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. Bloomington Jefferson (22-1-0)
Wait, didn’t the Jaguars lose last week? Yes, they certainly did in front of a big audience both in Eden Prairie and online at MyFoxHockey, 5-2 to the Eagles. But one loss wasn’t enough to knock the Jags out of the top spot in the rankings, especially on the road against another top team. It was their first slip of the season and came against a team they had already beaten. Jefferson certainly was angry after losing its first game of the season, taking it out on Eastview Saturday in a 12-0 romp. Caleb Herbert had four goals to lead the charge, while senior Casey O’Connor only had to make three saves for the shutout. The Jaguars outshot the Lightning 53-3. O’Connor was named the Brimsek Award winner last week, given to the top senior goalie in the state.
This week: Thursday at Eagan (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Lakeville North (2:30pm).
2. Edina (19-4-0)
Edina came the closest to jumping into the top spot, but its four losses were just too much to overcome, even with two big wins last week (7-3 over Hopkins and 6-2 over Buffalo). When this team is clicking on all cylinders, it may be the top team in the state. But is the top line of Anders Lee, Connor Gaarder and Marshall Everson getting tired? As they did this past week, Charlie Taft, Michael Sit, Blake Chapman, Joey Harrington and the gang will have to step up in the scoring column. They’re certainly capable. Lee and Everson were both named to the Mr. Hockey finalist list this week.
This week: Thursday at Armstrong (7pm), Saturday vs. Minnetonka (7pm).
3. Eden Prairie (20-3-0)
The Eagles beat the No. 1 team in the state with a very quick – and overwhelming – start and yet stayed at No. 3 in the rankings. Behind two goals from Mitch Rogge, Eden Prairie jumped on Bloomington Jefferson for a 3-0 lead midway through the second period Tuesday night and held on for a 5-2 victory to hand the Jaguars their first loss. The Eagles showed their youth wouldn’t be intimidated and they are a factor in the state title chase for certain. But it was their first victory in four tries against Jefferson and Edina, the two teams ranked ahead of them. Defenseman Nick Leddy was honored as a Mr. Hockey finalist this week.
This week: Tuesday at Rosemount (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Lakeville South (7:30pm).
4. Duluth East (19-3-1)
The Greyhounds keep on cruising, rolling past rival Cloquet (4-2) and Stillwater (7-2) last week. East has now won eight in a row since its upset loss to Rochester Century in late January and 11-of-12 overall. Coach Mike Randolph’s squad doesn’t post any big routs, but are a very consistent winning club. With arguably the state’s best defensive corps led by junior Derek Forbort (a North Dakota recruit) and Mr. Hockey finalist Max Tardy (a University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit) pacing the offense, East looks every bit the part of a top-5 team.
This week: Tuesday vs. Hastings (6pm), Thursday vs. Brainerd (5:30pm).
5. Holy Angels (18-4-1)
Consistently higher in this poll than any other, the Stars proved last week that it isn’t a fluke they’re in the Breakdown’s top-5. Holy Angels edged highly-regarded Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3-1 on Valentine’s night on goals from John Haeg, Ryan Reilly and Garrett Faust – and outshot the Red Knights 35-29. The Stars may not be tested with the most difficult schedule among the top teams while residing in the Missota, but they do play some of the country’s top prep teams and had a good showing at the Schwan Cup Gold, finishing second to Edina. Senior Danny Mattson was named to the Mr. Hockey finalist list this past week and is arguably the most dangerous offensive player in the state.
This week: Tuesday at Farmington (7:15pm), Thursday at Northfield (7:30pm).
6. Minnetonka (17-6-0)
The Classic Lake title may go down to the final day of the season when the Skippers visit Edina. Minnetonka kept its slim lead on the Hornets last week by beating Armstrong (6-2) and Wayzata (6-1) with two impressive efforts. Sam Coatta had four goals in the two games and Thomas Schutt added three. Minnetonka has more losses than any other team in the top-10, but is 11-2-0 since the New Year, with big wins over Holy Angels, Edina and Wayzata (twice). It took a month for Brian Urick’s young team to gel, but they certainly appear to be heading into the section playoffs.
This week: Thursday vs. Buffalo (7pm), Saturday at Edina (7pm).
7. Centennial (17-3-3)
The Cougars stumbled against a resurgent Elk River team (4-2) last week but then recovered to beat Blaine (3-2) on Valentine’s night. Centennial trailed 2-0 after one period against the Bengals, but then rallied with goals from Jordan Lovick, Willie Hess and David Schreiner. Blaine held Mr. Hockey candidate Tyler Pitlick off the board, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a serious logjam at the top of the Northwest Suburban Conference now with the Elks, Cougars, Bengals and Maple Grove – all of whom are ranked in the top-15 this week. Blaine, Maple Grove and Centennial are all tied at 13-2-1 in the conference and Elk River is one game back at 12-3-1. Should be a great race to the finish.
This week: Thursday at Andover (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Osseo (7:30pm).
