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
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.
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.
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.
Conference: Classic Suburban
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