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Class AA rankings: Hornets or Jags? This is the question

By Tim Kolehmainen, 01/20/09, 10:45AM CST


Edina retains the top spot, while Jefferson creeps closer

by Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN

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 (14-1-0)
There may be more debate over who is No. 1 in Class AA than in any other position.  Clearly, there are two teams who have separated themselves from the pack thus far, Edina and Bloomington Jefferson, but like many, I’m going to have to go with the once-defeated Hornets as the top pick.  Edina kept rolling last week, pounding Benilde-St. Margaret’s (6-2) and edging Eden Prairie (2-1) in overtime. To slow down the Hornets, one will have to bottle up the state’s best line in Marshall Everson (19-19-38), Anders Lee (14-24-38) and Connor Gaarder (14-19-33).  No one has done so since a very different Hill-Murray club stifled them way back in early December.

This week: Thursday at Wayzata (7 p.m.), Saturday at Hopkins (7 p.m.)

2. Bloomington Jefferson (14-0-0)
Jefferson has a definite argument to make for the top spot.  What else do the Jags need to do?  They’ve beaten everyone on their schedule (unlike everyone else in Class AA) and don’t appear to be ready to slip up anytime soon.  Jefferson took care of business last week with a 4-3 win at Lakeville North and a 7-1 romp at Burnsville.  The Jaguars are very balanced, with 11 players tallying at least nine points, and have an outstanding goalie in Casey O’Connor (13-0-0, 1.02 GAA, .943 save %).  A.J. Siiro (13-13-26) is the top scorer among forwards, while Joe Faust (7-12-19) and Jeff Pauluk (4-12-16) add plenty of offense from the blue line.

This week: Tuesday vs. Rosemount (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Chaska (2:15 p.m.)

3. Blaine (13-1-1)
The Bengals and No. 4 Centennial went into last week’s showdown ready to stake a claim to both the Northwest Suburban and the Section 5AA favorite’s role.  Instead, they tied 4-all when the Bengals’ super sophomore Nick Bjugstad (17-14-31) scored a tying, short-handed goal with just over a minute left.  Blaine gets the nod for the No. 3 spot over Centennial, however, by demolishing Maple Grove (6-1) in its other big game last week.  The Bengals are a stout defensive club in front of Danny Harper (11-1-1, 2.05 GAA, .904 save %) and have 13 players with multiple goals, led by Bjugstad and Luke Bayer (13-3-16).

This week: Thursday vs. Andover (7:30 p.m.), Saturday vs. Coon Rapids (7:30 p.m.)

4. Centennial (10-1-2)
Centennial held serve last week, shutting down Andover (4-0) and suffering a heart-breaking tie against No. 3 Blaine (4-4). Centennial was playing well and led the Bengals 4-2 in the third period, only to see the victory slip away.  With their only blemishes as ties to No. 5 Duluth East and Blaine and a shocking loss to White Bear Lake, the Cougars deserve a top-five ranking.  The top line of MSU-Mankato recruit Tyler Pitlick (15-12-27), Jordan Lovick (7-18-25) and Willie Hess (13-9-22) drive the Cougar engine.

This week: Tuesday vs. Champlin Park (7:30 p.m.), Thursday at Osseo (7:30 p.m.)

5. Duluth East (11-2-1)
The Greyhounds certainly don’t blow the doors off anyone, but they get the job done more often that not.  East badly outshot crosstown rival Duluth Denfeld last week, but only took a 2-0 victory by scoring two third-period goals, then posted a victory over White Bear Lake (6-3) on FSN during Saturday’s Hockey Day Minnesota.  Senior goalie Matt Cooper (10-2-1, 1.15 GAA, .937 save %) has already posted six shutouts on the year, thanks to a top defensive corps of Joe Arbour, Al McLean, Derek Forbort and Jake Williams.  A quick question: are the Rochester schools sharing a bus up to Duluth this weekend?

This week: Friday vs. Rochester Century (7:30 p.m.), Saturday vs. Rochester Mayo (1 p.m.)

6. Eden Prairie (11-3-0)
It almost feels like a crime to rank the Eagles here. This could very easily be the third-best team in the state. They’ve lost three games, but two were to Edina and one was to Jefferson, all by a single goal.  Perhaps coach Lee Smith isn’t surprised by the results, but many are, as Eden Prairie lost several key contributors before the season’s start.  They’ve certainly filled in well with the sophomores moving up from the Bantam A team, however.  The Eagles lost their showdown game with Edina last week (2-1 in overtime), but also beat Lakeville South (2-1) and Apple Valley (5-0).

This week: Tuesday at Eagan (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Bloomington Kennedy (2:30 p.m.)

7. Minnetonka (11-5-0)
The Skippers get this position on potential as much as results thus far.  They’ve lost five games, but have looked very good in recent weeks. Over the last seven days, Minnetonka beat Holy Angels (3-2), Stillwater (6-1) and Moorhead (3-1), clubs all either in the top-15 or on the verge of it.  Max Gardiner (11-16-27) is following well in his brother’s skatemarks, leading the Skippers in scoring ahead of Sam Coatta (13-9-22) and offensive-minded defenseman Andrew Prochno (5-17-22).

This week: Thursday vs. Hopkins (7 p.m.), Saturday at Armstrong (2:30 p.m.)