8. Blaine (19-3-1)
The Bengals looked ready to virtually wrap up the Northwest Suburban last week as they took a 2-0 lead in the first period against Centennial on two goals by super sophomore Nick Bjugstad. But the Cougars rallied for the win and put the NWSC right back up for grabs. Blaine’s showdown with Maple Grove this Thursday now looks even more important, particularly since Centennial will play two games they’ll be favored over. The Bengals have already beaten Maple Grove (6-1) back on Jan. 15, but have lost two of their last three games after a great start to the year.
This week: Thursday at Maple Grove (7:30pm), Saturday at Andover (2pm).
9. Maple Grove (18-2-3)
How to separate these three NWSC teams? It was tough, but having them back-to-back-to-back in the rankings made perfect sense. That’ll likely change after this week as the Crimson host Blaine Thursday night. Maple Grove is on a serious roll, going 8-0-1 since losing to Blaine back on Jan. 15. The Crimson have great offensive balance, led by Josh Gross, Matt Dee, Alec Horton, Tommy Malone and Dan Carlson. And senior goalie Sean Elmer has been stingy in front of a defense paced by Wally Cossette.
This week: Thursday vs. Blaine (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Coon Rapids (7:30pm).
10. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (18-6-0)
Back-to-back losses must have the Red Knights wondering what happened to momentum. Coach Ken Pauly’s team is very young, led by a host of underclassmen like freshmen Christian Horn and Pat Steinhauser, but they’d been very consistent up until losing to Totino-Grace (4-3) and Holy Angels (3-1) at the end of last week. Now they’ll have to regroup if they want to make noise in the Section 6AA playoffs. Two games that appear to be easy victories this week should help, but there are now questions.
This week: Tuesday vs. Chisago Lakes (7pm), Thursday at Cooper (7pm).
11. Woodbury (19-3-2)
The Royals squeaked out a 3-2 victory over Cretin-Derham Hall in an important game for Section 3AA seeding, but had a letdown two days later when they lost 3-2 in overtime to Roseville. Woodbury actually led the Raiders 2-0 on goals by Max Gaede and Connor Delaney, but then allowed Roseville to tally the final three for the upset. With a schedule that observers have noted isn’t as strong as the clubs above them in the rankings, the Royals haven’t earned the respect to jump them into the top-10 yet. But they have qualified for two straight state tournaments and despite graduation losses, they’re poised to make it three in a row.
This week: Thursday vs. White Bear Lake (7:30pm).
12. Elk River (15-7-1)
The Elks were stumbling along at 6-6-0 midway through January when coach Tony Sarsland’s club started to click. Now 9-1-1 in their last 11 games – including big victories over Blaine and Centennial – Elk River is a serious threat in Section 7AA. Chad Hennum, C.J. Pullar, Levi Lutz and Ben and Ryan Jaremko have led the charge, while Anders Franke has been solid in nets. In last week’s 4-2 upset of Centennial, Franke made 28-of-30 saves as the Cougars outshot the Elks, 30-19. Hennum netted the game-winner on the power play, one of three man-advantage goals for Elk River in the game.
This week: Thursday vs. Osseo (7:30pm), Saturday vs. Champlin Park (7:30pm).
13. Wayzata (14-8-1)
Wayzata has cooled off from its big 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season and is now just 3-5-0 in its last eight games – although those losses were to Edina (twice), Minnetonka (twice) and Burnsville in an overtime. Last week, the Trojans split, beating Buffalo (6-2) on the FSN North game of the week and losing to Minnetonka (6-1). Wayzata was very stingy defensively during its streak, allowing only 12 goals. But they’ve given up 15 in their last three games alone and must find a way to keep goalie Ty Simcoe from facing so many difficult shots.
This week: Thursday at Hopkins (7pm), Saturday vs. Armstrong (2:30pm).
14. Hopkins (14-8-1)
When they’re on, the Royals have the ability to beat any team in the state. But they’ve also proven beatable, as Edina noted last Thursday (7-3). In late January, Hopkins stumped Edina in overtime (4-3) to hand the Hornets their first loss. Since that Edina victory, the Royals are just 3-3-0 but have lost very close games to Wayzata and Eden Prairie. Goalie Alex Fons has proven he can single-handedly beat any team in the state, as well, but he does have plenty of help with the talent on the Royals. Travis Boyd is arguably the best freshman forward in the state and leads the team in scoring.
This week: Thursday vs. Wayzata (7pm), Saturday at Buffalo (3pm).
15. Tartan (15-7-1)
Welcome to the top-15, Titans. You certainly deserve it. Tartan knocked Classic Suburban rival Hill-Murray from the ranks with a 4-2 upset Thursday night at Aldrich Arena on third period goals from Ryan Abrahamson and Ben Lovick. The game also signaled that it just might be the year that the section sends someone other than White Bear Lake or the Pioneers. Those two have combined to win 26 of the last 27 section titles – but Tartan appears ready to break up the party. Even with starting goalie Alex Gierke out with an injury, backup Eric Thayer stepped in with two great games and earned the Breakdown’s player of the week honors.
This week: Tuesday vs. Sibley (7:30pm), Thursday at Simley (7:30pm).
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