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Hill-Murray once again was atop the Class 2A rankings for most of the season. Hill-Murray did not suffer from the championship-game hangover that can plague the runner-ups from the year prior. 

The Pioneers suffered a 5-1 defeat in the state title game last season to Benilde-St. Margaret's and lost Jake Guentzel and Blake Heinrich to early departures, both major factors in the Pioneers' run.

This season, the Pioneers (25-2-1) were a model of consistency, winning the Classic Suburban Conference for the fourth consecutive season and taking the Section 4AA crown with a 1-0 victory against arch rival White Bear Lake.

Pioneers' coach Bill Lechner is in his 16th season and will come into St. Paul with an overall coaching record of 339-104-16. He led Hill-Murray to the state title in 2008 over Edina.

Hill-Murray has three state titles in its trophy case and have made it to the state tournament 27 times.

With the top seed in the Class 2A state tournament, Hill-Murray will play Eastview (18-9-1) on Thursday, March 7.

-- Justin Magill

Team snapshot

FORWARDS: Zach LaValle has been a regular on the Pioneers since he was in 8th grade. Now a senior captain LaValle led by example scoring 24 goals, 32 assists and led the Pioneers with 56 points.  Mitch Slattery transferred from Shattuck-St. Mary's and instantly made an impact in his junior season. He also scored 24 goals, tying LaValle for the team lead. 

DEFENSE: Blake Heinrich decided to forgo his senior season at Hill-Murray and on paper it looked like that would have been a huge void to fill. As it is every season, the Pioneers find a way to get players to step up on the blue line and not only just hold their own, but help a unit become one of the state's elite. Hill-Murray is led by seniors Sam Becker and Ryan Black, both of whom know how to not only shut down the opposition, but can chip in offensively as well. 

GOALTENDING: Senior John Dugas shouldered most of the workload for the second straight season and is regarded as one of the best in the state.  Dugas is a Frank Brimsek Award finalist for the state's top senior goalie.  Dugas comes into the state tournament with a 22-2-1 record,  1.36 goals-against-average and a .939 save-percentage.

Coach's Corner: Bill Lechner

The Pioneers are led by Lechner, who is in his 16th season. He has one state championship on his resume. He has led Hill-Murray to 12 state tournaments and accumulated a 339-104-16 record. He was also an assistant coach for the Pioneers when they won the state title in 1983. Lechner is also the Pioneers' baseball coach and activities director.

Prediction

There might not be a more complete team coming to St. Paul. Hill-Murray has the goal scorers, defense and goaltending to grab the school's fourth tournament crown. there is no doubt the Pioneers should be one of the heavy favorites. 

State tournament schedule

Team Info

Nickname: Pioneers
Conference: Classic Suburban
Section: 4AA
2012-13 Record: 25-2-1
State trips: 1975, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 83 Champs, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 91 Champs, 92, 93, 97, 99, 2000, 02, 06, 07, 08 Champs, 09, 10, 12, 13
Coach: Bill Lechner
Assistants: Pat Schafhauser, Tony Ciro
Home arena: Aldrich Arena, Maplewood
Last season: Lost to Benilde-St. Margaret's in Class 2A final, 5-1

Road to the X

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