8. Wayzata (11-3-1)
Coach Carl Davis’ crew has been the hottest team in the state.  Since starting the year just 1-3-1, they’ve ripped off 10 straight victories, including four shutouts in their past five games. Senior goalie Ty Simcoe (9-2-0, 1.55 GAA, .923 save %) has been on just as big a roll, with three shutouts in his last four starts. Last week, the Trojans blitzed Rogers (9-2), Eastview (1-0) and Shakopee (10-0).  They get a huge test of their mettle this week, however, hosting top-ranked Edina on Thursday.  If the Trojans can slow down the Hornets’ top line, we’ll know they’re truly for real.

This week: Tuesday vs. Burnsville (7 p.m.), Thursday vs. Edina (7 p.m.)

9. Holy Angels (9-3-1)
It’s been tough to read the Stars thus far.  There are great playmakers on the club and they’ve posted some very good results against top prep school teams from around the nation (including a 4-2 win over Mount St. Charles, R.I. last week). But their Missota schedule isn’t as tough as the other top clubs and they’ve been tripped up by a few teams, such as in a 3-2 loss to No. 7 Minnetonka.  The Stars also beat Hill-Murray (5-3) in a busy week.  The top line of Danny Mattson (10-26-36), Connor Reilly (13-17-30) and John Haeg (13-13-26) is as good as any in the state.

This week: Tuesday at Shakopee (7 p.m.), Friday vs. Farmington (7:30 p.m.)

10. Woodbury (13-1-2)
A 2-2 tie against Forest Lake hurt the Royals’ ranking this week, although they did dump Roseville (3-1) in their other game.  They don’t have to wait long to avenge that tie, however, as Woodbury travels up I-35 to Forest Lake this Saturday.  The Royals have received a big boost from the top line of Max Gaede (10-23-33), Tony Pittman (11-19-30) and Connor Delaney (9-11-20).  Andrew Herbert (4-10-14) and Walker Hyland (8-3-11) add good offense from their defensive positions, as well.

This week: Thursday vs. Eastview (7:30 p.m.), Saturday at Forest Lake (7:30 p.m.)

11. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (11-3-0)
The Red Knights split their two games last week, losing to top-ranked Edina (6-2) in a MyFoxHockey webcast, but responding with a nice victory over Class A power Duluth Marshall (5-3) on Saturday.  Benilde fell behind early against the Hornets, but did play better over the final two periods. It showed Saturday, as they raced out to a lead on Marshall. Patrick Duda scored twice and leading scorer Brett Patterson (11-13-24) had a goal and two assists for Benilde.

This week: Tuesday vs. Hill-Murray (7 p.m.), Thursday at Totino-Grace (7 p.m.)

12. Maple Grove (11-2-2)
Maple Grove faced one of its program-making games last week and fell flat in a 6-1 loss at Blaine Thursday night. A victory would have make the state sit up and take notice of the Crimson, but a loss wasn’t especially damaging.  It did indicate that Maple Grove has an uphill climb in Section 5AA with Blaine and Centennial standing in the way.  Josh Gross (14-12-26) leads a good group of top forwards, while goalie Sean Elmer (9-2-1, 1.61 GAA, .925 save %) has been outstanding outside of the Blaine loss.

This week: Thursday at Coon Rapids (7:30 p.m.), Saturday vs. Anoka (7:30 p.m.)

13. Hill-Murray (10-4-1)
Don’t give up on Hill-Murray yet.  The Pioneers showed their still a top team by rallying for a pair of big wins (6-2 over Richfield and 9-1 over North St. Paul) after losing to Holy Angels (5-3) earlier in the week.  Despite the loss of several top scorers, the Pioneers can still put the puck in the net thanks to speedy Tyler Zepeda (11-15-26), big Jeff Westerhaus (9-3-12) and young forwards like Jack Walsh (4-8-12) and Ben Bahe (2-9-11).  Zepeda tallied four goals in the final two games, while Willie Faust added three. Defenseman Chris Casto got into the act with two goals and three assists in the two games.

This week: Tuesday at Benilde-St. Margaret’s (7 p.m.), Saturday vs. Sibley (3 p.m.)

14. Hopkins (10-4-1)
The Royals, who were in many top-10 lists when the season began, are just now beginning to recover their status after some early disappointing losses.  Hopkins bested Champlin Park (5-0) and Richfield (5-3) last week.  At least a split of their two games this week would solidify their status as a contender again.  The line of Archie Skalbeck (15-19-34), Travis Boyd (16-16-32) and Nate Seashore (8-16-24) is dangerous, as is the second unit of Kyle Dalton (10-8-18), Johnnie Hicks (9-8-17) and Ryan Colvin (7-10-17).  And don’t forget about goalie Alex Fons (9-2-1, 2.26 GAA, .910 save %), who can single-handedly win games.

This week: Thursday at Minnetonka (7 p.m.), Saturday vs. Edina (7 p.m.)

15. White Bear Lake (8-8-1)
This is probably the least enviable position in the top-15.  Teams have had a hard time retaining their ranking from here.  The Bears held onto this spot by their claws as they earned respect with a 4-2 win at Cretin in their only game last week.  White Bear Lake has been up and down, but when they’re on, they look tough.  Chad Lowell (6-15-21), Mike Slator (7-11-18), Sam Swanson (7-10-17), Max Birkinbine (11-5-16) and Brandon Wallin (9-4-13) lead the offense.

This week: Thursday vs. Forest Lake (8 p.m.)