quickly dispelled any notions New Prague (6-0) and Hutchinson (8-1) had of competing with them for the conference title. Senior Danny Mattson (9-21-30) is one of the leading candidates for the Mr. Hockey award and gets plenty of help from linemates Connor Reilly (12-17-29) and John Haeg (10-12-22). Don’t forget about the other Reillys, either, as Ryan (6-4-10) and young defenseman Mike (1-8-9) are fourth and fifth on the team in scoring.
This week: Tuesday vs. Hill-Murray (7:30pm), Thursday at Minnetonka (7pm), Friday vs. Mount St. Charles Prep (7:30pm).
7. Woodbury (12-1-1)
Forget about the Royals having to rebuild after losing a bunch of seniors off two straight state-tournament bids. Coach Wes Bolin has built a powerhouse on the east side with a great first line of Max Gaede (9-23-32), Tony Pittman (11-18-29) and Connor Delaney (9-11-20). The trio is a combined plus-85 after 14 games, a remarkable number. Last week, Woodbury posted a pair of 4-1 victories over nearby rival Park and Cretin-Derham Hall. Pittman kicked off the Raiders’ game with a natural hat trick.
This week: Thursday at Roseville (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Forest Lake (7:30pm).
8. Duluth East (9-2-1)
East has arguably the top defensive unit in the state in front of top senior netminder Matt Cooper (9-2-1, 1.25 GAA, .933 save %), who already has five shutouts. Junior Derek Forbort, a North Dakota recruit, is the anchor on the blueline, which also features Joe Arbour (2-9-11), Jake Williams and Al McLean. The Greyhounds also have a D1 recruit up front in leading scorer Max Tardy (13-9-22), a very good two-way forward. The Greyhounds split a pair of games last week, losing a 5-3 decision to Blaine and then edging Elk River by the same score.
This week: Tuesday vs. Duluth Denfeld (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Grand Rapids (7:30pm), Saturday at White Bear Lake (1:30pm).
9. Wayzata (8-3-1)
Wayzata is a team that has surged in the rankings after beginning the season with only one victory (and a tie) in its first five games. The Trojans have won seven straight, including a smothering 1-0 victory over Moorhead in their only game last week. Coach Carl Davis’ team is a physical bunch that also features good speed – a tough combo for any opponent to match. They need that toughness, as scoring has been at a premium (Wayzata averages less than 3.2 goals a game). Billy Soule (3-9-12) is the leading scorer, while Ty Simcoe (7-2-0, 1.72 GAA, .916 save %) has been stingy in nets.
This week: Tuesday at Rogers (7pm), Thursday vs. Eastview (7pm), Saturday vs. Shakopee (2:30pm).
10. Minnetonka (8-5-0)
The Skippers have played games where they looked like a top-five team and then others in which they admittedly don’t. It’s led to five losses, including a 4-3 defeat to Benilde-St. Margaret’s last week, but all are to other top clubs (Duluth East, St. Thomas Academy, Eden Prairie, Edina and Benilde). That’s the challenge of playing a difficult schedule. Max Gardiner (9-13-22) and Sam Coatta (11-8-19) are the top scoring forwards, while defensemen Andrew Prochno (4-12-16) and Troy Hesketh (3-7-10) add punch.
This week: Tuesday at Stillwater (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Holy Angels (7pm), Saturday vs. Moorhead (7pm).
11. Maple Grove (10-1-2)
The Crimson continue to prove they’re for real after beating Andover (2-1) and giving Centennial all it could handle before losing (2-1) Saturday afternoon. Goalie Sean Elmer (9-1-1, 1.18 GAA, .944 save %) has stood on his head, while five forwards have distributed the scoring load equally: Josh Gross (14-12-26), Matt Dee (9-14-23), Tommy Malone (10-9-19), Alec Horton (10-6-16) and Dan Carlson (6-8-14). Wally Cosette and Rick Norenberg have a combined plus-51 rating on defense.
This week: Thursday at Blaine (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Osseo (7:30pm).
12. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (10-2-0)
The Red Knights could double their loss total this coming week and it still wouldn’t affect their ranking – that’s what playing No. 1 Edina and up at Duluth Marshall will do. Coach Ken Pauly just earned his 300th career victory last week while beating Spring Lake Park (4-1) and Minnetonka (4-3). Perhaps they deserve to be even higher on this list. Underclassmen pepper Benilde’s top players, including junior leading scorer Brett Patterson (9-11-20), junior Will Nelson (7-6-13) and fantastic freshmen Christian Horn (8-8-16) and Pat Steinhauser (4-9-13).
This week: Tuesday vs. Edina (7pm), Saturday at Duluth Marshall (7:30pm).
13. Hill-Murray (8-3-1)
By this point, nearly everyone has heard of the self-inflicted issues surrounding the Pioneers. Hill-Murray has just a 1-3-1 record in its last five games, including a 5-2 loss to St. Thomas Academy and a 1-1 tie with Tartan last week. Coach Bill Lechner will have to unearth some scoring threats to join Tyler Zepeda and Jeff Westerhaus, but the going doesn’t get much easier with Holy Angels on the schedule next. The Pioneers are suddenly very young and will have some growing pains at a time of the season when most teams are more settled.
This week: Tuesday at Holy Angels (7:30pm), Thursday vs. Richfield (8pm), Saturday vs. North St. Paul (8pm).
14. Moorhead (5-5-1)
How can a team lose five straight games and still be ranked in the top-15? Try consecutive losses to Duluth East, Edina, Hill-Murray, St. Thomas Academy and Wayzata. But the disheartening thing about the losing skid for the Spuds has to be that they were shut out in four of those games, including a 1-0 heartbreaker at Wayzata last week. Moorhead has two balanced top lines, but both are snake-bitten right now. Junior goalie Logan Marks (3-5-1, 2.45 GAA, .909 save %) has been much better than his record indicates and the Spuds can still play good defense with Ian Cochran (1-9-10), Jason Strand, Nate Thompson and Blake Kostich.
This week: Tuesday at Bemidji (7:30pm), Saturday at Minnetonka (7pm).
15. White Bear Lake (7-7-1)
The Bears are one of the toughest teams in Class A to figure out. On any given night, they can beat anybody in the state and then on others, they can seemingly lose to nearly anyone. For example, just last week, White Bear Lake shut out Hastings (9-0), then were shut down by Roseville (2-0). Sophomore Max Birkinbine (11-5-16) leads the team in goals, while Chad Lowell (5-15-20) is the top scorer. Defenseman Brent Putney (4-7-11) adds offensive ability from the blue line.
This week: Thursday at Cretin-Derham Hall (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Duluth East (1:30pm).
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